Thursday, June 12, 2014

Grand Ole Opry

You're in Nashville, but you don't want to do all those touristy things that everyone always does. You want to see the city the way that locals do: stay where they stay, eat where they eat, drive down the roads that they drive to stay off of the interstates. It's understandable; it's cliche to go to New York and stand on top of the Empire State Building, or to visit San Francisco and take a picture of the Gold Gate Bridge.

On the other hand, those things have become cliches over the year because they were worth the attention. If the Taj Mahal wasn't so big and impressive, then people wouldn't make the stop to see it while they were in India. Something about these spaces is impressive enough to draw crowds, and just because those crowds have persisted over the decades, that doesn't mean we should dismiss them as overplayed or overblown.

I say all of that to get to the point: Some may consider the Grand Ole Opry to be overplayed, overblown, and a bit cliche, but it's that way for a reason. It's big, it's impressive, and it's gained its reputation for doing one thing well: enthusiastically supporting country music and giving risen and rising stars a place to play for their fans. Those fans flock to it for the shows and the tours, the latter of which I experienced this week.

First thing first: I'm not a country music fan, so the draw of the Grand Ole Opry was never in the sounds. But I do appreciate history, and the Grand Ole Opry has that in spades. From its accidental start to its off-the-cuff name (a sarcastic play on "Opera" in light of the classical music that was scheduled before it on the radio), the Opry seems to have played circumstances to its advantages. And it's weathered many hardships since it began: from waning interest in country music (that has reversed healthily over the last decade or two) to a flood that filled its halls with four feet of water, the hall seems as resilient as the folks that its singers talk about in their lyrics.

The Opry seems to understand and embrace that history, as well. And nowhere is this emphasis on history more evident inside the building than on the floor of center stage, where a four-feet wide piece of the original Opry was placed with care when the new, current building was constructed. Even after the flood in 2010, the piece was moved, cleaned, and then reinstated after clean up was finished.

That piece of flooring seems to symbolize the resilience of the Opry and of country music. These (at least historically) were musicians striving to have their music heard; playing songs about love, loss, and redemption; and trying to make it to the stage where all the important figures of their past played: the Grand Ole Opry. In a way, it seems impossible to consider country music without the Grand Ole Opry, and yet the Opry wouldn't exist without the passion that its players have brought to its stage over its history. They exist symbiotically in a way that no other venue and music genre do.

So, even if you don't like country music, go to a show or find an hour or two to take the backstage tour of the Opry while in Nashville. It might not be the most exciting thing you can do while in town, but if you take it seriously, finding value in its historically significance and the passion of all the musicians that came along to make the stage possible, then you won't walk away calling it a waste. You might still call it cliche, but you'll probably consider it one worthy of its merit.

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