The Grand Ole Opry is a live radio country music concert that originates from Nashville, Tennessee. Back in 1925 the National Life and Accident Insurance Company built a radio station (WMS 650) in Nashville as a public service to the local community. Soon after starting the station the insurance company hired a nationally known announcer George D. Hay as the Program Director. Hay was involved with a Barn Dance show in Chicago prior to coming to Nashville, and decided to launch a Barn Dance show on Nashville’s WSM 650 with championship fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson as the first guest in November 1925.
The show was a hit and soon people were clogging the hallways to watch the live country performances. The show was renamed the Grand Ole Opry in 1927 when the Barn Dance show followed a classical music show. Hays commented that the audience was just listening to grand opera but the station would present ‘the grand ole opry’. The name stuck. As the popularity of the show continued the Opry moved into larger and larger venues. In 1943 the Opry moved to the Ryman Auditorium, a former religious meeting house built in 1892 by riverboat shipping magnate Captain Thomas Ryman.
In addition to being a radio show and building the Grand Ole Opry is an organization of sorts. Membership in the Grand Ole Opry is considered one of country music’s crowning achievements. There are currently 160 living members of the Opry and part of maintaining membership in good standing is participation in Opry shows.
The Opry stayed in the Ryman for 31 years. In 1974 the Opry moved into 4400 seat Grand Ole Opry House which built for the single purpose to house the Opry. Tuesday afternoon we took a back stage tour of the Opry House.
One of the first stops on the backstage tour was the artist entrance. Once they enter they walk past the picture the Minnie Pearl giving her famous “Howdy”.
The Grand Old Opry has a post office where each of the members has a mail box. All of the boxes are in alphabetic order except for Jimmy Dickens – whose box is in a lower row so he can reach it (he stands at a whopping 4’11″).
We toured thru the backstage area of the Opry looking in a number of the 18 themed dressing rooms. The picture below is the “Welcome to the Family” room – which according to the tour guide was packed with flowers and cards for Keith Urban on Saturday for his induction into the Opry.
From there we went to the room that the stars wait in just before going on stage – most places it is called the Green Room – in the Opry it is called the Family Room. If you look in the picture on the right you will notice a metal bar attached to the wall – it marks the height the water hit in the flood of 2010. This room is at the same level of stage – so that is how high the water was on the stage. After the flood there was a massive 6-month repair and re-construction project.
From the Family Room we went on stage. When the Opry moved from its home in the Ryman Auditorium they cut a 6-foot circle out of the stage and moved it to the new home so future members of the Opry could stand in the same place that their famous predecessors did.
The tour of the Opry House was amazing – we are so glad we did it. After the tour we went across the street to have dinner in the Opry Mills Mall – a mall that was built on the site of the Old Opryland Amusement park.
After dinner we returned to the Opry House for Tuesday Night Opry. One of the things we learned on the tour was that at the Opry – fans are encouraged to walk right up to the stage to get good pictures of their country music stars. There were a whole cast of people playing – some we knew and others we did not.
Little Jimmy Dickens was there of course. You can see how short he is when he puts his guitar down and holds the neck. Not only is Jimmy a singer – he is also quite the comedian – he has us laughing so hard to his story put to the Dragnet theme music, of course he had to get into character.
Back in Seattle we listened to Ichabod Cane and the Waking Crew (at least we did until KMPS messed up their station by getting rid all the good talent). He talked a lot about an up and coming duo – Joey and Rorry. We got to see them at the Opry.
The crowning of the evening was when Opry Member Charlie Daniels walked on the stage and started playing The Legend of Wooly Swamp. He then brought the Bluegrass group Del McCoury Band back on stage to play a song with him. There was time for only one more song – of course the Devil came to Nashville and I went down and sat on the floor in front of the stage with about a dozen others singing and taking pictures.
After the wonderful tour and show – we needed a snack and stopped at a local bar and grill called The Opry Backstage Café. Right after we walked in the live entertainment started playing the Zack Brown Song – “Toes”.
Yes – Life is good today! – and tomorrow there will be Memphis BBQ.