“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” ~Maya Angelou
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ~John Lennon
It has now been just over a year that I was randomly introduced to the music of Chris Stapleton, (http://www.chrisstapleton.com) a rising star in the Nashville scene. Though, he’s been well known in these parts for many years, I had never heard of him. But, since I had just started my job at the Ryman Auditorium (https://ryman.com) in Music City (in Sept. 2015,) I found myself listening to the music of upcoming performers, so I could
become familiar with them before I worked their show (and duck inside the auditorium to watch a song or two!) Working at such an historic venue that is on the smaller size (seats 2400 people,) and having a lifelong love of music, I didn’t take my job lightly. I was working in the place that, for 31 years (1943-1974) was the home of the infamous Grand Ol’ Opry; the stage that once held Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, and so many more! And, though I wish I had been there to experience that history, I recently realized that I am experiencing history by being amongst these hallowed walls, watching new up-and-comers, as well as old classics, perform in the Ryman Auditorium! This building, in itself, is history to the past, present AND the future! And, I’m here witnessing it all…live!!
Because of my lifelong love of music, and because I now live in Music City and work for a concert venue (or two,) I like to familiarize myself with upcoming performers by listening to their music before their show. I was going to be working two upcoming shows by some guy named Chris Stapleton, so I spent a few days in advance listening to his stuff. I liked what I heard – he had a low, resonating voice, his songs were melodic and catchy, and his lyrics were deep and meaningful. So, I was looking forward to popping my head in the auditorium for a listen when I had a chance. To my surprise, and something I wasn’t expecting, was that his music would shoot straight to my bones, and I would be absolutely awed by his voice. Firstly, the acoustics in the Ryman are second only to the Mormon Tabernacle Church, and secondly, the power in this man’s voice is God-given and rare. I felt I discovered something special. I walked out of the auditorium and announced to my co-workers, “I am a new fan!” and told them to get their butts in there to take a listen! His two shows at the Ryman were such a success that they immediately booked him for three shows for the following March. What no one could predict was what was going to take place just six weeks later during the CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville! And, I was there to witness that, as well!
On November 4, 2015, this same guy was up for a bunch of awards at the CMA Awards. And, who happened to be working that show? Me! And, by some crazy act by God, the Universe, the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars, I got assigned to ‘guard’ the myriad of machinery that it takes to put on such a show. Boring, you say? That’s what the supervisor who placed me there, said apologetically. But, for this music nerd, it was Heaven on Earth! I was behind the stage, one level up, with a fantastic view of the behind-the-scenes action! I saw the entire show from behind, and it was fascinating! I watched Hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley behind the scenes, saw which performer was coming on next, and could see exactly how quickly and precisely each band’s set was moved in and out before and after their performance! It was amazing! For a live show, it went off without a hitch! And, because I was situated behind the stage, I could look out into the audience and see all the famous country stars in the audience watching the show! I had to pinch myself to believe I was really doing this! I was there when Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, etc, etc, performed live. But, the highlight of the night was the ass-kicking performance by….Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake!! Whaaat?!?! That’s a strange combination! But, apparently not so much. Both are southern boys (Kentucky and Tennessee) on the music circuit, so their paths have crossed numerous times over the last 3-4 years. I’m not sure whose idea it was to pair them up for the CMA performance, but it was brilliant! It absolutely stunned the crowd and, along with the fact that, later that night, Chris would win three awards – Male Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the year, and Album of the Year – it was an evening that would go down in music history! (see the performance here: Chris and Justin) And, I was there!! You could’ve knocked me over with a feather, as I felt like I was floating in Music Heaven after that night! Then, having experienced the entire show from behind, I watched it on TV the next night, at home, to see it from everyone else’s perspective. And….wow, so much went on that I couldn’t see when I was there, but the cooler stuff (in my opinion) was seen from my little perch in the background. Oh, what a night!! What an historical night that I will never forget!!
