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The Ryman Auditorium  (Nashville, Tennessee) 

(Reprint from News: July 5, 2001)

July 2, 2001

 

I'd never been to Nashville, Tennessee, and I didn't really know what to expect.  I thought Nashville would be pretty spiffy and glamorous, filled with southern belles and impressive looking dudes wearing white suits who drove Cadillacs.  As I headed into town, though, I was a little disappointed, probably feeling like folks who visit Hollywood for the first time.  But then I parked my truck, walked around Nashville and started to get a feel for the place.  No, it's not glitzy but with all the bars and honky tonks each filled with live music acts, Nashville is an intriguing place.  Music is definitely king in Nashville and as I strolled up and down Broadway, I walked past lots of guitar-toting guys dressed in jeans, flannel shirts, and cowboy hats, each hoping to make their music dreams come true.

 

Here's Emmylou Harris at the Ryman Auditorium singing Walls of Time.

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A few months before leaving Portland, I had bought a CD by one of my favorite singers, Emmylou Harris, called "Live at the Ryman Auditorium."  I didn't know what the Ryman was but the CD sounded great and I'd listened to it several times on this trip.  While camping the night before, I had been reading my AAA TourBook, as I do every night to plan the next day's adventures, and I learned that the Ryman Auditorium was located right here in Nashville.  According to my TourBook, the Ryman was a beautiful old building in downtown Nashville that served as the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the country radio show that's been on the air every Saturday night since before Moses parted the Red Sea.  Best of all, the auditorium was open daily for tours.  This definitely sounded like my kind of place.

 

After I got to Nashville in the early afternoon, I found the Ryman, which wasn't hard to do since it's definitely the most beautiful building in downtown Nashville.  After paying my admission fee, I walked inside and learned the story of the Ryman Auditorium.  Back in 1880s, a Nashville riverboat captain named Thomas Ryman, who was a bit of a hell-raiser, converted suddenly to Christianity.  Soon afterwards, Ryman decided that the Christian folks in Nashville needed a decent place in Nashville to congregate, so he decided to build an auditorium, which he called the Union Gospel Tabernacle.  The tabernacle opened in 1892 at a cost of about $100,000 and it originally seated 3,755, later expanded to 6,000 in the so-called "Confederate Gallery" upstairs.

 

During its first few decades, crowds filled the tabernacle to hear celebrities, such as the Arctic explorer Robert Peary, orator William Jennings Bryan, and band-leader John Philip Sousa.  Ryman died in 1904 and at Ryman's funeral, the attending reverend suggested changing the name to the "Ryman Auditorium," an idea which evoked a standing ovation from the gathering.  In 1943, The Grand Ole Opry radio show moved into the Ryman and for the next several decades, the Ryman was known as "The Mother Church of Country Music."

 

The Grand Ole Opry show left the Ryman in the 1970s and moved into a glitzy, new auditorium out in the Nashville suburbs, and for the next 20 years, the Ryman sat empty and forlorn.  It was almost torn down in the early 1990s but was rescued and refurbished by dedicated country-music lovers.  Today, you can take a self-guided tour of the Ryman during the day, and at night you can once again hear the strains of country and bluegrass music.  

 

I spent a couple hours walking around the Ryman Auditorium soaking in its ambience, and I even strolled across the stage where Patsy Cline, W.C. Fields, Roy Acuff, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Mae West, and dozens of other celebrities have entertained audiences for the past century.  The Ryman is a great place and it's definitely something to check out the next time you get to Nashville.  If you listen closely, you can even hear Minnie Pearl's "How-Do" echoing off the walls.  

 

       

Above left:  Entering Nashville.

Above center:  The first stop in Nashville was at the AAA office, where I got resupplied with maps and books for the next month.

Above right:  Driving in downtown Nashville was an "interesting" experience.  Note the small white car on the right that got crunched by the truck.

 

The Ryman Auditorium    The Ryman Auditorium    The Ryman Auditorium

Above left:  The Ryman Auditorium.

Above center:  Inside the Ryman.  You can almost hear Patsy Cline singing "Walking After Midnight."

Above right:  The original oaken pews from 1892 were carefully refurbished during the renovation of the Ryman a century later.

 

       

Above left:  Broadway is Nashville's "Street of Dreams" for hundreds of country musicians, some good and some not-so-good.

Above center:  A bar scene on Broadway -- all the free country music that you want (or that you can stand).

Above right The Nashville skyline.

 

 

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