There is a very special gem, a diamond in the rough, that has stood the test of time in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s been a church, and entertainment hall, a home for the Grand Ole Opry
(http://www.opry.com,) and a concert venue. Built in the late 1880s, (darn, that was a LONG TIME AGO!) this sacred place was originally a church – the Union Gospel Tabernacle – constructed under unusual circumstances. A wealthy steamboat captain named Thomas Ryman, who ran a fleet of boats up and down Tennessee’s Cumberland River, which runs right through Nashville, brought lots of business to local bars and liquor distributors. When his men were in town, they spent plenty of their earnings on wild good times offered in the city. Also, aboard Captain Ryman’s boats, which carried plenty of passengers and goods, a mighty fine time was had, drinking, dining, gambling and interacting with the dancing girls! Thus, the captain was a very successful and well-known businessman in town. However, there was another man in town, Reverend Sam Jones, who was a fiery, charismatic preacher from Georgia, holding popular tent revivals all over the country during this time. Once a lawyer with alcoholic tendencies, and the grandson of Methodist preachers, Rev. Jones changed his ways and became a holy man himself. Not a big fan of strict religious doctrine, Jones believed more in living a clean, sin-free life of kindness and good. His message was simple: “Quit your meanness!” Having heard about Rev. Jones, and not pleased with his sermons on how alcohol, dancing, and baseball (amongst other things) were sinful and evil, Capt. Ryman decided to attend one of his tent revivals to raise a ruckus and make his disagreement known. However, something completely opposite happened!
Instead, Ryman found salvation and was converted to a devout Christian! The year was 1885 and this was the beginning of a great turnaround for Ryman, Rev. Jones and the citizens of Nashville! Soon after, plans were in place to build Rev. Jones a great tabernacle so that his listeners would be protected from the ever-changing weather in Tennessee, and so that his voice would be projected loudly and clearly for all to hear. Seven years later, the building was complete, and was used for more than just revivals and worship. In order to pay off the debt of construction, the building was also rented out for other activities, such as speaking engagements, political rallies, community events, etc. And later, under the tutelage of Lula Naff (more on her later,) operas, ballets, symphonies, theatre performances, musical entertainment, boxing matches, and other various productions were booked at what was now renamed, The Ryman Auditorium. Many times over the years, Rev. Jones brought up his desire to change the name of the Union Gospel Tabernacle to honor his friend, the man who brought his vision to reality, Thomas Ryman. But, Ryman would not hear of it, so it wasn’t until his death in 1904, during his memorial service, that Jones made a proposal to rename the building after Ryman. He got his wish, as the attendees approved the idea overwhelmingly, and the name was changed. Sadly, Rev. Jones died just two years later, one day before his 59th birthday. It is believed that he preached to over three million Americans during his career.
Over the next forty years, so many well-known people graced the stage, which was built in 1901, that the Ryman Auditorium became known as the “Carnegie Hall of the South!” Early entertainers, like Marian Anderson, John Philip Sousa, Ethel Barrymore, Charlie Chaplin, Roy Rogers, Harry Houdini, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn and Mae West, performed at the Ryman, as did a variety of speakers, including President Theodore Roosevelt.
By 1943, there was a new show in town – a radio show that was getting too big for it’s britches – called The Grand Ole Opry. Needing a larger venue, it found it’s way to the Ryman, where it stayed for the next 31 years! Legends, such as Hank Williams, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley graced the stage and the Opry became an international phenomenon, hosting the biggest country stars of that time! Nicknamed “The Mother Church of Country Music” by the locals, the Ryman is also known as the Birthplace of Bluegrass. When Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe performed together onstage in December of 1945, a different kind of sound was born – bluegrass!
