On Christmas Eve last year, SVV and I bopped around Nashville, tackling a few of the tourist attractions for my latest book and finally giving him a chance to check out some of our state’s most historic sites. But the place I was most excited to share was the Opryland Hotel.
Growing up, Opryland was a big deal in my family. We had season passes to the park (RIP) each year and occasionally would visit the hotel during the holiday season to see the impressive display of lights.
It’s most dazzling at night, of course, with the skylit ceiling, but SVV and I were working with his flight schedule, so we were stuck viewing it during its daytime splendor.
I hadn’t been inside the sprawling complex since 2001 and was eager to revisit my childhood. You see, I have very distinct memories of Opryland Hotel’s interior. When I was two months shy of six years old and Kari had been in this world but two months, the family stayed at the Opryland for a few nights. We even decided to don our Sunday best and take our Christmas card photo among the foliage.
But being the picture of grace that I am, I missed a step and fell down a flight of stairs, tore a hole in my knee and my tights, and the paramedics were called. To this day, I can’t walk into the hotel—especially at Christmas time—without reliving that scene.
Fast forward from Christmas Eve visit to six months later. In May, parts of Nashville were swept away in the flood, and bits of history like the Grand Ole Opry (pictured before, pre-flood) and the Opryland Hotel were completely buried underwater. We Tennesseans are optimists, however, and no one let this get them down; rather, the locals banded together in a massive rebuilding effort and many establishments, such as the hotel, have already been restored to their pre-flood conditions—perhaps even better.
But all that repair isn’t without a cost. Enter: Garth Brooks. The Oklahoma native who spent much of his career in Nashville announced a month ago that he was re-emerging from retirement—he’d done it once before—for a series of flood relief shows. Every dollar would go to the flood victims. The best part: Tickets were but $25, so normal folk like you and me could easily attend. (I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve all but quit going to big concerts—not because I don’t like them but because they’re just short of highway robbery. The lowest price point for a ticket for Lady Gaga’s new tour, for example, is still over $100!!! I’d rather spend that money on hotel stays.)
But even better was Garth’s offer: He would hold as many concerts as people would fill. Within a day, that turned into nine—nine concerts in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, I might add, which holds 20,000 screaming fans. People came from all over; I spoke with visitors from New York, Baltimore, South Carolina and beyond, all of whom had driven or flown down just for the event.
So Kari bought Mom, Dad, SVV and me tickets for Christmas, and we all went as a family this past Wednesday night, to Garth’s final show in his week-long run and last time taking the stage in Nashville. We had dinner on Broadway at Merchant’s, then moseyed on down the way two blocks to the arena 15 minutes before the concert.
Little did we know, the place would be a mob scene—for blocks and blocks and more blocks. They didn’t start letting people in until 9:40—40 minutes after the concert (the second of the night) was set to begin—so thousands crowded the Strip outside the arena in the 28 degrees.
When we were finally allowed in, the concert was beyond believable. Even though we were way up in the rafters behind the stage, we felt like we were down there with Garth. I’ve never been to a concert where there was so much palpable energy.
Trisha (Yearwood, Garth’s wife) even made a guest appearance midway through and sang some duets with her husband, then belted out a couple of her greatest hits (“How Do I Live,” “In Love With the Boy”). I didn’t realize what a big Trisha fan I was until I was singing along with her every word.
In the end, Garth raised more than $5 million in ticket sales for the victims and brought in another $15 million in tourism revenue and “increased economic activity in the hospitality industry,” according to the Nashville mayor, who was there to thank Garth and Trisha personally.
The concert went until well after midnight, at which point Dad, SVV and I slipped out during Garth’s second encore to beat the traffic, the chorus of “Low Places” guaranteed to be stuck in our heads for the next month.