Saturday, October 4, 2014

Musical Roots in Nashville

If you want to explore the history of country music and appreciate its contributions to America’s music scene, where would you travel? Nashville, Tenn., is the destination for many because The Grand Ole Opry and the famous venues where it has played such as the Ryman Auditorium have such historic importance.

Ryman Auditorium gave birth to bluegrass in 1945.

A long-running radio program, the Opry has always featured the biggest starts in country music. The stage concert, which began in 1925, was initially a simple broadcast known as a barn dance on radio station WSM. Since then the Opry has built a solid reputation by showcasing country music legends as well as contemporary artists who continue their traditions.

The stage of the Ryman and the Confederate gallery
have historic importance to country music fans.

Ryman Auditorium became the home of the Opry in 1943, although it first opened in 1892. When I drove by it the first time, I thought it looked like a church. In fact, its original purpose was to hold revivals downtown for Rev. Samuel T. Jones, who preached hard against gambling and drinking. Known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, the building was later renamed for Thomas Ryman, a riverboat captain, who had built it for Rev. Jones. As I stood in the auditorium among the curved pews, I could almost imagine Rev. Jones delivering a fiery sermon to an overflow crowd, many in the balcony built to add seating needed for the reunion of Confederate veterans in 1897.

Arched windows of the Ryman still give the appearance of a church.

The Opry continued to be broadcast from the Ryman until 1974, when The Grand Ole Opry House, a much larger and more modern venue, opened in 1974 in eastern Nashville. When artists perform at the Opry House, they stand in a six-foot oak circle cut from the Ryman’s stage to carry on the traditions in the new location.

Curved pews of the Ryman retain their tabernacle look.

A show consists of several segments, each one with an artist “host” who introduces other performers. For the show that I attended, the hosts were music legends: Connie Smith, Riders in the Sky, Ray Pillow and Jeannie Seely. My main reason for attending the night that I did was to see Kellie Pickler (the new) and Mel Tillis (the old); they with Gretchen Peters, soon to be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, were the principal draws for the large crowd of 4,000 plus that night.

Kellie Pickle sings in the oak circle brought from Ryman Auditorium.

Because the Opry is a radio broadcast, the segments are pieced together by the radio announcer who also does the on-air commercials live in front of the audience. Be prepared for several commercial breaks.

The live Opry broadcast is complete with commercials for the audience watching the show.

The mix of artists at the Opry includes bluegrass, folk, and gospel musicians as well as comedic performances and skits. Even the Ryman Auditorium was the scene for lectures by national leaders such as President Teddy Roosevelt and performances by notables such as magician Harry Houdini. 

The Grand Ole Opry House ends the pilgrimage by many country music fans.

The buildings themselves almost seem as important as the Opry, but the magnets to attend a performance are the old-time favorites and the opportunity to see the famous show live. For many in the audience their trip was a pilgrimage to Music City. The growth of country music has significantly shaped Nashville and far beyond this city founded in 1779.

No comments:

Post a Comment