Being from Nashville and coming from a family of music-industry professionals, I must confess that I committed somewhat of a Cardinal Sin: I had never visited the Grand Ole Opry (that is, until a couple weeks ago). I fully recognize the irony in being a travel professional who hadn't even experienced the most popular attraction in Nashville (my own city) and so obviously, I had to fix it. So when the opportunity arose to tour the place that made country music famous, naturally I said yes (and I made sure to bring my brother, sister-in-law and photographer because they had never been either!)
For those of you who are rookies like I was and can't say they've ever been, let me share a little history. It all started back in 1925 when an announcer on a Nashville radio station introduced fiddle player Uncle Jimmy Thompson as the first performer on a new show called "The WSM Barn Dance." No one knew at the time, but that show would go on to launch countless careers in country music and boast performances from the most iconic artists in the industry.
It's no secret that the Opry has come a long way since then. In 1974, they bid farewell to their original home, the Ryman Auditorium (which is still an amazing venue to see shows in Nashville) to expand to the venue where they are now (they even kept + transported the same eight-foot circle of hardwood from the original stage for posterity). Today, The Grand Ole Opry House hosts more than a million guests every year, and I can finally say that I am one of them!
When we first arrived to the venue, we started with a backstage tour to see what goes on behind the scenes at the home of country music. Our first stop was the Opry Post Office, a tradition that started back at the Ryman. Here, Grand Ole Opry members are assigned their own post office box where they can receive mail for fans to send them letters. I wondered if artists actually still use it today (until we bumped into Blake Shelton- the surprise guest of the evening).
Around the corner from the Post Office starts the hallway of 18 dressing rooms, which was my favorite part of the tour because these aren't just any dressing rooms. Each has a specific theme and design in mind to set it apart from the others and give the artists an added special experience each time they play (as if playing the Opry wasn't special enough already). For example, the "Into the Circle" room is reserved for artists making their debut performance at the Opry while the "Welcome to the Family" room is reserved for artists on the night they're inducted as a Grand Ole Opry member. Some other rooms include "Now That's Funny" (comedy), "It Takes Two" (duets) and "Stars & Stripes" (paying tribute to America's service men and women).
One of the more sobering moments of our tour was seeing the flood line from the historic Nashville flood in 2010. The substantial damage from this disaster caused the Opry House to close for around-the-clock restoration for five months. Seeing how high the water rose was both heartbreaking, but also symbolic of the resilient "show-must-go-on" mindset of the Opry family standing where they are on the other side of it all today.
After touring the first set of dressing rooms, we took a quick break to watch Blake Shelton's surprise performance from side stage. Seeing the Opry action from this point of view was so cool and something you should definitely experience for yourself. If you're wondering how to get backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, it's easier than you may think. Simply book one of the three backstage tours (ours was VIP if you want the same) and you'll be able to see all of this with your own two eyes.
Finally, we saw the last few dressing rooms, hung out backstage for a bit and then went to our seats so we could watch the final performance of the night: Keith Urban (who we were all so excited to see!) Naturally, he killed it (how does a human even play the guitar like that?) and we all left with an unbelievable Opry experience for our first visit.
I can't believe I waited 30 years to visit the Grand Ole Opry! I had such a fun night, learned so much about country music and definitely plan on returning again soon. If you're visiting Nashville, be sure to add this iconic attraction to your itinerary (and if you need help planning more of your stay, be sure to check out my travel guide and some of my favorite brunch spots!)
Thanks for stopping by and be sure to come back tomorrow, because I'm sharing my 12 commandments for airport etiquette!
Thank you to the Grand Ole Opry for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own.