Message: Appreciate the here and now! We can get so busy, with life and in our heads, that we miss the meaningful moments. I had been so dreamy and wishful that I had lived to experience the classic performers of the Ryman past, that I almost forgot to realize that I was actually doing it in the present! And, that some day I will be telling great stories of performers I am seeing now, and who will be in the history books later!! It’s happened before, as I’ve had younger music lovers touch me after I told them I spent a lot of time at concerts at San Francisco’s historic Winterland, back in the day! They were so impressed and envious that I got to ‘live rock and roll history!’ And now, I’m doing it again (actually, we all are!) in Nashville, Music City, USA!! So, slow down and enjoy the present, because you can never get it back again. Many times we look back on things and wish we appreciated it more at the time. Well, now is the time! Appreciate and enjoy every minute of it! It won’t last forever!
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
If and when you ever visit Nashville, Tennessee, you must check out Broadway (especially “Lower Broad,” which is what the locals call the hapnin’ part of this street) and hit the honky tonks! Talk about a music lovers haven! Be warned, though, that it is also a tourist haven. No matter, it’s a must see, as it is all about live bands, entertainment and a place to see and be seen. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the hoards of neon signs! It’s a cross between big city “Broadways” and “Bourbon Street” in New Orleans, bordering on cool and nostalgic, and just plain tacky! It’s your call, but I personally love the look of neon, because it melds the historical past with the high-tech present.
If you’ve done your homework, or paid attention, you’ll have heard of one of the biggies, “Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge” in Nashville. Tacky and purple painted as it is, it’s just an old honky tonk that has been the spot where loads of country musicians have come to play. The walls are covered with framed pictures of every country star (and more) that you could dream of! It’s a rustic, old dive, but it’s got history, personality, and plain old fame!
Another very fun place – and my personal favorite – is just a few doors down, called “Robert’s Western World.” Resembling an old western apparel store, because it actually once was one, Robert’s is home to my favorite local band (so far,) called the Don Kelley Band. This foursome consists of lead man, Don Kelley (guitar & vocals,) Slick Joe Fick (upright bass & vocals,) Artie Alinikoff (drums & vocals,) and the most amazing, young (and I mean, young!) guitar player I’ve ever witnessed, Daniel Donato! He just turned 20 (April 6, 2015,) doesn’t look like a razor has ever touched his smooth face, and this kid SHREDS on his guitar like I’ve never seen! And, I’ve seen a whole lotta guitar players in my day!! Check out his website: www.danieldonato.com, or on Youtube tearing it up here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko0Uze4Vd3g. This kid’s fingers are faster than lightening!!
Whereas, Daniel’s talented guitar playing takes center stage much of the time, Joe Fick brings the personality! His animated facial expressions, while he rocks his upright bass, is a show in itself. He is a humorous character who makes faces at his instrument, spins it, seems to have conversations with it, and even jumps and stands on the bloody thing! He loves what he does and obviously has a blast doing it! This guy is a kick, I tell ya! More on Joe here: http://www.slickjoefick.com
Meanwhile, the other two, Don and Artie, hold down the fort, while Don is clearly the headmaster, and Artie, the heartbeat. Altogether, they compliment each other as a cast of very different characters, and an upbeat, fun-loving, crazy good band! A must-see when you come to Nashville!! Don’t miss them!!
When Jake Owen hit the stage, I started wondering how all these talented young country singers could be so darned good looking, too! I’m almost convinced that the pre-requisite these days involves rockin’ bods and hot looks, as well as musical and vocal talent…not to mention great songwriting and performance ability! It’s almost as if these guys (and gals) were dropped down from Country Music Heaven to appeal to all the audiences’ senses.
