The Grand Ole Opry

My last week in Nashville I figured I needed to do something stereotypically touristy.  So I got Wednesday night tickets to the Grand Ole Opry.  My first thought?  These tickets are way more expensive than I would have guessed.

I grew up in the South, and listened to a decent amount of Country music, but I wouldn’t describe myself as a Country music “fan”.  Not because I have a problem with it, it was just never my thing.

Still, I figured I had a decent grasp on the tone of most of Country music fandom.  The Grand Ole Opry, being such a mainstream platform for the genre taught me otherwise.

First, though, a bit about the space and the format.

The Grand Ole Opry House

The theater itself is pretty interesting.  The exterior gave me kind of theme park show vibes, but the aesthetic feels pretty intentional.  Also, I dig theme park shows, so this wasn’t a bad thing.

Seating at The Grand Ole Opry

The most striking thing about the venue to me was the seating.  It’s basically church pews.  In fact, it reminded me pretty strongly of modern “big” churches (intended to seat 1,000+): pew layout, balcony design, screen placement were all very familiar.  It would be weird if this weren’t intentional, but I suppose its construction in the early 70s could pre-date the design of big churches in the South.

Any oddity of design and furnishing aside, the venue was a good one for a show.  Plenty of space, good lighting and sound, and (perhaps intentionally?) the use of pews definitely helps make you feel like part of a group attending the show rather than just someone that’s part of a crowd.

On to the show!

The Grand Ole Opry format is, I think, a pretty good one.  Eight acts allocated three songs each with a fifteen minute intermission after the fourth act.  That’s just enough time to get a feel for an act before the next comes on, and you can go find out more about the ones you like.

Eight acts is a lot, and I was impressed by the variety.  Classic bluegrass, modern country, some more rock-influenced stuff, Irish bluegrass, and they even had a set from a stand up comedian and another from a professional song writer (who was not a great vocalist but had amazing stage presence and charisma).

One thing that really stood out to me was the importance people placed on the Country Music “charts”.  Having had a “number one” hit was important, and any artist who had any made sure to tell the crowd how many they had.

Three songs per act is enough that everyone could play something people might recognize and whatever new project they were promoting.  And if you had a “number one”, there was a good chance that it would be recognized, so I heard a lot of “what made me famous” songs.  Which led to the most surprising moment of the night.

Country music is one of those genres with limited mainstream crossover.  You can be a pretty big name in Country, and still have most people never hear of you.  This is true of most genres, so it’s not really a commentary on Country, I just wanted to establish that I don’t expect you to have heard of Darryl Worley.  If you have heard of him, though, it’s probably because of his 2003 Country music number one hit “Have You Forgotten?”.

Even if you’re not familiar with the song, if you take a moment to think about the title, the genre, and the release date I’m pretty sure you can roughly guess as to its content.  “Have You Forgotten?” is one of the numerous post-9/11 explicitly pro-war songs that evolved from the more generically patriotic songs that sprung upright after the attacks.  While the earlier songs were hostile to the generic “enemies” who attacked America, the later evolution of songs were mostly hostile (and a bit smug) toward the growing domestic anti-war sentiment.  “Have You Forgotten” what they did to us?  We totally should be at war about it.

I don’t have an issue with songs like this existing.  It was a contentious time in US history, and this “we have to do something” sentiment was widespread.  So Darryl Worley having written and performed something like this in 2003 isn’t weird or even notably unusual.

What surprised me was that Darryl Worley performed “Have You Forgotten?” twenty years later live at the Grand Ole Opry as the final song of his set.  I guess that I had come to believe that the general consensus in America was at least he post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were at least complicated enough to not celebrate them so in the same way we did when it was all fresh.  Especially with the hindsight of what we did (or didn’t) accomplish with those wars.

The concern with Country radio chart position combined with no one visibly batting an eye at a “a war to get revenge for 9/11 is a good thing” song really drove home for me how distinct parts of Country music culture is from my own worldview.  It does make me wonder if other genres are as concerned about their individual charts, or if there’s something unique about Country music (it is a pretty unique segment of the music industry from a business perspective, after all).

So that was my Grand Ole Opry experience.  Interesting and thought provoking, but i don’t know that I’d do it again.  Especially at that price.

Unrelated side note: watching a number of people play slide guitar throughout the night, I was struck by how similar the techniques appear to those used for the guqin.  I mean, there are plenty of differences, but I wonder if slide guitar (which has been around for less than 200 years) was partially inspired by 3000 years of guqin technique, or if there was some kind of parallel evolution.






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