I never see my wife now that we’re working together all day in the same place but on different floors and miles away in thought, so it was a nice change to embrace one of our new clients, the Grand Ole Opry, with a full-body bear hug and take a couple’s trip out to country music’s iconic radio show performance and get the VIP treatment, naturally, for research.
Any seat in the whole house is great, and you’ll feel immersed in the crowd whether you’re up front or in the higher balcony seats.
Now, I’d been to the Opry House before when I took my family as they were visiting a few years back—they’re also country fans, but more of the bluegrass and folk song lilt—and then again to see Carrie Underwood perform at the Opry at the Ryman, its wintertime residence.
This visit, however, on Valentine’s Day no less, we got to see where the majority of performances are held and explore the backstage areas where hundreds of upcoming country music artists have wiped sweat off their palms and earned their chops.
My first time ever stepping foot in the Opry House was a solid two years before I’d even lived in Tennessee; we were back in Nashville doing research for one of Kristin’s book projects and stopped in right after the Opry was hit by the great flood of 2010.
I’ve always been a big country fan after my formative years of working as a painter in California with a boss that only allowed twang on the radio. As such, I’m rather partial to 90s country like Travis Tritt, Joe Diffie, Mark Chesnutt, et al so it was quite a treat to see a show at the Grand Ole Opry House along the banks of the Cumberland River knowing how wrecked she had been after the flood (though they fixed her right up and had her open just six months later!).
Being part of a live radio performance is fascinating, and the fast pace of each event keeps the night interesting. Incredibly, and this still kinda blows my mind, the Opry has been broadcasting weekly radio shows since 1925! Wat? Who does that?
Country does that, folks. It seeps into your bones and vitalizes our American reality, one in which we care deeply for each other with our flaws and endearing character and allow ourselves to express an unbridled joy at living here in the United States, in the heartland, striving for personal glory, God, patriotism, reveling in the outdoors, strung instruments and a twangy tune mixed with a little bit of exhaust, gunpowder and ethanol, and maybe a side of lace fringing.
Prior to living here, I guess I always had a biased opinion on the overall feel for country but that’s changing rapidly because it’s not one to be put in a box. I mean, there is a box, but it’s become looser and more inclusive than ever.
There’s incredible sound coming out of Nashville these days that explores spoken word, a little bit of rap, rock and blues, all standing on the shoulders of historical greats. It can be overwhelming to process all of this variety, but the Opry is a good place to get a handle on a wide sample. On this night, we saw eight different sets, with Lucie Silvas, John Osborne, Ricky Skaggs, Easton Corbin and my favorite set of the night, a legendary bluegrass family, the Del McCoury Band.
I love all music that’s sung with heart. In fact, there’s very little art that I don’t appreciate if it comes from that place inside that sings true, rings true and strikes an inner chord that harmonizes with the human condition. Live performances almost always veer in the direction of authenticity because the crowd is right there, in your face, to let you know whether they are feeling you, man.
To cap the evening, we hung out on the side stage VIP area where I simply observed the oiled machinery of music at the Opry. A musician dragging up a standup bass appears out of nowhere, waiting in the wings for Easton Corbin to finish his three-song set is also Ricky Skaggs surrounded by sound guys with radio earpieces, set managers and artist families, all chattering like we were in the cafeteria line on a cruise ship about to disembark to a well-known location.
Lights, shadows, murmurs, smoke, laptops, hardwood, brass, drum leather, cowboy boots and tight bubble butt jeans, rolled up sleeves and checkered patterns ironed and tucked into a belt buckle, rhinestones and silver stars all humming along to that same classic tune, country music.
Thank you for another great night with this girl, Opry!
A Wee Bit of History
The Opry has seen many homes in its 92 years, from the National Life Building where it held its inaugural broadcast in 1925 to the neoclassical War Memorial Auditorium to the Ryman to its current home, where it’s been since 1974. It can hold 4,400 attendees, and on any given night you’re promised a smattering of musical talent with eight acts minimum taking the stage throughout the two-hour-long broadcast.
When to Go
From February through the end of October, Opry shows take place every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at the Opry House in East Nashville (with Wednesdays added to the mix in summer months). During winter—from November through late January or early February—the Opry moves to its other home, the historic Ryman Auditorium, which seats half the audience size as the Opry House.
The More You Know
Want to visit backstage, see the glitzy dressing rooms, glimpse where Garth collects his fan mail and maybe even catch your favorite artist in passing? Sign up for a VIP tour, which goes both before and after the show. You have a selection of three tour options on most days: a Daytime Tour, a Post-Show Tour and the ultimate VIP Tour. With the latter, which we did, you get to be on stage as the red curtain goes up before being taken to your seats. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Where to Sit
Chip Esten (aka Deacon Claybourne on the show Nashville) once told Kristin that there’s no bad seat at the Opry, and I’m inclined to agree. We sat in section 4, row G, right smack in the middle, and it was the perfect spot for capturing some money shots with our camera (yes, photography is allowed at Opry shows, a rare treat). Prefer the balcony? Excellent. We’ve sat up there in the past, too, and it was just as fun as being on the floor.
For more ways to do Nashville trips that incorporate the Opry, check out:
- The Travel Bite’s Guide to Nashville for Foodies
- Southern Fatty’s post on Nashville Classics
- Suburban Turmoil’s Advice on the Opry with Kids
- Oui We Girl’s Tips to the Opry at the Ryman