I’m rapidly eating into my 15 minutes of fame. I made the newspaper in Henderson, KY and was one of the screaming masses in Nashville, TN, for yet another live recording of the Grand Ole Opry. The world’s longest-running live radio show, it’s been on air for more than 85 years. Some visitors to Nashville may well eschew it as being too cheesy to bother with – yet this, my second time at the Opry, was no less impressive than my first, back in 2001.
It is more than a radio show – it’s an institution. Performers have 12-minute sets (about enough to do three numbers, with a bit of banter), which are followed by a series of radio commercials and this runs for about 3 hours with a short intermission. In a line-up that includes today’s chart-toppers alongside the stalwarts of yesteryear, the Opry is a home from home for so many country artists.
The audience the night we were there included some 3000 nurses who were in Nashville for a conference. Requests from the audience sent birthday greetings to those in their nineties and congratulated one couple on 56 years of marriage. One young lad of 20, who was spending his last night stateside in the Opry before shipping out with the US Marines, got a standing ovation. The Opry is Southern. It’s American. And it’s a source of national pride. When Charlie Daniels took the stage and did The Devil Went Down to Georgia, the place exploded. It was impossible to keep still. He got my No. 3 vote for best song of the evening. To see a man who has come out the other side of middle age give every ounce of what he has to satiate an audience who really appreciated being in the company of one of the all-time greats of country music – well, it brought a tear to my eye.
Jeannie Seely is another old-time favourite who took the stage that night and when I grow up, I want to be just like her. This lady oozes class, charm, and a certain rebelliousness that is evident in how gracefully she is ageing. She’s adorable and her rendition of Let it be me had me in tears … I know, I know, I’m a wimp… but there is something magical about the Opry that stirs the depths of my soul and brings the water to the surface of the well. I couldn’t find Let it be me on YouTube but did find her at the Opry in 1966 singing Hank William’s Don’t touch me. I was definitely born into the wrong era. Jeannie got my No. 2 slot that evening.
For me, though, the song of the night went to the Black Lillies, a relatively new band on the scene. Their song The Fall is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a long, long time. Front man Cruz Contreras has a voice to die for, one that is perfectly harmonised with that of Trisha Gene Brady. Together they make an amazing sound. This is when I broke out the tissues; I even bought the CD.
The whole Opry experience is nothing short of amazing. Country is probably the only genre of music that has that family thing going – where everyone seems to know everyone else and all call the Opry ‘home’.
This week, having said goodbye to Kentucky and Tennessee, I’m grateful that despite being tone deaf, music – the right kind of music – can still make me cry. In a world where senses are increasingly being deadened by technology, it’s nice to simply, and uncomplicatedly, feel…
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52