Nashville Part I: Ryman Auditorium
Ashland City, TN - Events of friday, July 20 to Monday, July 23, 2012
The next stop on our summer travel schedule was near Nashville, TN at the Lock A Corps of Engineers Campground outside Ashland City. Last fall when we stopped at Nashville, we stayed on the eastern side of the city at Cedar Creek COE Campground in Mt. Juliet, TN. This time, we decided to try a COE campground that was located right on the Cumberland River on the northwestern side of Nashville. Lock A is a little more remotely located than Cedar Creek; but with our goal of a more relaxing year of travel, it seemed to be a good choice.
We took our time departing from Parkers Crossroads because our drive was only around two hours plus a few extra minutes for a fuel stop. We pulled into Lock A shortly after noon.
Lock A Campground has paved roads. About half the sites are gravel, and the other half of the sites are paved - not just the pad, but also the driveway leading to the pad as well as the generously-sized patio.
As with most COE campgrounds, Lock A has only water and electric (30/50 amp) hookups. Most of the sites are nice and wide, but a few are a little closer together. We were in a relatively small, quiet loop off by itself, but there wes also a larger loop where the sites along one side back up to the Cumberland River.
Lock A campground is a short distance upstream of Lock A on the Cumberland River. There were some pleasure boats, but there were also a few large tow boats and barges. We took a few walks, and we usually ended up down by the river.
Last fall, we didn't do much sightseeing because we had trouble with our satellite internet and ended up spending a lot of our time gathering information and making the decision to switch to Verizon Broadband. Therefore, even though we were in a bit of a remote location during this stay, we did end up doing a little more sightseeing than we had originally planned.
We made a Walmart run on Saturday, relaxed most of Sunday, then headed into Nashville on Monday to see Ryman Auditorium. Ryman Auditorium is a 2,300+ seat auditorium that used to house the Grand Ole Opry.
Downtown Nashville has numerous parking garages and parking lots, but they also have some on-street, metered parking. We found a space right across from the entrance of the auditorium. Metered parking is 25 cents for 10 minutes ($1.50 an hour), which isn't too bad.
Ryman Auditorium was originally built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892 by Thomas Ryman, who owned a fleet of riverboats and several bars in Nashville. Ryman reportedly was tired of hearing about well-known evangelist Samuel Porter Jones preaching against gambling and drinking - two of the very things that made money for Ryman on his riverboats and in his bars. Ryman and several friends attended a revival meeting held by Reverend Jones with the intention of heckling the preacher. However, Ryman ended up getting saved and built the Union Gospel Tabernacle so Reverend Jones, or any other preacher, would have a proper church building any time he came to town. After Ryman's death in 1904, Reverend Jones proposed the tabernacle be renamed Ryman Auditorium.
In addition to being used for revival meetings, the Ryman Auditorium, or The Ryman as it is frequently called, was used as a venue for speaking engagements, political debates, concerts and various types of performances. Bob Hope, Katherine Hepburn, the Zigfield Follies, Helen Keller, President Teddy Roosevelt, Houdini, Will Rogers, Mae West and W. C. Fields have all performed or spoken at the Ryman Auditorium. Even with all those famous people, The Ryman is best known for serving as the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 until 1974.
The Grand Ole Opry was a weekly radio program that featured live music and skits. It started in a 5th-floor radio studio in 1925 in downtown Nashville as the WSM Barn Dance. In addition to being broadcast on the radio, the show also drew audiences who wanted to see the show in person. As the popularity grew, the Opry moved to several larger venues until it ended up in The Ryman in 1943.
In 1974, a new 4,400-seat theater was built east of Nashville that also was part of the Opryland Hotel complex and a theme park. Ryman Auditorium sat mostly vacant until the 1990s when it was restored and reopened as a more intimate concert venue. They have 200 to 250 live shows a year, and they are not all country artists. The theater is also frequently rented out for taping music videos and for photo shoots. The Ryman even hosts the Opry in the winter.
The Ryman has self-guided tours for $13 and you can add a behind the scenes tour of several dressing rooms for an extra $4. We opted to add the behind the scenes tour, and we're glad we did. The dressing rooms that are included in the tour have themes featuring well-known country stars like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Minnie Pearl. The behind the scenes tour includes many interesting facts and anecdotes about some of the past stars of the Grand Ole Opry.
Because The Ryman is an active performance theater, there are no behind the scenes tours on days when there is a performance scheduled because the dressing rooms are being readied for the performers who will use them later in the day. Unfortunately, photography isn't permitted in any of the dressing room areas, but we were allowed to step onto the stage near the end of the tour and take a photo.
As you can see from the photo above, the seats in the auditorium are pews, which fits with the beginnings of The Ryman as a church. Also in connection with that heritage, The Ryman is known as "The Mother Church of Country Music."
After our behind the scenes tour, we continued on with the regular self-guided tour. We watched the video that gives the history of The Ryman, then we roamed around the facility to view the exhibits that include costumes and instruments of many country stars.
Minnie Pearl was the character played by Sarah Colley Cannon. Sarah began her career producing and directing plays and musicals for local organizations. She switched to a comedy act playing Cousin Minnie Pearl in 1939 and was signed to appear on the Grand Ole Opry in 1940. Minnie Pearl was a regular with the Opry until Sarah suffered a serious stroke in 1991. Sarah Cannon died of complications from a second stroke in 1996.
The story about the price tag on Minnie Pearl's hat was interesting. Sarah always put fresh flowers on the straw hat that was part of her costume. One day she was running late and didn't have time to stop for flowers, so she sent someone from the theater out to buy some artificial flowers. When the flowers arrived, she hurriedly wrapped them around the hat and stuffed the price tag in among the stems. While running around the stage during her comedy routine, the price tag slipped out and hung down. The audience thought the tag was funny, so from that day on, Minnie Pearl's hat had a price tag on it.
The balcony of the Ryman was added in 1897 in order to increase the seating capacity for a reunion of Confederate soldiers.
There is an alley beside the Ryman. Across that alley are the back doors of the honky tonks on Broadway, which is the next street over. Performers at the Ryman used to slip over to one of the honky tonks for a quick drink before and/or after the show. Also in the alley is the stage entrance and the steps where two young brothers used to sit and play hoping someone would notice them. Chet Atkins eventually gave them an audition, and the Everly Brothers went on to become rock and roll stars.
Before heading back to the car, we walked on down to Broadway to see the honky tonks. Broadway reminded us a lot of Beale Street in Memphis with all its bars and neon signs. We were particularly interested in seeing Tootsie's Orchid Lounge because it was a hang out for the likes of Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Mell Tillis, Roger Miller, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams and many more back in the day when the bar used to be called Mom's. Mom was a no-nonsense woman, but she frequently lent a helping hand to many a struggling country singer.
We listen to country music, but we don't know a lot about its early days. It was interesting to learn about some of the stars and how they got their start and to learn about the history of the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. We have a little more sightseeing planned, so stay tuned.