When I toured the new Grand Ole Opry building at Opry Mills, the venue was relatively small and intimate. Our tour guide told us “Ryman Auditorium is half this size. There are no bad seats.” Driving into downtown Nashville on a December evening with an Amazon workcamping friend to a concert at the Ryman was exciting. Ribbons of Christmas lights draped the busy streets packed with tourists, homeless folks, and the bar crowd.
We passed up parking lot right next to Ryman Auditorium (it cost $15 I believe) on Fifth Avenue North in lieu of a parking garage on the street for half the price. This garage turned out to be ancient, with ceilings so low that I actually stepped outside of my Chevy Silverado, sure that the antennae was going to be scraped off. No wonder there were only a handful of mid-sized cars inside. It was truly frightening to enter and exit through the squat levels.
Light spilled through the stained glass windows into the night, revealing why this building is also known as “The Mother Church of Country Music”. Opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, it was later renamed for businessman Thomas Ryman. When the Grand Ole Opry program hosted at radio station WSM needed a bigger home, it moved to Ryman Auditorium in 1943. The weekly show sold out consistently for the next 31 years in this location.
The short walk to the back side of Ryman Auditorium led us up to the ticket window and café. With 45 minutes till showtime there were no lines so we retrieved the tickets we’d reserved in October for the sold out show: Christmas at the Ryman with Amy Grant and Vince Gill. I couldn’t wait to see two of my favorite country performers who happen to be married to one another.
Dinner at the café was very good despite limited choices for us gluten-free folks. I dined on half a roasted chicken with two sides and a soft drink for $15.
On the first floor we stopped at the gift shop and I bought a souvenir mandolin pick for a buck. Our seats were $55 plus tax and were in the very last row of the balcony, up a magnificent curved double staircase. Our seats turned out to be in a single row of padded folding chairs rather than the hardwood church pews throughout the auditorium that seats 2300+. By intermission we were thankful for the extra cushions! The view was good, although my photos did not turn out well enough to publish. The acoustics in this old building were excellent, and I marveled at the plank ceilings above.
Vince and Amy traded quips and told family stories amid best-selling songs and popular carols. Being away from family and old friends this year, I had designated this concert my official holiday celebration. When foam “snowballs” were suddenly tossed into the audience and batted around the concert hall, there was indeed a sense of kinship and merriment. It was a great show and I’m glad I got to fulfill the dream of visiting the Opry stage.