A few years ago, my mom and her husband packed up their homes in California and relocated to a town outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Once a year, some of the neighborhood’s best musicians pull out their instruments, plug in their mics, and play music on their front porches.
Pay your dues and you play for free,
And you pray for a honky tonk destiny,
You cut your teeth in the smokey bars,
And live off the tips from a pickle jar
Till find a cool new sound
And you smile when the record man shoots you down
– Crazy Town, Jason Aldean
Nashville might hold claim over being America’s Music City and it seems as though this moniker includes the ‘burbs. In Nashville itself, there’s no shortage of bars owned by top country singers, a museum dedicated to Johnny Cash, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and of course, the Grand Ole Opry.
The Grand Ole Opry
The Grand Ole Opry is undoubtedly the most important stage in country music. In 1925, it started as a radio broadcast barn dance and is now the longest-running radio broadcast in the country. Though the venue itself has changed a handful of times throughout the past decade, the Grand Ole Opry has kept a six-foot across piece of stage from the original Grand Ole Opry that has had the likes of Roy Acuff, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and many more stand and play upon it.
There’ll be guitars and fiddles and banjo pickin’ too
Bill Monroe singing out them Old Kentucky Blues
Ernest Tubb’s number Two Wrongs Won’t Make a Right
At the Grand Ole Opry every Saturday night
– Grand Ole Opry, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Don’t ask me why, but I assumed that the Grand Ole Opry was going to be a formal experience akin to a symphony or Broadway play. People travel from all over the world to witness performances at its grandiose hall. I threw on my nicest dress — a hand-me-down from my sister who said, “You need this more than I do,” and was ready to get my twang on.
In front of the Grand Ole Opry, a swarm of people gathered in various hairstyles, piercings, and outfits. A blend of jean cut-offs, chiffon, mullets, and perfectly curled ringlets (not all on the same person) formed a line out of the door of the gift shop. Branded accessories and Hee Haw T-shirts piled into their arms.
Well their stuff’s real nice
Oh but I can buy the same damn thing on a WalMart shelf half price
And still look sexy
Just as sexy
As those models on TV
No I don’t need no designer tag to make my man want me
You might think I’m trashy
A little too hard core
But get in my neck of the woods
I’m just the girl next door
– Redneck Woman, Gretchen Wilson
We grabbed drinks and took a seat on the church-pew style bench. The lady next to me nudged me lightly with her elbow and said, “Sorry, I got a big ass!” with a wink and a smile. To our right, a couple in their 60s tapped their feet to the background music while we waited for the show to start.
The host arrived at the stage and rattled off the list of names of people who were celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. When he named those who were celebrating fifty years of marriage, the crowd hollered and let out unabashed applause.
The first act, The Gatlin Brothers, took the stage. The lead singer, Larry Gatlin, pulled a 10-year-old boy out of his seat and told him to come forward.
“Take your phone and Google the Gatlin Brothers,” Larry said to the kid.
“I know who you guys are!” The kid laughed.
The best thing about the Grand Ole Opry is that there is nothing pretentious about the experience–it’s open to all ages, fashion choices, and it’s a good first-time show if you’re a country music virgin. Each musician or band plays for only three songs, so if you don’t like the one that’s playing, you it’s only a few minutes until you get onto the next. The show has a blend of classics you can sing-along to, newly written tunes, bluegrass, pop, honky tonk, Americana, and more. During our show, a triage of fiddlers were followed by Home Free, an a cappella country band.
Is it Worth the Hype?
If you’re a fan of country music, then you already know the answer. If you’re new to the scene or wondering if it’s a worthy thing to do in Nashville, I’ll give it a resounding hell yeah. And if, for some reason you leave unhappy, good riddance. It’s not a place for music snobs.
If You Go
Check the Grand Ole Opry lineup and purchase tickets online at Opry.com. There is also a backstage tour where you can look at the dressing rooms and be part of the hype as performers prepare for their sets.