Five months ago to the day Nashville (and much of the State plus adjoining regions) suffered the start of the Great Flood, and numerous major important and historic buildings got flooded. One victim was the Grand Ole Opry House, home of the show since 1974. Now, five months later to the day the Opry family celebrates the "Spirit of Nashville" with various public events.
Dear reader, yours truly was looking forward to today as much as -- even more than, actually -- the return of the beloved radio show. The Opry returned to its permanent home this past Tuesday with a fabulous and historic performance, as I reported previously. Listening on WSM-AM 650 gave me great pleasure; however, I itched to SEE the place where I'd spent many an evening enjoying "the show that made Country Music famous" and many a day guiding tourists thru the venerable House.
So I spoke to a neighbor with a vehicle about the freebie events out there, and late in the morning we go there. The line for the free tours is long -- easily the length of a football field or two. But thank the Lord, the weather continues its string of glorious autumn days. And touring the entire Grand Ole Opry House, including backstage and on stage, is well worth the wait!
Even before we enter, I notice differences, such as the glass-wall entrance to the Opry Shop to the right and a matching glass-wall for tickets to the left. These didn't exist when I worked at Opryland, but had taken the place of two "kiosks" (booths) nearer the main doors to the House. Inside, things also appear different, but I'm unsure that this is as much remodeling as it is my faulty memory. Once the line processes to the left of the stage and on backstage, I feel at home. Back there had been an area with some chairs and long tables, where employees and cast could have a bite to eat while sitting and chatting. Many a Friday or Saturday evening I would skip the employee cafeteria inside Opryland Park, going instead to the Opry House, buying a hot dog or other food and a drink and sitting in this area.
Today there is only one table set up, but I remember at once the podium and the wall telephone I see in the area. Further back is the artists' entrance, where a guide tells us about it and the process of the stars entering the venue. Nearby is the post-office style mailboxes for the cast members to receive fan mail.
As we proceed past the mail area I see on the other side of the hall a new item. It's a section of wall covered with 3-by-5 (more or less) brass plates, each with the name of a cast member. All the cast thru the show's history is there! The plates are set in the order of their induction.
Further along we pass into the dressing room area. News items had informed that there are 18 refurbished rooms -- and that each has a theme. Also the backstage area was reported to have lost the earlier appearance of being "antiseptic", "hospital-like", like a high-school hallway (with metal lockers)" or "plain".
The news reports and comments are "spot-on"! I really, really like the "new" or post-Flood backstage look. The high-school metal lockers are replaced with beautiful wooden ones. Each dressing room looks much more inviting -- "homey" if you will. Number One is still tagged as "Roy's Room" because when the Grand Ole Opry House first opened in 1974, the "King of Country Music" the late Roy Acuff claimed it as his permanent dressing room. I remember that Porter Waggoner claimed the room on the direct opposite end of the "Green Room", and one or two others also got claimed. But generally the cast learned which dressing room was theirs for the evening when they came in the building at the artists' entrance.
Speaking of the "Green Room", I remember that back when I guided the tours I explained that it's a standard term for the room backstage of any theater where performers gather to await their turn on-stage. And that not many really are a green color. Oddly, the first "new" temporary home the show had post-flood was right across Briley Parkway (and up a hill) in the sanctuary of Two Rivers Baptist Church. And I remember Mike Terry, while he did the "Opry Warm-Up" on WSM, commented that the church classroom or whatever was serving as the show's "Green Room" really was green!
Well the "new" room here is quite different from the one in my memory. It's filled with plush funiture (more so than the old one) and looks as "homey" and inviting as the dressing rooms which surround it. I do miss the mural that was on the old room's wall. It was a cartoonish yet charming depiction fo the stage during the "organized chaos" that is an Opry show being performed. Stage hands hustled back and forth with equipment and folks were engaged in chatting or tuning instruments -- and it was difficult (if I remember the mural correctly) to pick out WHO in the hodge-podge was THE performer of the moment! I wish they had saved it, but I don't know but what the mural was gone before the water invaded the place.
Speaking of water, should anybody touring tor working in the backstage area forget that a flood happened here, they woun't have to look far for sobering reminders. At the artists' entrance, the guide pointed out how the concrete support pillars were a light grey up to about four feet, and noticeably darker from there on up; it's the water line from the flood. And in the "Green Room" itself a discreet chair-back protector stripe is set at the water line there!
Well, then it's time to go out on the stage, and more memories flood my mind (no pun intended). How many times did I stand here at the right edge of the stage (as one looks out at the audience) by or even behind the rear curtains, viewing a performance going on center stage? How many tour groups did I lead out onto center stage to stand around the famous six-foot circle of wood from the Ryman stage? And once I'd made my remarks about the circle, I'd lead the groups in singing the chorus of "Your Are My Sunshine" -- then conclude that "Now y'all can go home and tell your family and neighbors that you sang on the grand Ole Opry!"
The most remarkable thing about the Ryman circle is: it was removed immediately following the Great Flood, carefully cleaned and restored, and returned to the stage just a couple weeks ago. Meanwhile, the rest of the stage's surface got scrapped and replaced with new and darker wood. "New" means that "they sure don't build things like they used to" -- with the older than a century Ryman wood surviving while the 1974 floor gets ruined! "Darker" means that now the Ryman circle is more noticeable that it was pre-flood!
Well, I have a photo taken of me standing in the circle, and take a few more photos of the stage area. Then my neighbor and I walk up thru the audience seating, to the Opry Shop near the front doors. Most of what I see in there seems to be identical merchandise to what I'd seen in the new Opry Originals store downtown after it opened. This store also has a big-screen showing video excerpts of performances. And I sing along on a few of the songs, and get "captured" by a Country Music history book for sale!
Once I untangle myself from these enticements and find my neighbor, we mosey on outdoors to the Opry Plaza. Live music is being played out here, and we find a couple of seats and enjoy the music for a good while. We also enjoy the absolutely perfect "chamber-of-commerce" weather!
dear reader, one couldn't ask for a better day for welcoming the world's oldest live radio show back to her permanent home! So "Welcome back home, Opry!"