It was hot in the summertime and cold in the wintertime and the old wooden pews hurt all the time. Roy Acuff, who was, and even in the beyond remains country music personified, once said to Garrison Keillor in 1974, “Ryman should have been torn down a long time ago. The real Opry fan won’t be sad to live Ryman. He’ll be a lot more comfortable out at Opryland.”
I won’t argue, I don’t know. I’ve been to Ryman, but never to Opryland and he’s Roy Acuff and I’m not. The cold of that winter night I was there though, in the Mother Church of Country Music, didn’t bother me. I grew up Lutheran, my ass was used to hard wooded pews. Besides, Emmylou Harris was on stage. Guy Clark was there, too. I was sitting silently next to Manuel Arturo José Cuevas Martinez – or simply Manuel will do; the former head tailor at Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors in the 1960’s who now is Nashville Couture. Jim Lauderdale stopped at our pew to say hello to him. He was wearing a Manuel original with a swirling yin yang embroidered on his back. I was one of the faithful, just happy to be there.
Today marks the anniversary back in 1974 of the last regular Saturday night broadcast of The Grand Ole Opry in Ryman Auditorium before it moved to the larger, cushier Opryland. Roy Acuff was there of course and sang “Wabash Cannonball.” The Crook Brothers were there, one of the last links to the early days of the Opry when its stars were Uncle Dave Macon, Sam and Kirk McGee, and Deford Bailey. Bobby Bare sang “Detroit City.” Hank Snow did his classic “I’m Movin’ On.” Minnie Pearl, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper were there that night. Tanya Tucker sang her hit “Delta Dawn.” Marty Robbins closed out the show.
There would be one final show on Friday the 15th. But, the Opry is a Saturday night thing and we’ll leave it there.
Roy Acuff, who hosted that night, stood out on the stage that he had for so many years and said, “Certainly there are memories of this old house that will go with us forever. Not all of them good. Many of them are, but some of them are punishment. You just don’t know how much we do appreciate you people. It’s you who have made the Grand Ole Opry so successful. Will you not forget us when we move into our new building? You’ll love us for being out there, and we’ll love you for coming to see us. Thank you. God bless you all–good night.”
Postscript ~ Ship Captain and saloon owner Tom Ryman, who was angry at the traveling preachers who demonized the liquor that made his fortune, had gone to a tent revival in 1885 to “cause a ruckus.” Instead he had a Damascus moment and built the Union Gospel Tabernacle. It was renamed in his honor after he died in 1904.