The Honor of the Ryman

February 27, 2010 (Sophomore year) – Help Haiti Benefit Concert: Alison Krausse & Union Station, Amy Grant, Big Kenny, Mat Kearney, Jars of Clay, Rebecca St. James, NEEDTOBREATHE, Brandon Heath 

“I’m so glad everyone could make it to the show tonight to help out all of the victims from the earthquake in Haiti. You know, this place has housed such amazing talent on this stage that I’m so honored simply to be here and especially to have the opportunity to play here to help raise money for all of those in need….”

October 8, 2010 (Junior year) – Sara Bareilles

“So I’m going to play one of the songs off of my new album and if you know the words feel free to sing along. Although this being Nashville, don’t sing too well or everyone is going to start wondering how it is that managed to wind up on this stage where so many incredible people have played before me…”  (crowd laughs)

October 17, 2011 (Senior year) – Goo Goo Dolls

“Hello!” (crowd screams) “How is everyone doing out there tonight?” (more screams) You know, even though we’ve played here before, there is just always something about playing here at the Ryman. It’s so good to be back. Walking on this stage, you get this crazy feeling thinking about all the other people that have played here before. Plus, I really have to watch what I say because I’m pretty sure this building actually used to be a church.” (crowd laughs)

As a kid growing up in Texas, it felt like everyone around me listened to and appreciated country music. It was part of the culture where I lived and seemed to make its way into my life in a variety of different ways. When I was in fourth grade, our entire class was taught to square dance and then forced to perform our elementary renditions of traditional country dances to our parents. By age fifteen it was a social requirement that everyone owned a pair of cowboy boots and for two weeks every March it seemed like all of Houston would walk into work or school each morning looking more haggard than usual, as they had been out late listening to country stars at the rodeo the night before.

It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville, however, that I learned that Texas was, in fact, not the birthplace of country music. Nashville was. And as I now know, with very good reason. Home to many stars, both past and present, Nashville is also the location of one of the most incredible music venues complete with some of the finest acoustics in the world. Since my sophomore year, I have attended one concert each year at this historical site known as the Ryman Auditorium. While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have attended at the Ryman, something interesting always struck me about it: I never understand why everyone I had ever heard play on that stage felt that having the opportunity to play there topped nearly all of their greatest accomplishments as a performer. Having now taken the History of Country Music and recently toured the Ryman Auditorium, I now understand the history behind the great honor so many musicians feel the moment they step on that stage.

The building now known as the Ryman Auditorium was built in 1892 as a tabernacle for a man named Reverand Sam Jones. Originally named the Union Gospel Tabernacle, Thomas G. Ryman wished to construct this building as a way to thank Reverand Jones for leading him to salvation. Tom Ryman wanted a building that was capable of projecting Rev. Jones’s voice clearly for all to hear and after Ryman’s death in1904, the building was renamed in honor of him for establishing such a Nashville landmark. As the largest structure in the area, the building soon became a popular site for community events, entertainment, and political rallies. A stage was installed for the Metropolitan opera and over time the stage was graced by greats such as Ignacy Paderewski, Roy Rogers, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Mae West, president Theodore Roosevelt, and many others. Because of these performers, it eventually began to be called the “Carnegie Hall of the South.”

In 1943 the Ryman also became home to a radio show created by George D. Hay that would become an international phenomenon known as the Grand Ole Opry. Over the next thirty-one years, legends such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, and Roy Acuff performed on the Ryman’s stage. Eventually dubbed, “The Mother Church of Country Music” by Nashvillians, the Ryman also became the birthplace of Bluegrass music in 1945 with Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe. Even after the opry relocated in 1974, the Ryman continued to attract fans from around the world, simply to hear people play in a place so hallowed and famous. In 1994, $8.5 million were spent in order to renovate the Ryman and bring it back to its former glory days as well as update it with the latest technology and modern comforts, such as air conditioning and dressing rooms. Since then, the Ryman has continued to host incredible talent such as Aretha Franklin, Neil Young, and Robert Earl Keen.

Now, much more aware of the history the walls of this place bare, I too feel honored simply to sit in one of its wooden church pews and look towards a stage that I know once hosted Johnny Cash and Roy Acuff, among so many others. It is interesting, but knowledge of the memories of this place seems to cast a new light on my own memories and experiences within the Ryman. With these in mind, I finally understand why it is that even some of the most talented musicians feel honored to step onto such a historical stage. Now when I think back to the times I have stood within these walls and walked along the hallways to view the hatch show prints, I will likely recall these memories with greater reverence. For what I know now about the Ryman is not likely to be separated from past memories within this place. In this way, new memories compound old memories as a sense of fondness is added with the knowledge of the great history it carries.

References:

Duke, Jan. “History of the Ryman Auditorium.” About.com Nashville. Web. 10 April 2012. http://nashville.about.com/od/historyandsites/a/History-Of-The-Historic-Ryman-Auditorium.htm

“Timeline.” Ryman Auditorium. Web. 11 April 2012. http://www.ryman.com/history/

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3 thoughts on “The Honor of the Ryman

  1. I find it interesting that you choose to use a mask on your photographs which mirror an older style of photography, in which the edges are blurred because of the process of exposing the image onto paper with chemicals. It’s fitting, as the Ryman is a historic building, which although it now has modern conveniences, still has much of it’s original structure, such as the church windows.

  2. First of all, I love your pictures, especially the one of the wooden benches. I’ve personally never been to the Ryman, but have obviously heard a lot about it and only knew vague historical background of the artists that have performed there. I think your assignment is a good juxtaposition of my assignment, as I spoke about how the place I studied tries to create a new life and separate it from its past. The Ryman, however, finds much of its value, draws many of its stars and patrons, and maintains much of its glory from its past. Thanks for sharing — now I’m sure I have to visit the Ryman before I graduate!

    • I really like the theme of light that appears in your photos. It speaks well to the historical position of the Ryman as a transformative place for country music and as a place that connects the successful musicians of the past with the possibilities of future musicians’ fame.

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