[NASHVILLE] My trips, as you’ll soon learn, are a race to the finish, much like my life. I must Squeeze. It. All. In. So as soon as we arrived at the condo, we dropped off our bags and changed our clothes. We had tickets to the Grand Ole Opry at 7. A perfect introduction to Music City, no?
Our drive out to Opryland was our first encounter with the phenomenon that is Nashville traffic. And let me tell you, friends, this is a thing. The population of the city proper is around 610,000; the metro area is 1.75 million. It’s a big city. But it doesn’t seem to have big-city infrastructure and public transportation. Even on the highways that crisscross the city, the traffic is stop and go.
When we pulled up to Opryland, we weren’t quite sure we were in the right place. It seemed we’d arrived at a really big mall. And in fact there is a really big mall right there: Opry Mills shares parking space with the theater. We didn’t have much time to eat by then, so we decided to dash in and grab a bite. I’m not a big mall shopper, but this is a party mall, with lofty ceilings and bright lights, clean and wide thoroughfares and fresh-looking stores. There was no time to appreciate it, however; we made a beeline for a Moe’s. All the way to Nashville for some chips and salsa just like the ones I can get 2.6 miles from my house in Fort Wayne. But it was food.
We took it to go and sat on a bench outside the entrance to the Grand Ole Opry, watching the crowds go by. The weather was absolute perfection, the start of a week of absolute perfection: dry, sunny and breezy, in the upper 80s for a high. My ideal temperature is 85, so I had landed in heaven.
I crammed my fish tacos down my gullet while watching big groups of people get silly in front of the giant guitars placed strategically for photo ops. After a few quick shots of our own, we headed toward the building, stumbling upon a beer stand just outside. Lo and behold, you can take it inside with ya! Because I like unique things—this is LOCAL Universe, after all—I ordered a local beer and we dashed inside.
I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea what to expect from the Grand Ole Opry. But it was a bucket of fun. For the uninitiated, it’s the longest running live radio program, launched in 1925 in the historic Ryman Auditorium downtown and now heard around the world from its new home at Opryland. The announcer, Eddie Stubbs, is live on stage, and he’s great—quick with a joke and adept at pouring a large dose of warm, spicy molasses over any open spaces in the production.
That production includes an ever-changing lineup of performers—some new big-name acts, some down-home oldies, a little bit of everything. On Tuesdays each act gets 15 minutes or three songs, which keeps the pace brisk and spares you a long evening with anyone you might not care for. I had no idea to whom I was listening, which may have allowed me to enjoy it all the more. Our show included …
- JT Hodges, who inspired one young woman to carry a cutout of his face on a stick;
- The Black Lillies, with a wee bit of a hipster vibe (in a good way), whose animated and talented lead singers rock on a song that I can’t find online but I think is called Mercy (note to self: keep looking);
- Maggie Rose, the quintessential girl next door;
- The Isaacs, a family of powerful gospel singers who sing of God, country and the good old days;
- John Conlee, who also sings of God and country as well as his “Rose-Colored Glasses”;
- Phil Vassar, who vaguely reminded me of Kiefer Sutherland and who attacks the piano as he rocks out. Six years of piano lessons taught me how hard it is to play the sustain pedal while standing up. Major props to Phil, who popped up in art all over town during our trip.
- The Del McCoury Band, who we learned were a part of the music for the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” They were fantastic, as a legendary bluegrass band should be. I love bluegrass. To me it’s like eating a whole mess of Peeps; you indulge till you’re a little sick of it, but it sure sounds good again next time;
- Brett Eldredge, who probably rings a bell for many a young female country fan. He is the Jake Gyllenhaal of country; in fact, I wouldn’t have been one bit surprised if he busted out with a “hey girl.” I had followed up my native beer with a glass of wine at intermission, so he was looking pretty cute by this point.
We left the Grand Ole Opry pleased as punch, which seems like a thing you should say when at the Grand Ole Opry. It was a right-sized introduction to country music performances and a good time. My motto in life since turning 41 has been leave while you’re having fun, and we did.
…though we did stop for one more drink and an AMAZING slice of homemade cake at blvd Nashville, a restaurant around the corner from our condo. It was a perfect night for sitting on a patio along the street under string lights. We felt kinda cool hanging with the college kids.