Nashville is known as Music City and for good reason! Nashville has historic musical venues, a thriving downtown music scene, recording studios and music stars, all in a mish-mash of genres including Country, Bluegrass, Rockabilly, R&B, Rock, and Gospel.
Stroll along Nashville’s Broadway bar district and your ears will be assailed by music literally blasting from every open door and window. In fact, I found the decibel rating to be completely unacceptable inside most venues. 105 plus decibels, really? The OSHA permissible exposure to those levels is only about one hour without hearing protection (and beer doesn’t count as hearing protection). Frankly, I can’t even hear the nuances of the music when I’m being sound-blasted, so what’s the point? Whatever happened to a guy or gal with their acoustic guitar crooning a ballad in front of a single microphone? You know, so you could actually understand the lyrics? But, I digress. We did manage to find a venue or two with smaller bands and a less than deafening sound level.
Just up the block a ways is the historic Ryman Auditorium. Originally built as a church, the facility hosted the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974. The auditorium still shows its roots in its layout, architecture, and pew seating. I felt right at home as we took in a show by Mandolin Orange, a talented duo with a fusion bluegrass/folk acoustic sound. Their mellow tones and thoughtful lyrics posed a fascinating counterpoint to the blasting music and drinkin’ going on a short piece down the road.
For more music history, nothing covers it better than a visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. As a musician myself, nothing fascinates me more than exploring the roots and evolution of the spectrum of musical genres we know now as “country’. Even today, talented music composers continue to graft and meld various musical styles to create something fresh and new. One of my favorite exhibits was a film exploring country music on TV, from the earliest black and white shows up to today. It was fun seeing clips from shows I remember from back in the 60’s and 70’s. Remember the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour or Hee Haw? I guess I’m showing my advanced age! (Hey, I got the senior citizen discount, so it’s not all bad.)
No trip to Nashville is complete without a visit to the Grand Ole Opry. In its current home since moving from the Ryman in 1974, the longest running radio show in US history keeps on truckin’. The variety show operates as a well-oiled machine. Once the cherry red “On The Air” sign illuminates, each guest artist arrives in their turn, performs 3 songs, and politely exits. While the stage crew resets for the next artist, the announcer conducts short interviews or reads commercials. It’s all very polished and timed to the second. It’s also highly entertaining and worth every penny to see. I picked a night during which Scotty Macreery was performing. I remember Scotty as a 17 year old contestant on American Idol, which he won that year. At the advanced age of 25, he is now a seasoned performer with several number one hits under his belt. I love Scotty.
Ear-splitting bands notwithstanding, I found the overall level of musicianship to be generally outstanding. I’ve never experienced such a concentration of musical talent in any one place. The impact and musical legacy of those that came before is evident in today’s performers. Music City, indeed.
In the center of the current Grand Ole Opry stage is a six-foot circle of hardwood, lovingly cut and transplanted from the Ryman Auditorium stage. This circle, where so many of the greats in country music stood to perform, creates a tangible link to Opry’s history. When the devastating flood of 2010 submerged the stage under several feet of water, it was uncertain whether the circle could be salvaged. Miraculously, although much in the theater was destroyed, the circle remained in good condition. It was meticulously refinished, and re-installed into the restored stage. It remains as a beloved and revered piece of the Grand Ole Opry magic. As the song goes:
“Can the circle be unbroken,
Bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye”
May the circle remain unbroken.