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.
Garth Brooks in Nashville, 12/22/10, “Low Places” from Camels & Chocolate on Vimeo.
That concert sounds amazing! I haven’t kept up with my country music lately, but “In Love With the Boy” was a high school staple, and Garth has so many good songs. I love that he would come out and do as many concerts as possible to help Nashville like that.
I had absolutely forgotten how much I adore that song, but I squealed like a little girl when she started playing it!
Great Christmas gift to family and many others for a Grand cause.
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Wish I could see the images, but this dam dialup just won’t them come through.
A very merry desert Christmas to you, Gaelyn!
Looks like a blast! We used to go to Opryland every year to see my aunts and cousins right before Christmas/for my cousin’s birthday. And my mom went to college with Trisha Yearwood (Young Harris in north Georgia). I love Nashville and this makes me want to go back to visit!
I love that Opryland was part of your tradition, too! I agree: You need to plan a return trip =)
I like the new layout!
Just want to wish you a merry xmas!
I never knew all that! Great history lesson!
I miss Nashville at the holidays — downtown and West End/Vanderbilt more than the Opryland area, though. they have their own beuaty at the season. thanks for the shots and the story.
I was in West End/Vanderbilt for the whole day prior to the concert…Hillsboro Village is my favorite! Such fun shops and cute restaurants. Though sadly the line at Pancake Pantry was 50-people long, so I didn’t get my blintzes! Next time…
What a great way to spend the holiday. Feliz navidad Kristin!
Thanks, my dear! Hope your family manages to pull of a Christmas feast without your culinary panache =)
“Low Places” – one of my karaoke songs of choice. 1/2 because I love it and 1/2 because it annoys the hell out of everyone else in the room.
The Grand Ol Opry pictures look AMAZING. I’m yet to make it to Tennessee but I we have every intention on making our stops when we make our next road trip to the Eastern US.
Thank you for sharing these amazing photos! It makes me so happy when people with power are able to positively influence communities and really support regions they love.
Merry Christmas to you and SVV!!!
I’m heading to a blog conference in January at the Opryland. I haven’t been since I was a little girl, and I was so worried it wouldn’t bounce back after the floods. Thanks for sharing these great photos and memories.
I absolutely love Garth! Sounds like so much fun!
I’m so glad you posted something about Nashville. I’ll be here for NYE with some friends from the area. But we still haven’t figured out where we will be hanging out that night…
I’ve heard so many great reviews of the Garth concerts. I wish I could have gone to one. I also love seeing those Opryland photos. I haven’t been to see the interior at Christmas time for a few years, but I want to!
great shots, that hotel is neat looking inside
I LOVE Nashville. It’s a great little city and I love the food. I am a meat and three fan and there’s lots to be had. And such great music. Good for Garth- that’s a lot of free concerts!
I LOVE the Opryland! I’ll admit, I’m not much of a country music fan, but the hotel is just stunning….and huge! I loved all the atriums and things to do. I’ve got to get back there one of these days.
Gray, I spent the first 22 years of my life in Tennessee and didn’t start tolerating country music until about the 18th year! Funny, now living in California I’m a bigger country music fan than I ever was growing up. I also didn’t appreciate Garth way back then! Making up for it now =)