Because of its increase in popularity, (again!) in 1974, a new venue was built further out from the city for the Opry, and the move was a very emotional and sad departure for many of the cast. During the last show at the Ryman, Minnie Pearl was unable to control her emotions and cried onstage, knowing it was the end of an era. But the Ryman continued to host various events, due the it’s fame and recognition as being such a popular landmark, and the Grand Ole Opry thrived in it’s new home down the road. However, because of various businessmen and self-serving bigwigs in town, the Ryman soon became a source of criticism and doom. There was a tug-of-war about what to do with it, and believe it or not, it was shut down and stood vacant for twenty years (1974-1994,) while it (and the surrounding area) began to decay. It’s sure hard to imagine that now, with its current popularity and bustling activity, but it is truly by miracle alone that the Ryman was never demolished! That, as well as protests and complaints by preservationists and local citizens, and an article written in The New York Times written by Ada Louise Huxtable, ridiculing the decision to raze the building to make room for a modern, new theater. She wrote: “First prize for the pious misuse of a landmark, and total misunderstanding of the principles of preservation. Gentleman, for shame!” Eventually, amidst all the mess, arguing, and confusion, it was finally thrown into a deal (almost as an afterthought) along with WSM-Radio and Opryland Properties, and sold to the Gaylord Entertainment Company. Luckily, CEO Ed Gaylord was a fan of the Grand Ole Opry and many of its stars, and saved it again from demolition, thanks to his appreciation of its remarkable history. Instead of being torn down, and after twenty years of standing vacant and deteriorating, the Ryman Auditorium would have a rebirth. In the early 1990s, a multi-million dollar renovation began on the building, updating and upgrading it to modern standards, which included central air-conditioning being added for the
first time! When it reopened, the next generation of performers yearned to play on the sacred stage that so many of their idols had stood in the past. Staying true to it’s reputation of diversity and variety, the Ryman hosted well-known talent of the day, from Aretha Franklin, ZZ Top, and Norah Jones to Boz Scaggs, Neil Young, and Sheryl Crow, to name a few. Many a star has recorded an album at the Ryman, and it has also been a popular venue for filming documentaries, videos and movies. It held memorial services for Johnny Cash, Minnie Pearl, Bill Monroe, Tammy Wynette, Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings, and in November of 1999, saw the return of the Grand Ol’ Opry for the first time since it’s departure two decades earlier. It returns every November through January to pay homage to it’s humble beginnings and enjoy cozier, more intimate performances at the smaller venue during the off-season. This also allows the current home of the Opry to bring in large, holiday productions to its bigger auditorium.
Since it’s reopening, the Ryman had undergone two more renovations, one in 2012 to replace it’s 60 year old stage, and again in 2015, which included updating aging areas from the 1994 renovation, as well as adding more lobby space, a gift shop, and a restaurant, named in honor of past manager, Lula Naff. Business is booming as good as ever at the Ryman, with regular shows like Opry at the Ryman, Opry Country Classics, Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman, Sam’s Place, and radio broadcasts by the oldest radio station in the nation, 90 year old, WSM Radio! There is also a plethora of shows each year by a huge variety of performers, from country western to rock and roll, alternative, jazz and more! Recent performers have been Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Tedeschi Trucks, the Moody Blues, Cyndi Lauper, and Lucinda Williams, again…just to name a few! Award shows, fundraisers, and private parties are also held at the Ryman, as well as daily historic tours. Because of it’s charm and top-notch acoustics, the venue has received Pollstar’s Theater of the Year Award 2010 -2015. It is truly an iconic building that has stood the test of time…and development! When in Nashville, a visit to the Ryman is a must! Lookie here: http://ryman.com
***Little did I realize, a few months back when I wrote about my friend, Barb winning a trip to New York to see the Rolling Stones (http://www.rollingstones.com,) that it would be a precursor to ‘the best night of my life!’ At that time (Nov-Dec. ’12,) we diehard Stones fans were chomping at the bit, wondering when/if/where our beloved band was ever going to tour again. We figured it had to be soon, if ever, since it was their 50th anniversary together as a band…and a unique time in rock & roll history! Monumentous! Exciting!
