Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Goin' Country - the first part

Rule #28 - An author must continue to learn

     Ok, today’s rule is so true about everyone. We all must continue to learn. So much for the concept of a “graduation” ceremony where you don’t have to go back to school anymore. Truth be told, you never stop learning. Life is the biggest school house around! Everyone learns things about themselves and the world around them on a minute-to-minute basis. How else could we make a decision?
     One of my better decisions was to return to Nashville. When Hub and I visited before, we did so in the hottest part of the summer. It’s humid there and that tends to sap energy from me. Hub was not into country music, either.  If it didn’t interest him, I was free to go on my own, as long as it didn’t cost too much.
     This time, I visited in late May, armed with a bunch of things I was going to see whether I enjoyed it beforehand or not.  I, too, am not much of a country music fan… well, sort of. As you may have guessed, I do like parts of all music genres. A musician has to impress me with the individual work of art. There are plenty of country pieces that I love, some that are so timeless, they cross the country music line into eternity. That’s why - on this trip - I planned to take in as much country music as I could. What better way to do this than to visit the two cathedrals of country music, the Grand Ole’ Opry, both the original and the new one?
     Stop one on this pilgrimage was to the original Grand Ole’ Opry site - Ryman Auditorium. This site has more history - and not just musical history - in one brick than any place else in town.

116 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville, TN
     Seems that back around 1885, a riverboat captain, name of Thomas Ryman, met a preacher man, name of Samuel Jones.  The captain listened to Reverend Jones speak about salvation and doing good for the Lord. Captain Ryman then proceeded to give up his drinking and gambling ways and turn his life around. He decided he would raise up a place where everyone could meet and hear the Word. That’s how the Union Gospel Tabernacle came to be in all of eighteen hundred and ninety-two. It boasted of a horse-shoe set-up, with pew seats bending all around the speaker.

Even the pews bend

     The Confederate Veterans Association held a reunion in Nashville in 1897. Well, so many sons and their soldier dads came, that the Tabernacle needed more seats. That’s how the “Confederate Gallery” came to be. Now the Tabernacle could seat 6000 easily for meetings and revivals. It was becoming a major auditorium now, and able to host more than just revivals.

The Confederate Gallery - balcony seating
     Here comes 1901, when the stage was constructed. The Metropolitan Opera company from New York brought their productions of “The Barber of Seville” and “Faust” down Nashville way. Now the Tabernacle hosted big city theatricals, not just revival meetings.
     But wait a minute… Captain Ryman passed on to glory ‘round about late October, 1904. Reverend Jones spoke of him at his funeral at the Tabernacle. He spoke up saying that this hallowed ground should not longer be called the Tabernacle, but Ryman Auditorium. Well, everyone stood up and cheered so loud at that idea, that it was a done deal. From that day on, 116 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee, would be forever know as Ryman Auditorium.
     Many years passed and the Ryman saw its share of greats to grace the stage. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft spoke from the stage. Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan Macy lectured to the first sold-out house. People like Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, Enrico Caruso, and Will Rogers - all of them visited Nashville and stood center stage. Speakers, singers, dramatic performers all shared their talents with Tennessee folks.

Playbills for all types of performances and articles line the upstairs lobby
      It was still a meeting house, though. Folks would come in from outside the city early on days when there was something going on at the Ryman. They would sit outside - all afternoon sometimes - with their picnics, just waiting for the doors to open.

Portrait of a typical day at the Ryman - circa 1950's
     It was around about 1943 when WSM, a radio station nearby, decided to bring its popular listening program to the Ryman stage. Now folks could not just hear the Grand Ole’ Opry program on the radio, they could see it in person. Bill Monroe brought in his buddies Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs up on stage in 1945. Chet Atkins' great guitar licks came from center stage, too. So many greats joined the Opry and sang from the Ryman stage - Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Sr. There was this one fellow, though. His name was Elvis Presley. He brought his brand of music to the Opry stage one night in 1954. Well, he just a-wiggled and sang himself to not much applause. Elvis shook the dust of the Opry off his blue suede shoes that night. He never appeared on that stage again, since he was told his music wouldn’t amount to much. Ok, so maybe history isn’t all smart stuff after all.
     It was in the early 1960’s that the Ryman started to feel cursed. Y’ know, in that creepy, ghosty sort of way. Many members of the Grand Ole’ Opry stood center stage and performed their hearts out. But not too long after, they met their Maker in an untimely - and sometimes violent - way. Word has it that Patsy Cline even saw a premonition of her death in the plane crash right before it happened. No way to know for sure, but after her death, Opry members were hesitant to stand at that center stage microphone.  It got so bad that by the end of the 1960’s, National Life Insurance started looking to move the Opry show to a new home. The last Opry broadcast from Ryman Auditorium was in 1974, on March the 15th. Guess they thought it was fitting to kill the Opry at the Ryman on the Ides of March. Shakespeare would have loved the irony.

Center stage at the Ryman
     On March 16, 1974, the Grand Ole’ Opry christened it’s new home at Opryland USA, just across the Cumberland River. Now it was right near a hotel, and an amusement park so everyone could visit Opryland and stay a while.
     The Ryman didn’t fade into history, no sir. It became the Mother Church of Country Music. It became a set for scenes in “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. It was where Dolly Parton  filmed an episode of her variety show and Johnny Cash filmed his nationwide television show. It celebrated its first 100 years in 1992. Memorial services were held here for country greats Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, Waylon Jennings and Tammy Wynette, to name a few.
     What’s more, many of the country performers of today insist on being inducted into the Grand Ole’ Opry from the Ryman stage. Just ask Brad Paisley, Ralph Stanley, and Charlie Daniels - all stood center stage at the Mother Church and were gathered into the country music fold.
     In 2001, the Ryman Auditorium was declared a National Historic Landmark. In 2006, Tennessee honored the Ryman as the Birthplace of Bluegrass.
      The day I visited - well, the Ryman was still busy. Peter Frampton was setting himself up for a concert that evening. I was able to walk around and see the costumes of many country legends. I watched a tribute to Minnie Pearl. Her signature “Howdie!” echoed all over the halls. And I toured those halls, sat in the pews, and remembered…

Minnie Pearl's costume and hat - complete with $1.98 price tag - on display
     Then it was time to leave Mother Church’s arms and visit the new Opry in town. It was gonna soon be time to see the Opry broadcast live. But first - I need some time to set a bit and think…

Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff in bronze

To be continued…


Historical information from www.ryman.com/history (about the Auditorium itself) and  http://thatnashvillesound.blogspot.com (about the Curse of the Ryman)

Photos by Marge McGugan

All photos are the property of Marge McGugan and may not be reused or copied without written permission.

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