There are some tourist attractions that are well deserving of their repute and stature; the Grand Ole Opry is one such spot in Nashville. Even though it’s not in the prettiest of locales—situated in a mega-mall parking lot, actually, in far East Nashville—it’s worthy of the trip out Briley Parkway (just close your eyes and pretend the iconic music hall is still surrounded by Opryland park, with screams from riders on the Wabash Canonball audible from the entrance).
Mom and I have been long-time theater buddies: Since I was a moody teen, we have had season tickets to the Broadway series at Nashville’s TPAC theater—a tradition that has been reinstated now that I’m a local once more—and we try to see as many shows at other theaters as our time allows. We also really love the Rockettes, and they make an annual pilgrimage to Music City to put on their Radio City Christmas Spectacular at the Opryland. And so we followed.
The show was absolutely fantastic, even better than I remembered. Some of the Christmas tunes had been jazzed up to sound more contemporary, and there was even a 3-D component. My very favorite part, though, was the Rockettes’ elaborate and hilarious The Twelve Days of Christmas routine. Which only beat out their traditional Parade of the Wooden Soldiers by a hair.
And, of course, they ended with the famed Living Nativity on stage (complete with a flock of sheep! and two camels!). The whole thing was what I needed to get me in the Christmas spirit. As it’s been in the 70s all fall long, it hasn’t really felt like Christmas (well, that and my family suffering a recent devastating loss).
Back in March when I went to the Friday night show, it was to see my long-time hometown pal Dustin Lynch perform his inaugural set at the Opry. He was phenomenal and since has only gained traction. (Cowboys & Angels is obviously his biggest hit, but check out Last Lap, which was written about cruising in our town, Tullahoma, as teenagers).
And then I wound up sitting next to him on a flight from Miami a few weeks ago!
I had tried to do a backstage tour with SVV back in 2009, but it was shortly after the terrible Nashville flood when the Opry was still closed down and damaged. So this was my first time poking around the dressing rooms, which was so fun. What girl hasn’t wished at some point in her life that she had her own backstage dressing room (and people to tend to her, too, of course)?
Pop culture fans will have a renewed interest in this tour, as many scenes from the TV show Nashville (for which I am actually being an extra today! right now! squeeee!) are shot here. It’s also just a fascinating trip back through the timeline of country music.
Yes, the Opry’s history is a long and storied one. I’ve written about it in plenty of magazine stories, but here’s a quick excerpt from my book, Tennessee Curiosities. (It’s not plagiarism if it’s your own words, right?)
Just like no section on Memphis is complete without a nod to Graceland, no chapter on Nashville is done until you talk about the Grand Ole Opry. It’s not merely a performance venue—and one of the world’s most famous at that—but the longest running live radio show in existence, broadcasting since 1925. Though it all started with a handful of investors winning an insurance company at an auction. Their eventual emblem “We Shield Millions” ended up being the radio’s call letters (WSM) when the company decided to venture into radio a quarter of a century later, beginning with a local broadcast that started with a hillbilly program and morphed into the WSM Barndance.
Later, the station evolved even further and brought in talent to perform live on the airwaves. Its repertoire mixed legendary names with relative newcomers. The Grand Ole Opry moved locations a few times, occupying the iconic Ryman Auditorium at one period as well, before settling into its permanent nest. In recent years, the Opry has paid guest visits to the Ryman at periodic intervals.
Today, it continues to air weekly live shows and houses hot country acts like Taylor Swift, Darius Rucker and the Zac Brown Band, as well as traveling shows such as the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular and its main attraction, the Rockettes. But that six-foot circle of oak in the center of the stage bears the mark of all the cowboy boot-clad legends who came well before.
Through the beginning of February, the regularly scheduled Opry shows will all take place downtown at the Ryman Auditorium (an equally historic Nashville landmark), at which point tours will resume.
In a nutshell, where else are you going to pay a nominal fee to see a series of three songs by some of the hottest acts in country music? The answer: Nowhere. Get thyself to the Opry, stat.
Visitor’s Tips: The Rockettes will be performing through Dec. 24. If you’re in town, you should make the show a priority. Even if you don’t already have tickets, there were a ton of empty seats and many people buying tickets just before the performance. Though you can also check availability online, and right now you can you can get two tickets for one with the promo code RCLCB2.
Tickets for the weekly Tuesday, Friday and Saturday shows all start at $35 and don’t have to be purchased far in advance. Often, you can even buy them at the door, but if a huge name (like, for example, Carrie Underwood or Keith Urban) is taking the stage on your chosen date, I’d recommend purchasing tickets online.
There are three different tour options, which start at $21 for adults and $16 for youth.
Fun Fact: Members of the Opry are asked to perform at the venue 10 times each year!