As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t recall where I was when I heard they were actually going to do it – the Stones would be touring! I’m sure I mustn’t have been driving in my car, or I surely would’ve crashed! I know it wasn’t from someone else, because I am always the first of my friends to hear about important musical news like this. I’m thinking it must’ve been on the internet, Facebook, or somewhere where I could’ve seen it “hot off the press.” Being a lifelong concert goer, and Stones fan, I’m signed up for all sorts of music news, so I undoubtedly received some email notification that announced the tour. And, I was ECSTATIC! I immediately contacted my three kids and told them to clear their calendars on the night the Stones were coming to our town! It had been a wish of mine to take them to see the greatest rock band in the world, if they ever toured again. And now, that time had come!
Ticket sales were only about a month after the big announcement, so things happened fast. By the grace of god, all four of us were available on Sunday, May 5, 2013 to see the boys in Oakland, California! But, buying tickets was another story. I feared being seated in the boondocks and barely being able to see the stage. Being one of their oldest and most devoted fans, I felt I should have a seat in the front row with my name engraved on it. But phooey, I didn’t. So, it was going to be a mad frenzy online, along with thousands of other nutty fans, jumping into the lottery fan pool. Ugh… But, lo and behold (and by the grace of something!) my daughter informed me that, because she was a Citibank cardholder, (https://online.citibank.com/US/Welcome.c) she had access to presale tickets! Praise the Gods of Rock & Roll!! We’d get first crack at them!
The morning of the sale, “Dot” (daughter) and I were on the phone in front of our computers – me at home, her at work. She had four co-workers ready to go when the clock struck 10:00am, and the first to get in would grab four tickets. Studying the seat map of the arena, we discussed sections and prices, all the while I was researching anything and everything I could about the upcoming show. At the last minute, I miraculously came across a posting somewhere by a British fan who had seen the Stones in England. He clearly wrote, “pay the extra money and buy tickets in the Tongue Pit – it’s the only place to be!” I suddenly became possessed by the Concert Devil, and told Dot to
“go for it! Buy in the Tongue Pit!” I didn’t care about the price – I was going for the big time! This was the single most historic event for this concert lover, and it was never going to happen again! So, that’s exactly what we did. Dot got into site first and by 10:03 we had four tickets in the tongue pit to see the ROLLING STONES!! My joke is that “I spent my next 42 paychecks” on tickets…but I didn’t regret it for a second! We were seeing the Stones!!!
The first time I saw the Rolling Stones was as a teenager in 1974 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco; and then again in 1977 at a ‘Day on the Green’ in Oakland; then again, and again, etc, etc. If a little birdie whispered in my ear back then that in 2013 I would be going to see them with my three grown kids, I would’ve bet my right arm, left leg, a trillion bucks, and all my future children on the impossibility of that ever happening. Glad I never made that bet, because I would’ve lost big time!!
To prepare the kids (all in their 20s, so not really ‘kids’ at all,) I researched the playlists from the “50 & Counting” concerts that took place last December, took an educated guess that they’d be the same or similar, and burned them each a copy. It ended up to be a wise decision, because that’s exactly what happened (give or take a song or three…) and they were all very familiar with the songs that night, singing along, jumping around, and basically enthralled like their mother!
