Ryman

Nashville seldom disappoints, given the music, the Broadway scene, and the local history and flavor that makes Nashville such a go-to destination for letting loose.

But here we were in Nashville again for a third visit in as many years, and again, there were no concert bookings at Grand Ole Opry during our stay, just as before.

Perhaps, we should make our own music, although we would eventually take the stage at Ryman Auditorium like so many others,

by first taking a self-guided tour of the hallowed hall before having our picture snapped by the gift shop photographer.

Very little has changed since Ryman Auditorium opened…

as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. Originally built as a house of worship…

by Thomas Ryman, who made his fortune from a bevy of saloons and a fleet of riverboats,

Ryman found God at a big-top revival, and vowed to build a tabernacle, allowing Nashville folks to attend large-scale revivals indoors.

The balcony opened in 1897, raising capacity to 6,000 worshippers.

Ryman died in 1904, and was celebrated inside his tabernacle. It was at his memorial service that Samuel Porter Jones, the preacher responsible for Ryman’s conversion, proposed the name change to Ryman Auditorium.

While Ryman Auditorium continued as a religious venue, it also opened its doors to popular culture and performing arts as a means of paying the bills, often hosting concerts, speaking engagements, dance recitals and theater, and earning its reputation as the “Carnegie Hall of the South.”

The Grand Ole Opry took up residency in 1943, and sold out its weekly shows for the next 31 years, becoming “The Mother Church of Country Music.”

Country music acts performed in front of capacity crowds and reached audiences around the world through radio and television broadcasts, earning them large followings and superstardom. Artists were eager to appear despite the primitive accommodations.

Leah and I took our sweet time as we perused the exhibits note by note, and studied the memorabilia from entertainment royalty…

In 1974 the Grand Ole Opry shuttered its downtown location in favor of a larger, modern venue within a theme park setting, dooming Ryman Auditorium to the wrecking ball. But the historical importance of Ryman, known as the birthplace of bluegrass (and so much more) could not go unnoticed, until the preservationists prevailed, and Ryman was saved from demolition.

After a dormant period of 20 years and new ownership, the exterior was eventually rehabbed and the building’s interior was refurbished and modernized for artists and patrons, restoring it as a world-class concert hall that past and present music legends agree has some of the best acoustics in the world, only adding to Ryman’s mystique and continuing renaissance.

As for Leah and me, all that was left for us to do was smile for the camera and take our final curtain call…

Music City, USA

We refused to leave Nashville without attending a concert.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the live music screaming from scores of Broadway juke joints and honky tonks, combining to create a three chord din, and it’s all for free.

But getting past the burly bouncers requires mastery of a special skill set, namely: zigzagging through hordes of bridal parties and lady’s-night-outers;

party porch

sidestepping the street people and the homeless; and dodging the drunks and the soon-to-become-drunks who walk a crooked line.

Broadway

Instead, Leah and I were in the mood for more of a formal venue. However, Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium–featuring The Charlie Daniel Band–had sold out weeks ago, including standing room.

Undeterred, we scoured the internet and stumbled across an offering that showcased the quieter side of Nashville.

marquis

I was definitely up for the concert, but Leah was hesitant.

“I think we should do it,” I stated. “Besides, there’s nothing else out there that compares to this.”

“I don’t know,” said Leah, unconvinced. “For starters, I don’t know anything about John Hiatt. And second of all, I don’t think I can spend two hours looking at Lyle Lovett. I mean, how in the world he was married to Julia Roberts has to be one of life’s great mysteries!”

“I don’t think she fell in love with his looks, and I’m certain he feels the same way after two years together with her… Look, why don’t we find out if tickets are even available?” I argued.

“Okay,” Leah relented.

Unfortunately, online shopping established that only single seats scattered through the orchestra and balconies still remained, and that was not an option. However, a direct call to the box office revealed that a cache of tiered seats directly behind the stage could be ours if we were willing to forgo direct eye contact.

“What about the sound quality?” Leah asked the agent.

“It’s a symphony hall! You’ll hear it the same as everybody else, and it’s amazing!” the agent proclaimed.

“That’s perfect!” I declared, openly displaying my enthusiasm. “We get to hear two time-honored performers with deep songbooks, and you don’t have to look at either one of them.”

“Okay,” Leah surrendered.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center was designed with neo-classical underpinnings,

Schermerhorn Hall

which seems characteristically out of place,

statue and hall

fountain

symphony hall garden

given Nashville’s lowbrow sensibility, and glass tower affinity.

We stepped into a stripped-down, blue-lit stage–just guitars and voices, and an occasional harmonica–as Lovett and Hiatt traded songs and repartee,

performance (2)

providing 2½ hours of mutual admiration,

it's him (2)

and audience participation.

taking a bow

An evening of watching the backs of Lovett and Hiatt, while listening to their tone poems and anthems about America sounded wonderful.

The following day, the hit parade continued with a pilgrimage to Country Music nirvana,

museum sign

Hall of Fame (2)

where a million fans come every year to pay tribute to Country Western legends who’ve turned an American music genre into an international juggernaut.

quotes3

Currently, museum exhibits follow the careers of music royalty, honoring the Queen of Country,

Loretta Lynn

and the King of Folk–

Dylan and Cash

–with multi-media memories, and enough testimonial trivia to solidify their golden reputations.

gold record wall

This is our second time through Nashville during our year-long odyssey; we’ve passed this way over seven months ago (Rig or Mortis) traveling southbound, and it’s become our way station once again as we move to warmer weather for the winter season.

We’ll surely pass through Nashville after we’ve emerged from our Florida hibernation, but next time around, we’ll have reserved tickets to the Grand Ole Opry in our hands before we get there.