The trip across country was mandatory but our route was not.
My daughter was heading west and I elected to go along. (There was never any question about my accompanying her. Road trip! I thought.)
Then she said “I want to see Nashville.” A route was born. A country music tour. Any country music; any music of the country.
Because we had to make it across these extremely large United States in less than a week, we limited our visits to one site (maybe two) and food, preferably with music.
In Nashville, we knew it had to be the Ryman Auditorium and one loud honky-tonk. The Mother Church of Country Music was built as a church in 1892, the Union Gospel Tabernacle and I am extremely grateful to Capt. Thomas Ryman for getting religion and building this wondrous structure. Wide and high, with pews on the first floor and in a sweeping balcony, the building has been refitted (and restored) for modern musical performances. But oh, when you step up behind that mike, standing where Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley once performed, it is a religious experience. We took the tourist route, picked up a guitar (a Martin, no less, with beautiful sound) and had our picture taken.
You can practically hear the music as you walk around the cavernous space, run your hand along those old pews, watch the crew set up for the evening performance, look over the mementoes left by musicians and actors playing musicians.
A visit begins with a video. A really good one narrated by Lula Naff, the woman who started booking acts into the Ryman back when the 20th Century was young. Filled with music and some fun special effects, it’s a rousing way to begin a visit to this storied place.
The tour is self-guided. Take as much time as you want. Walk everywhere and study all the exhibits. Post for a photo at the microphone on stage.
Big and grand with a wide, sweeping stage, you can just imagine the music that has filled this space since 1892. It seems like everybody has sung here: Ernest Tubbs to Bruce Springsteen to Mumford and Sons, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton to Taylor Swift. I just had to step up to the microphone and look out on all those empty seats. Imagine when every one is filled with your fans.
I don’t consider myself much of a country music fan but I love this place. I love the devotion to country music that fills the Ryman. And maybe it even is beginning to make me a convert. (You should see the stack of CDs I later bought in Austin.)
The Ryman also has a recording booth for those who can really sing (or think they can.) I skipped that but of course stopped in the gift shop. I needed a shirt to wear to Graceland the next day.
Step outside of the Ryman and you can hear music
everywhere. And we weren’t leaving Nashville without some live music. Some toe-tapping jamming was going on at Honky Tonk Central, and it drew us in. The band had people up dancing and clapping their hands. It was all fun.
Pointing my cellphone at the band for a pic, a man came up behind me and said, “You can’t take that picture without me in it!”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I’m the lead singer,” he said. And then he suggested we take a selfie before he headed back to the stage to finish the set. The band didn’t have a name, I found out later. The musicians met on Friday and played together all weekend. Once again I marvel at the talent all around. You know, I never did hear his name.
Ⓒ Photo and text
Mary K. Tilghman