By Herb Sparrow
The modern, state-of-the-art Grand Ole Opry House near the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in suburban Nashville has provided me with several memorable moments over the years.
There was Marty Robbins stopping the clock to extend his traditional encore as the final act of the night on my first visit to the Opry, with my wife, Marcheta, during its 50th anniversary year.
Another time, when we had backstage passes, we saw then Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton and one of his state troopers jamming with Ricky Skaggs. And there was the time I watched Bill Monroe holding an informal jam session with fellow Opry stars in his dressing room.
However, nothing tops seeing the Grand Ole Opry in its longtime home, the Ryman Auditorium, the “Mother Church of Country Music.” From November to February, the Opry moves back downtown to the restored Ryman, the 120-year-old former tabernacle that was its full-time home for 31 years, from 1943 to 1974.
There is something reaffirming about sitting in the wooden pews beneath the “Confederate Gallery” balcony and in front of the stained-glass windows and watching legendary Opry performers such as 91-year-old Little Jimmie Dickens, recent Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Jean Shepherd, Jack Greene, Jan Howard and Jim Ed Brown, as we did this past Thanksgiving weekend.
On our previous visit to the Ryman, we watched Ralph Stanley be inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
And, of course, no visit would be complete without a stroll across Ryman Alley to grab a beer at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, a favorite hangout over the years of Opry stars.