MAY 5, 2013: THE ROLLING STONES IN CONCERT AT ORACLE ARENA IN OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA!! Decked out in Stones wear, we were off to the arena via BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit,) having to arrive between 5:00-6:00pm in order to get wristbands, VIP goodie bags*, and early entrance on to the floor. We went from one line to another to another, and after about an hour of this, were finally let loose inside the arena and down to the floor. I had informed the kids exactly where we would be standing “Follow me!” – a little to the right of center and as close to Keith Richards as humanly possible. And, that’s exactly what we did! It ends up that the only people between us and the stage were the camera man and the security dude. Excellent! Next, it was more waiting, talking to people around us, drinking beers, getting some food, killing time-all while the rest of the huge crowd of fans entered the arena. As showtime approached, the buzz in the tongue pit increased. The place was becoming electified…and we were excited. Then, the lights went dark…and, because I had heard that in previous concerts there was a drumline that started the show, I was expecting it tonight. But no! The stage lights lit up, a voice announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen…the Rolling Stones!” and there they were, larger than life, right in front of us – MICK, KEITH, RONNIE, CHARLIE & the rest of the band! They were so close (well, Mick and Keith were) that I could see their eyes, their wrinkles, their teeth!! Unreal! One of the first things that happened (that I’m sure no one else in the entire place noticed) was, after their first song (“Get Off of My Cloud”) Keith walked over to Ronnie Wood and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. They smiled at each other, like brothers and best friends, and went right into the next song. I was so excited I was jumping up and down like a little girl, a Rolling Stones cheerleader! Throughout the night, Keith and Ronnie both saw me (I’m sure
Mick did, too) and acknowledged me with smiles, a wave, and I swear Keith did a solo for me (I know, it sounds crazy, but…) because he was right in front of me, we locked eyes, then he looked down at his guitar during his little solo, and then looked back up at me and mouthed something!! Of course, I couldn’t hear it or read his lips, but he smiled at me and I gave him two thumbs up! What a thrill!! And, many times during the show, he walked to the edge of the stage, right over to us, and tossed out a guitar pick each time. My youngest kid caught the first one and handed it right over to me. Atta girl! The woman next to her offered her $1000.00 for it! “You’ll have to ask my mom,” was her response. The woman asked me, but of course I refused. “I’m sorry, but I could never part with this” I told her. The next one he flung bounced onto the floor near my eldest child (Dot,) who reached down and grabbed it, as did the guy standing next to her. They got into a little tug-o-war and my kid won. But, knowing we already had one, and seeing the disappointment on the man’s face, she said, “You really want this, don’t you?” “I really do!” he told her, so she gave it to him. Atta girl… Pick #3 was thrown during the very last song, (“Satisfaction”) bounced off some hands and fell to the floor. A few people scrambled around looking, but couldn’t find it. It stayed there until after the show, when the woman who offered us money for our first pick, her friend, me and my youngest all were looking through the litter, spilled beer, and other trash for the pick that we all knew was there. And, sure enough, the young one (my kid, again) with the good eyesight found it – her second KR pick of the night!! But, being the kind kid that she is, she handed it over to the woman who so desperately wanted it. The woman gave her a huge hug, got all choked up, and her friend said, “She’s going to love you forever for that!!”
All in all, it was a wonderful night! Seeing the Stones up close and personal, getting looks, smiles, picks from them, etc. was more than I could’ve ever wanted! Being there with my kids, who loved the show as much as I did, was priceless!! When it was over, they all came up to me and thanked me for the “best night ever”, “the best concert” they had ever seen! We were walking on clouds! The Stones put on a fantastic show, beyond all expectations, and we were flying high!
During each of their shows on this “50 & Counting” tour, the guys invited a special guest to join them onstage for a
song. Besides Mick Taylor, who was the special guest on the whole tour, some of the others were Taj Mahal, Aaron Neville, Gwen Stefani, John Mayer, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Bonnie Raitt, Gary Clark, Jr., etc. Our night featured Tom Waits singing “Little Red Rooster.” Of course, every night also featured Lisa Fischer* on vocals for “Gimme Shelter,” and man, did she belt it out!! Oh, we also had the San Jose State choir join the boys for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The whole show was amazing, surreal, unreal, and historic!! In the following days I was both riding high with exhiliaration, and so sad that it was over. To think that, after a lifetime of The Stones, this might be it…fini…the end of an era. But, even if it was, it stands out as one of the best nights of my life…and, I could’ve repeated it over and over a hundred more times! The Rolling Stones, on stage after fifty years together!! I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!!
