Grand Ole Opry, Nashville

Iconic Nashville: The Grand Ole Opry

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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).

Grand Ole Opry, NashvilleI’ve been to the Opry four times this year, and it’s quickly becoming one of those things I take visitors to do if we have the time. Last night, though, it was just me and my original +1: my mom.

Mom and Me at the OpryMom 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.

Rockettes, Grand Ole Opry

image courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry

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).

Rockettes at the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville

image courtesy of the Grand Ole Opry

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!

Dustin LynchWhen I was at the Opry in October, I went on a backstage tour for the first time. It’s quite something to stand on the very stage where legends were made while someone hugely famous is performing!

Grand Ole Opry, NashvilleThat night, it was Jason Aldean and Casey James, as well as other Opry staples like Little Jimmy Dickens (who has never not been there when I’ve gone to a show).

Jason Aldean at the Grand Ole Opry, NashvilleI 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)?

Grand Ole Opry backstagePop 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.

The Grand Ole Opry, NashvilleYes, 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!

  • December 20, 2012
    Briel K.

    Nashville extra?! That’s it. I need to visit. haha I hope you are having a blast and I want to hear all about it!

    • December 21, 2012

      OMGGGGGGGGG, it was so much fun. And I was 10 feet away from Deacon all day long! And also Juliette and Rayna, but can we just talk about DEACON?

  • December 20, 2012

    I absolutely LOVE the Rockette’s Christmas show. So, so fun!

    Can you believe in the 30 years I’ve lived in Tennessee, including several in Nashville, I’ve never been to an Opry show? I know, so un-Tennessean of me. I need to add that to my Life List so I don’t forget.

    • December 21, 2012

      Dude. Next time you’re back in Nashville, I will go with you! There’s rarely a show that doesn’t have someone on the lineup whom I love. Let’s do it!

  • December 20, 2012

    Totally wishing that we were coming in earlier on the 24th… maybe I can still talk Bob’s parents into going and seeing this (his other option was midnight tickets to see Les Mis). Can’t wait to be in Nashville!

    • December 21, 2012

      Do you fly in during the afternoon? If so, you can totally catch the last show, and two-for-one at that =)

  • December 20, 2012

    oh man, my inlaws took us to the rockettes three years in a row and i loved it every time! i love the 12 days of christmas, and the last number where they come out in those swan boats! amazing!

    • December 21, 2012

      They didn’t do the swan boats this time (uh, I don’t think!). It was a new routine, though. I could have watched them do the 12 Days of Christmas for hours. So cute and original!

  • December 20, 2012

    We did the Rockette’s show a few years back (2008, I think) and it really truly was pretty spectacular (and also my first trip to Nashville). Your town rocks! 🙂

    • December 21, 2012

      I’m planning on taking McKayla to the Rockettes next year. Maybe you and Mayhem could come down for the weekend, too! =)

  • December 20, 2012

    Sounds quite fascinating! I felt as I was there with you attending one of the shows, your writing is superb!

  • December 21, 2012

    Is it bad that I’ve been to Nashville dozens of times and never made it there? Congrats on your book! It looks to be awesome! Let me know if you want someone to review it. I’m looking for things to recommend for my new Southern blog!

    • December 21, 2012

      Actually, it was published a couple years ago! Now that I’m back here full time, I’d like to write another book of Southern quirks, though.

      Next time you’re in town, I will gladly accompany you to your inaugural visit at the Opry. I freakin’ love that place!

  • December 22, 2012

    I have the best memories of this place, going there was I was little on a road trip between Michigan and Florida! My grandma took us and my brother, of course, hated it, while I being a little girl who loved all things sparkly and dancy and singy, loved it!

  • December 26, 2012

    This sounds really fun! It’s nice that because you’re always getting different acts, you can go to the same place again and again without ever getting bored. Although seeing the Rockettes’ Christmas special over and over doesn’t sound like it’d be boring either.

  • December 27, 2012

    This is a definite if in Nashville! Great review!!!

  • December 27, 2012

    I wanted to do a tour when I was near there for Blissdom a few years ago, but ran out of time. I do have really fond memories before there was a shopping mall. I went there when I was super young, but do still remember seeing Minnie Pearl!

  • January 2, 2013

    my grandmother ushered at the opry for years but i’ve never been. plus i got married in a church right across the street and had views of the opry while doing some of our wedding pictures… i guess this means it’s high time i go. perhaps i should put the rockettes on our christmas schedule for 2013. looks like a great time!

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