A tangled web of wires covers the scuffed wooden floors on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. Throat lozenges and bottled water abandoned by parched singers sit beside stools. Instruments, microphones, and music stands cram the crowded space.
In truth, this Tennessee stage more closely resembles a cluttered high school band room than a world-class concert hall. Yet, not a single person here wishes to be someplace else. They've all come to experience the Grand Ole Opry as it used to be--under the colored lights at the Ryman Auditorium.
You Can Go Home Again
The legendary radio show, which is now more than 80 years old, has been gone from the Ryman for almost as long as it occupied the old tabernacle. It simply outgrew its home at the famous church-turned-concert hall in 1974. But each winter, the Grand Ole Opry returns briefly to its spiritual home for weekly Friday and Saturday night performances.
"The Ryman is a special, hallowed place," says Opry member Ricky Skaggs. "For me, it's where music meets spirit and spirit meets music. I love this building, and I love playing here. You just don't take this stage for granted."
A New Generation
The building's mystique is not lost on younger artists, either. Tonight's crowd rewards up-and-coming performer Josh Turner with a standing ovation when he finishes his hit song "Long Black Train."
The handsome crooner wasn't even born when the Grand Ole Opry moved in 1974. Still, he counts himself lucky. He made his own Opry debut at the Ryman in 2001, just a month after inking his first record deal.
As he sang "Long Black Train," Josh could see people in the crowd start to stand up and cheer. By the time he had finished, the whole crowd was on their feet. Host Bill Anderson invited Josh to sing the song again, much to the audience's delight. When the last notes faded, he received another standing ovation.
"There have been so many notable performances that have taken place here on this stage," Josh says. "The Ryman is kind of like mecca for country artists."
Past, Present, Future
The typical Friday and Saturday night lineups feature Opry members and current hit makers, but management also reserves a few spots in each show for new artists such as Josh. This gives visitors a chance to witness the past, present, and future of country music all at one show.
Josh admits he still gets butterflies when he steps on stage at the Ryman."It's like the first time every time I go out there because there's a new crowd and a new roster every night," he says. "Things keep changing, but the traditions and the core reasons why we go there every weekend are always the same."
Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium: 116 Fifth Avenue North; 1-800-733-6779 or www.opry.com. Performances: 8 p.m. Friday and 6:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday now through February. Tickets: $29.50-$46.50.
Hear the Music
To listen to Josh Turner's single "Your Man" and Ricky Skaggs's song "Across the Rocky Mountain," featuring Bruce Hornsby, visit southernliving.com/features.
Now Playing at the Ryman is from the February 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.