**In our goodie bags (canvas bags with the Stones logo) were a nice wool blanket with the Rolling Stones “50 Years & Counting” logo in black, red and white; a very nice hard back book called “50 & Counting…The Rolling Stones Live,” and a lanyard with a laminated “50 & Counting” logo.
***Lisa Fischer is featured in the movie “20 Feet From Stardom” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWyUJcA8Zfo) and has been touring with the Rolling Stones since 1989.
**I never asked my mother to take me to another concert again, figuring that when she turned down my first request, she always would. So, when the Monkees came to town, I just quietly suffered and let them come and go without a word, having to find satisfaction by watching their TV show, knowing they were far away and only to be near in a young girl’s fantasy. I do remember when my mother read the article in the local newspaper to me that revealed that the Monkees were a farce, and that during a concert, the tape they were lip-synching to, broke while they were performing. Boy, was I devastated to hear this, to the point I was actually angry at my mother for divulging this heartbreaking news to me. I didn’t want to know or hear this bubble bursting information! It hurt…and I now realized that with all the joy and happiness music brought me, it also caused deep pain. I think it was then that I decided that I shouldn’t become so emotionally involved with any particular band, or idolize a specific musician again. So, I didn’t. However, this didn’t stop me from continuing to follow, pursue and participate in my favorite activitiy of discovering new music, musicians, and places that would satisfy my appetite for this intense interest of mine. It did, though, keep me from actively participating in an activity that I could easily have fallen into – that of a groupie! The pain of childhood disappointment, as well as my Catholic upbringing kept me safe from any temptation to fall into the clutches of Groupiedom. Don’t get me wrong, I was up front and making eye contact with the musicians any chance I got, but I was more interested in their delivery of tunes, the command of their instruments, and the fascination of the whole concert scene. Yep, I was always in line for hours at Winterland (my concert hall of choice) in order to blast through the doors right when they opened and rush to the front of the stage. I have many a good (and not so good) memory of those crazy, hazy days of good ol’ Winterland. May it rest in peace. My concert viriginity was first, and finally, lost in 1973 when a friend invited me to go with her, her older brother and his friend. You bet I jumped on it! Now, when I say I lost my concert virginity, I do not mean that it was by either of the guys we went with, or anyone in the crowd (or bands, for that matter.) I just want to make that clear, not that it really matters. I had barely heard of the bands we went to see, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jesse Colin Young, and Alice Stuart & Snake, but I didn’t care. I was up for the concert experience equally as much as the music. It ended up that, inexperienced and all, like a magnet we were pulled directly to the front of the stage…and I was instantly in Heaven! Of course, the mind-altering substances that our companions shared with us surely intensified the enjoyment of this new adventure. I still remember rocking out, holding on to the stage at times, and wondering why people in the audience kept annoyingly shouting out stuff to the bands in between songs. I wanted to tell them to shut up and leave them alone to entertain us, but being the timid newbie, I just kept quiet and tried to ignore them. It wasn’t until soon after, and after becoming a new fan of NRPS, that I realized that those non-such idiots were yelling out song requests! Now, who was the idiot? And, thankful that I didn’t snarl and bitch at them at the concert. What a fool I would’ve been!
Needless to say, this first concert experience of mine opened up the floodgates that till this day hasn’t been plugged. Once the music is in you, it never leaves! After that night, I became a collector of the weekly Winterland advertisements in the SF Chronicles Sunday Pink (Entertainment) section. I became a teenage expert in Winterland (and other local) concerts and was the one who informed friends who was coming to town. And then, we went – to the Fillmore, Great American Music Hall, Cow Palace, free concerts in Golden Gate Park, the County Fair Grounds, Days on the Green, and even to Great America Africa USA when it was still in the sleepy town of Belmont, Ca. and brought in local (and not so local) bands in their early days, such as Tower of Power, Santana, Malo, Elvin Bishop, Leon Russell, etc. A few times we hopped the fence to get in to those concerts for free. Little did we realize at the time that we were living through one of the greatest musical periods of history, but then again, who isn’t, I suppose?
