For music fans, the Grand Ole Opry is an unmatched experience to see the stage that launched countless careers. The humble radio show that started as a form of entertainment long before the days of television. It continues its legacy for the next generation. Other radio shows like it have existed over the years, like the Louisiana Hayride, but few still exist in the modern age of satellite radio and on-demand television at your fingertips. The Opry has seen it all.
History of the Grand Ole Opry
Founded on November 28, 1925 as the “WSM Barn Dance,” the show gradually evolved into a program that launched the careers of country and gospel entertainers. Long before its modern home was built, the show was held at the National Life & Accident Insurance Company before brief stints at the Hillsboro Theatre (known today as the Belcourt Theatre), Dixie Tabernacle, and War Memorial Auditorium. But most people know the Opry for one place, the Ryman Auditorium.
The “Mother Church of Country Music” hosted the show from June 1943 to March 1974, but was originally built for traveling evangelists like Sam Jones, a Cartersville, Georgia native. The faithful would sit for hours in the building without air conditioning. That legacy continued when the Opry shows began, but eventually dressing rooms were added. It was here that legends were made, with performances by everyone from Patsy Cline to June and Johnny Cash to Hank Williams. The show moved in 1974, but the Ryman Auditorium continues to host Opry Classics events and other performances.
In need of its first purpose-built space, the Grand Ole Opry moved to Nashville’s northeastern suburbs in the 1970s, complete with top of the line electronics and air conditioning. Developments came with it, including a theme park, which has since closed, a mall, restaurants, and a massive hotel. Despite major flood damage in 2010, it reopened within a few months. Many of the artifacts saved from the Ryman are still on display at the Opry House.
What many people don’t know is that the show isn’t just a weekly performance. Every musician that graces the stage is either an Opry member or a guest of the Opry. Membership requires you to perform a certain amount of times per year, but it also comes with perks. Members have their own mailboxes for fan mail and get ready in the swanky dressing rooms before going on. It’s an honor to be offered membership as you can’t just “join.” Induction ceremonies take place usually every year, but not always.
The Opry Experience
I’d grown up visiting family in Nashville, but had never seen a performance of the Grand Ole Opry. I’m not a big country music fan, but love bluegrass and classic artists like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. I found there was a performer that suited almost every taste. During my visit, I got to see Jeannie Seely, Dailey & Vincent, Tegan Marie, Easton Corbin, Bill Anderson, Henry Cho, The Isaacs, and Alison Krauss, who I was most excited to see. Jeannie Seely was full of sass and has been performing at the Opry for 50 years. The instrumentals and vocals of both Dailey & Vincent and The Isaacs were impressive. Tegan Marie may just be the “next Taylor Swift.” And there is no one quite like Alison Krauss. There was no bad seat in the house.
Because of our partnership, my sister and I got to go on a VIP tour during the show. We saw where the artists enter on Opry night, the dressing rooms, the green room, the member mailboxes, and even the stage! What I found so interesting is that everyone, from up-and-comers to veteran performers, are treated equally.
If You Go
The Grand Ole Opry is held on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It generally includes three to five performers and lasts from 7 to 9:15 pm. Even if you can’t attend, you can listen at home 650 AM WSM locally or online at wsmonline.com or opry.com. Listen to an episode before you go so you know what to expect.
Tickets generally start around $35 and go up from there based on who is performing and the seat section. Keep in mind that big name acts tend to sell out quickly. Backstage tours are available as an add-on before or after the show and the Behind the Opry Curtain VIP Tours go on during the show, like the one we went on.
Give yourself plenty of time to get over to the Opry and expect to sit in traffic. There are a number of restaurants nearby at Opry Mills, but most are chains. For something local, head to East Nashville for a quick meal at Mas Tacos Por Favor or The Pharmacy Burger Parlor & Beer Garden. Snacks and alcoholic drinks are available for purchase at the Opry. The Gaylord Opryland Resort is the closest hotel to the Grand Ole Opry House, a short walk through the parking lot, but other chain hotels are near the highway.
If you’re interested in learning more about country music and Nashville’s impact on it, I highly recommend starting with visits to the Country Music Hall of Fame and a tour of the Ryman Auditorium. It will help you make sense of the timelines and names associated with the Opry. Combination tickets can be purchased with your Opry ticket.
This post was produced in partnership with the Grand Ole Opry. Special thanks to our lovely tour guide!