Not that I could really see, but I hear that Jake was barefoot, which is appropriate, considering his big hit, “Barefoot Bluejean Night.” He immediately engaged the audience in a sing along, arms waving back and forth in the air in unison, chanting “Whoa-0-0-0h!” throughout the entire stadium. What a sight to see! Jake really engaged the crowd, and jumped in and joined the front few rows by forging out onto the security barrier and getting up close and personal with them. He shook hands, slapped fives, and sang amongst his fans. He also did a little crowd surfing, no doubt getting caught up in the frenetic passion of the night. The crowd was already bursting with enthusiastic country music love, but it was Jake who electrified the energy to a higher level. Go Jake!!
Slowing things down, a fairly unknown newcomer, Gwen Sebastian sang to us from the acoustic stage at center field. Between songs, she mentioned that she had been on “Team Blake” on the reality show, “The Voice.” She added how thankful she was to Blake Shelton and the show for all they have done for her, her singing career, and for Country Music, in general. She later returned to the main stage to join Blake and his band as a backup singer. Good going, Gwen!
Next up was The Band Perry– two brothers and their sister, who were 2011’s CMA New Artist of the Year winners. They started with, not their own song, but the new hit by Fun, “We Are Young,” then went into Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls.” An interesting start to a country music set, but it worked. These attractive siblings expressed their appreciation to their fans when sister Kimberly shared that “You may not know this, but you’ve changed the lives of my brothers and me!” She then invited the crowd to “sing it if you know it” while they performed their hit songs, “All Your Life” and “If I Die Young.” Watching this trio, I couldn’t help but think how proud their parents must be. What it would be like to have such talented and successful children? As unimaginable it is to me (tho, I love my kids, who are successful in their own individual ways) I decided that, in my next life, not only will my kids be like the Perrys, but I will be the next Miranda Lambert, hot, gorgeous and talented!! *sheepish grin*
Broadway Street (aka. “Broad”) is the main drag through Nashville’s downtown area. It reminds me of a mini-Bourbon Street, loaded with people, places, and music (oh, and tons of neon signs!) though a lot less tacky. Our first pit-stop was to Station Inn (http://www.stationinn.com/). Here, in this underground basement, was the history of where Bluegrass and Roots Music pickers played “unplugged” way before it was popular. This night we specifically went to see Suzy Bogguss. (http://suzybogguss.com/about.asp) a platinum selling songstress who has a full bookshelf of Grammy and CMA awards. Suzy and her band were smooth and easy to listen to. Her voice is melodious and pleasant, making it very easy to get lost in the songs. She is also a nice little storyteller, filling the audience in on factual tidbits, as well giving us a chuckle or two with her humor. She definitely knows how to entertain an audience in more ways than one.
Next, it was off to see the Don Kelly Band at Robert’s Western World (http://robertswesternworld.com/) on lower Broadway. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was towards the end of the DKB set, so we only caught about 4-5 songs. But, I must say, they were impressively rockin! Apparently, they play here four nights a week, and though this was a Wed. night, the place was hopping! They played familiar (and well loved) classic Country Rock, but they didn’t just deliver them….they nailed them. It was impossible to sit still and/or refrain from dancing. These guys were just too good. Between the lead guitarist’s amazing talent, and the standup bassist who’s unique style was hard to take your eyes off, this band drilled their stuff straight to my bones and got me into what I call “my zone.” (Zone=eyes closed, feeling the music, moving to the groove, in another world, almost drugged.) A close guy friend (ie. my ex-husband) used to say it was like I had just shot up, mainlined music right into my arm. And, he’s kinda right. Music is my drug – it makes me forget my worries and troubles, it puts me in a happy place, and it’s what I call a cheap form of therapy. Tonight was just the start of this stop on my musical quest.
Tomorrow (June 7) begins the Country Music Festival (http://country.cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival), which is the reason I came to Nashville. (I also have friends living here who may be even crazier music fanatics that me!) And, being new to the Country scene, this will give me a good taste of what this type of music is all about…live and in person, that is. I’ve been listening a-plenty lately, and have become a new fan of a number of these southern artists. But, now is the time to see them perform and show us what they got!!