We experienced, on more than one occasion, some of the biggest bands of our time – The Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Traffic, Derek & the Dominos, Johnny Winter, Robin Trower, Fleetwood Mac, Joe Cocker, and the list goes on! The countless hours I spent in lines waiting (for tickets, and for entry,) driving to and from shows, and actively participating in the concerts experience, defines my teenage years. Many times I wished I was either a little older (nah, not really) or had an older sibling who was willing to bring me to earlier shows so that I could have experienced a Beatles, Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin concert. But, unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I do have stories from others about such shows, as do many others out there, which can be shared some time if ever anyone reads and would like to. Which reminds me, there is a pretty cool site that I found that does this to some extent. Check it out at: (http://www.thrasherswheat.org/rns/winterland.htm) It’s by a guy named Chris Horn and is very nostalgic. If you were a Winterland junkie like me, you will love these stories!!
**I have adored music from the first time I discovered my parents’ album collection. I recall, at about four years old, putting a recond on the turntable, the needle on the record, and mimicking what I had observed my mother doing in order to fill our home with the wondrous sound of music. Apparently, I foiled the attempt, and mom scurried over to give me a proper lesson. From then on, I had a field day filing through all my parents’ albums and sampling each song on each recond until I discovered my favorites, playing them over and over again. Then came the discovery of our transistor radio, auditorally experiencing the British Invasion, Hippie Era, Disco Days, etc, all the while my interest amped up and intensified. And, having been plopped down in that historically rich musical period, (which included massive quantities of mind-altering substances) I am very interested in hearing about other peoples’ experiences, as well as sharing my own. My biggest regret is never managing to get myself to a Beatles concert. Any time I meet someone who did manage, I get goose-bumps and touch them, in hopes that some of their experience will rub off on me sensorily. If I could only feel what they felt and saw, it would be the next best experience of a lifetime! I remember vividly those Sundays of my childhood when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show (http://www.edsullivan.com/artists/the-beatles/). Mom was very excited for us to watch them and made sure we kids were bathed, jammied and comfortably seated on the couch, well in advance of the start of the show. I remember just about jumping out of my skin in anticipation of their appearances. And I loved them! So much, in fact, that I was practically in tears when they finished, just like every other girl on the planet, these guys moved me so much that I could barely control my emotions with the letdown after all was said and done. I could’ve listened and watched them for days! A few months later, I remember peering over my backyard fence high on a hill watching every airplane land at the SF airport on the day the Beatles were coming to town for their Cow Palace concert debut. I begged my mother to take me to the show, not having any idea at the time that tickets needed to be purchased long in advance. When my mother dismissed my request with a half smile (interpreted: Yeah, right kid!) I was devastated. They were so close, yet so far away! I can feel the pain of disappointment to this day! I will never get over that near miss, as well as the day about three years later when I threw away my collection of about 200 Beatle cards because of peer pressure. I will never forgive myself for being so weak that I wilted because of criticism for adoring my Beatles cards so intensely that I had to prove my friend wrong by tossing them straight into the trash. Ugh….it hurts just to write about it… Many years later, having told my kids about this horrific experience, they were so sweet and thoughtful to think to indulge me with another collection, which I have now and will NEVER part with. It’s not quite the same thing as the cards from my childhood, that were collected over a period of a few years by purchasing one pack of bubble gum at a time from the corner ‘Smoke Shop.’ Inside each pack were four Beatle cards, and I collected them like they were gold, trading duplicates with friends, and putting them chronological order being careful not to scuff or bend them in any way. They were my pride and joy, but the new batch is also very special to me because of the fact that my kids knew how much I adored my card collection and had the thoughtfulness to present me with probably the best gift the ever chose for me. I will be forever touched by this gift to me. They ‘Love Me Do.’