Tag Archives: Sperry’s

Backstage at the Grand Ole Opry

19 Nov

Living near Nashville has many perks but being around a lot of great music is at the top of the list. You can go almost anywhere and hear talented people. However, there is one place that stands above the rest. The Ryman Auditorium sits downtown and was, for many years, home of the Grand Ole Opry, the radio show that put the music into Music City. I have been to the “Mother Church” many times for many types of concerts, but Friday night brought a completely different experience. Necole and I were able to go backstage at the Ryman for the Grand Ole Opry, which moves back to its home during the offseason.

Our hosts were Dr. Bob and Leslin, his daughter. Leslin was one of my students and has a great blog. They were able to get us in because Dr. Bob is the doctor who many stars see when they have issues with their voice. He knows a lot of performers and was able to provide us with this special experience.

We started the evening with a great meal at Sperry’s, one of Nashville’s dining institutions. Then, we headed to the Ryman. I was worried about getting a parking space because Justin Timberlake was performing across the street, but Dr. Bob and Leslin had that taken care of. We parked in the lot reserved for the Opry performers.

We walked through the alley between the Ryman and Nashville’s famous honky tonks. We made it to the backstage entrance, and the history began to hit me. Country legends had climbed those same steps to perform for a packed house and countless people listening across the nation on WSM radio. When their set was finished, they would walk back down the steps to the bars across the alley. That’s where they would kill time until the second show.

Up the stairs was a man at a desk with a list of names. Once we got past him, we walk through the door and were on the stage. The show had already started. Music was playing, and the crowd was clapping. Immediately, one of the backup singers hugged Dr. Bob and told us to come on up. We ended up standing next to the backup singers. Everyone in the audience could see us. In front of us was the announcer who introduces the acts and reads the commercials. Eventually, he walked over and talked to us.

At the first break in the action, I took a picture of what was going on behind the curtain.Opry 1

Necole and I were amazed at the casual atmosphere. As the music played, people were talking and joking around. It was like a big family reunion. The hallways were small, and people couldn’t help but bump into each other. At one point, Dr. Bob wanted to introduce us to someone. We walked over and had a good conversation about music and life in Middle Tennessee. He asked about our jobs, and we asked about his. Around the corner, Riders in the Sky were practicing, and Necole became more interested in them than the conversation. She had to have a picture, and I took it. I am not great a picture-taking, so the blurriness is the fault of the photographer.Opry 2

Later, the accordion player asked me what I did for a living. When I told him that I was a historian who researched the American West, he nearly fell out. He wanted to talk all about the history of cowboys and their music. That’s when I told him about the magazine I had that listed them as one of the top 50 artists of the Western music genre. He acted like he didn’t know it.

We went back to the stage in time to see an elderly lady perform. The crowd was cheering enough for us to know that she was a major star, but we couldn’t tell who she was. Dr. Bob found out that it was Jean Shephard. None of my group recognized the name, so I got to show them some of my knowledge of music history. She was a big star in the 50s and 60s but faced terrible tragedy. Hawkshaw Hawkins, her husband, died in the same plane crash that killed Patsy Cline.

Eventually, it was time for the last segment, and the host walked into the wings. At first, all we could see was his red coat. When he turned around, we saw that it was Jim Ed Brown, another great star of the past. He sang a few songs before introducing the band that we had come to see – Old Crow Medicine Show. The newest members of the Opry brought down the house with an energetic performance that included “Wagon Wheel“, which was their song before it was Darius Rucker’s.

That’s when Necole and I realized that the guy we talked to earlier (back when Riders in the Sky was practicing) was the lead singer of Old Crow Medicine Show. Everyone around us was taking pictures. This is one that I took.Opry 3

That’s Jim Ed in the red coat, and the announcer standing next to him. The crowd loved Old Crow Medicine Show to the point that Jim Ed gave up his last song for them to be able to sing another one.

After the show, we walked back down the steps and into the alley. People were lined up to get into the honky tonks, and music could be heard coming from all of them. That’s when I realized that the alley is only a few feet across, but there is a long way from those stages to the one we just stood on.