The Ryman Auditorium
I'd never been to Nashville,
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.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
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.
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.
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.
left: Entering Nashville.
center: The first stop in Nashville was at the AAA office, where I
got resupplied with maps and books for the next month.
right: Driving in downtown Nashville was an "interesting" experience. Note the small white car on the right that got crunched by the truck.
left: The Ryman Auditorium.
center: Inside the Ryman. You can almost hear Patsy Cline
singing "Walking After Midnight."
right: The original oaken pews from 1892 were carefully refurbished during the
renovation of the Ryman a century later.
left: Broadway is Nashville's "Street of Dreams" for
hundreds of country musicians, some good and some not-so-good.
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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