The Grand Ole Opry isn’t actually a building, but rather it’s a weekly country music stage concert and radio show based in Nashville, Tennessee. The show is among the longest-running radio broadcasts in history and, ever since 1925, it has featured the biggest stars in country music. The Opry showcases a mix of legends and contemporary performers who play country, bluegrass, folk, gospel, and who give comedic performances. The Grand Ole Opry is "the show that made country music famous".
Not to say that there isn’t a building involved… This is the current Grand Ole Opry ‘House’. In 1974, this building became the 7th home for the Grand Ole Opry since it was founded. From 1943 until 1974, the Ryman Auditorium was the home of the Opry. The current home of the Opry is nine miles east of downtown Nashville on a new site that was originally part of the ‘Opryland USA theme park’. On opening night in 1974, President Nixon played a few songs on the piano.
While the theme park was closed in 1997 and replaced by the huge and very busy Opry Mills outlet mall, the Opry House itself was left intact and incorporated into the new development. Currently the Opry plays several times a week at the Grand Ole Opry House…except for an annual winter run at the Ryman.
This is the stage at The Grand Ole Opry House. The auditorium seats 4,400 people. In the spring of 2010, the Opry House was closed for repairs after record amounts of rain sent water from the Cumberland River 2 feet above this stage, damaging instruments, memorabilia and archival tapes. Because of the flooding, the Ryman Auditorium once again became the primary venue for the Grand Ole Opry. The restored Opry House reopened on September 28, 2010.
As we began our backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry House, this was our first stop. Our guide provided an introduction and a video orientation by country music superstar Blake Shelton, told us what we might expect. We were about to walk in the footsteps of country music's superstars and get an close-up look at what happens behind the scenes of the show that made country music famous!
Yes, there is a ‘post office’ at the Grand Ole Opry House… Each living member of the Grand Old Opry has a mail box here… Mail is delivered and when members pay a visit, they pick up their mail. In general, the mail slots at the top belong to those who have been members of the Opry the longest. An exception is 92 year old Little Jimmy Dickens, a member of the Opry since 1948…who at 4’ 11’’ couldn’t reach one of the higher mail boxes.
Information about Little Jimmy Dickens can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Jimmy_Dickens.
The mail boxes are located adjacent to the desk where the stars check in for their appearances. Once again Blake Shelton addressed our tour group via video. He spoke about the importance of and the emotional impact on those country stars who are invited to join the Opry. Yes, one has to be invited to become a member of the Opry. Many performers actually participate in the live radio shows, (with an audience in the auditorium), but only a limited number are actually ‘made’ members of the Opry. Some recent inductees have included Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood.
A wall across from the performer’s reception desk is festooned with plaques like the ones shown above. There is a name plaque for every past and present member of the Grand Ole Opry. To check out the membership roster, you can go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Grand_Ole_Opry_members.
There is no such thing as a ‘passive member’ of the Grand Ole Opry. In April 1963 Opry management established a rule that members had to perform on at least 26 shows a year to maintain an ‘active’ status. In 2000, the minimum number of Opry performances was at 12. While the minimum number of required performances has decreased, artists who are offered membership are expected to show a dedication to the Opry with frequent attendance.
Part of the backstage tour included a look into several of the stars dressing rooms. Most of them are dedicated to a specific star or theme…and they range from feminine to almost hard rock in their appearance. There are a total of 18 dressing rooms.
This is another one of the dressing rooms…but this one has a little ‘edge’ as regards its décor.
I checked to see just which performers would be occupying the dressing rooms in the upcoming weeks. With at least 150 shows a year, there is no shortage of star power…from old timers to current stars. Some of the names I recognized include Jennie Seely, Riders in the Sky, Mel Tillis, Larry Gatlin, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan.
Backstage daytime tours all end on the stage…with guests looking out over the traditional ‘church pew’ seating. By way of explanation, the Ryman Auditorium also had church pew seating as it was the Union Gospel Tabernacle before it became The Grand Ole Opry. The Ryman is still referred to as the “Mother Church of Country Music”.
When tours come out on the stage, each couple or group is posed on this "special circle of wood". Photos are taken and when the tour ends, everyone has a chance to purchase the photos. We posed but I don’t know what happened to our photos… In any case, we didn’t buy ours.
When the new Opry opened in 1974, this six-foot circle of oak was cut from the original stage at the Ryman and then it was inlaid into the stage in this new venue. This is the spot where the stars stand when they come out on stage to give their performance. Apparently, standing on this spot is a very emotional experience for those involved!
Dawn Marie couldn’t resist the opportunity to ham it up with one of the microphones on stage! Fortunately, the mike wasn’t open…
There was one last stop on the tour…before being routed through the gift shop on our way out. The spangled dress, flashy guitar and gold records are all part of a vignette that’s set up on Studio A. It displays items for the current TV show, ‘Nashville’. The dress was worn by actress Hayden Panettiere, who plays singer Juliette Barnes in the series. This was also the Studio where the famous long running 'HEE HAW' television show was staged.
These are our guides for this backstage tour. They were casual, knowledgeable and personable. Stacy was our primary guide throughout… As I noted in my blog about our tour of Fontanel, the tour guide is the key to an enjoyable experience.
We are not particularly star struck…and while we enjoy country music, we are not dedicated fans who know all of the songs and performers. Even so, this tour was an interesting and enjoyable experience. The price for adults is $19.00…and people were lined up for the tours. A new tour starts every 15 minutes and there are 25 – 35 people in each tour group.
The Grand Ole Opry is located at 2806 Opryland Drive in Nashville. There are regular shows as well as 3 different types of tours. It is recommended that tickets be purchased in advance. The very best seats for the shows themselves are $57.00. For more about the Opry and upcoming shows, go to http://www.opry.com/.
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by and joining our tour group!
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave