Jane and I were both ready for a slower day today, catching up on the boring stuff like doing a few loads of washing, checking emails and generally pottering around the hotel.
A couple on yesterday’s NashTrash tour recommended a visit to the Opryland Hotel complex, which is about 10 miles from the centre of town and is now home to the Grand Ole Opry country radio show and theatre.
After a slow start, we went in search of Opryland. One thing that continually surprises about America is the sheer scale of things. Opryland is a HUGE hotel and convention centre, with the rooms built 8 or 9 storeys high around a series of central atriums, which amount to 9 acres of indoor gardens.
One of the main atriums is like a rainforest, complete with a 50 foot high waterfall. Another draws inspiration from New Orleans, complete with a Delta river and a town square. It feels a bit like a Las Vegas hotel, Tennessee style, and without the slot machines at every corner.
Seeking a break from being a tourist, after we left Opryland we found a cinema and saw Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo”, set in Paris about a boy who lives behind the walls of a Parisian train station and maintains the clocks. Margaret and David raved about this film, largely because the director paid homage to the history of cinema. Whilst we enjoyed it, we weren’t blown away, but at the very least it provided a good couple of hours of escapism.
In the evening, we’d bought tickets to a show at the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. The Ryman is apparently mecca for country music fans and has been holding shows there since the 1940’s.
We naively bought “standing room” tickets, thinking we would be at the front of the theatre in the mosh pit. Unfortunately, standing room meant standing at the back of the balcony level. It didn’t matter a great deal as the auditorium is quite intimate and provides a good view from anywhere in the theatre, but it wasn’t the experience we were expecting.
The format of these shows involves four segments of 30 minutes, each featuring 2 or 3 artists and each backed by a different sponsor. The show goes out live on a country music radio channel, and in between the music, a droll compere reads out “messages from our sponsor”. The compere looked like the father out of Revenge of the Nerds, and his “infomercial” spots were from a different era – maybe that was the point.
We apparently had lucked upon an historic night for the Ryman, as all the performers were making a big fuss out of the impeding replacement of the wooden stage floor. Apparently, the stage had been the same since the theatre was built, and a number of the performers were nostalgic about the passing of an era. The theatre was being shut down whilst the stage was being upgraded, so tonight’s performance was to be the last for some time. It seemed as though they had made sure the lineup for tonight was fitting of the “historic” occasion.
All of the artists were good, but the first highlight of the show was Charlie Pride coming on for a couple of songs. His first was “Crystal Chandelier” (Jane knew it, I didn’t) and then “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”. It was actually quite a buzz to see a legend of the industry perform such a well known song.
The headline act was “our” Keith Urban. The guy is a real showman and judging by the crowd reaction, obviously a massive star for country music fans. Not that everyone thought so. I ducked to the loo mid-song and a guy we had seen singing in one of the Honky Tonks the night before was beside me. Without any prompting, he declared “Keith Urban sucks”
I told him that there seemed to be a lot of people in the theatre who would disagree with him. He was a bit defensive when he heard my accent (if I’d been quicker, I should have told him “that’s my cousin you’re talking about, buddy”), and clarified that whilst Keith might be quite talented musically, nothing he has done has ever resembled real country music.
Maybe that is the view of a true country purist, or maybe just the view of someone who is stuck singing in small Honky Tonks while Keith performs to adoring stadium crowds and goes home to “our” Nicole. Whatever the case, I went back and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the show. Whatever your view on his music, the boy can definitely perform.
Fully dosed up on country music, we grabbed a quick after-show meal on the quieter side of Broadway and headed back to the hotel.