Ryman Auditorium, the 120-year old iconic venue that witnessed the evolution of country music during the Grand Ole Opry, the filming of “The Johnny Cash Show,” world class performances by Bob Dylan, Coldplay, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Wilco, Neil Young and so many more of modern history’s greatest entertainers, will replace its stage for the first time since 1951. The new stage will feature an eighteen inch section cut from the existing stage running across the front to honor the historical significance of past performances. A now famous circle of the same Ryman stage wood resides center-stage at the Grand Ole Opry House.
“Artists cherish the chance to perform here because they know they’re following in the footsteps of their heroes,” said Sally Williams, Ryman Auditorium General Manager. “Fans relish the unparalleled acoustics, the intimate environment and the ‘only at the Ryman’ moments that that are common here. By making this investment we are insuring that future generations of artists and fans will be able to enjoy these same experiences.”
The project will begin on Saturday, February 4 and the final events on the current stage promise to be suitably memorable. Dierks Bentley will return to the Mother Church of Country Music on Thursday, February 2 with a special concert celebrating the release of “Home,” his brand new album. “I’ve told the story a million times about how I used to walk down the alley and touch the bricks of the Ryman on my way home from playing the bars on lower Broadway…it has always been one of the most precious places in Nashville and in country music to me,” said Bentley. “My ‘Home’ album release show will have even more meaning to it now…the significance of that stage and who played there before me will definitely be in the back of my head all night. As a member of the Grand Ole Opry, I couldn’t be any prouder.” Nashville roots-rock favorite Will Hoge will open the show.
The last performance on the stage will take place on Friday, February 3 when the Grand Ole Opry closes out its annual winter run at the Ryman. The show will feature Keith Urban’s first performance since vocal surgery, Opry members including Charley Pride and The Oak Ridge Boys and rising stars Eden’s Edge. During his last Ryman appearance, on GAC-TV’s “Music City Keep On Playin’” flood benefit in 2010, Urban said of the Ryman, “There’s no place I’d rather play.”
The project will be completed within two weeks and the first public performance on the new stage will take place on February 20 as Grammy® nominees, The Band Perry make their sold-out Ryman headlining debut. “To play the Ryman is to step into country music’s rich history and we are honored to perform there. Now, as the venue makes plans for its future, we promise to inaugurate the new stage with all the respect and reverence it deserves,” said Kimberly, Reid and Neil Perry. The Band Perry is one of the country’s premiere new acts, having achieved platinum status with their current self-titled album, number one status on both the country charts and adult contemporary charts with their song “If I Die Young,” and Best New Artist awards from both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.
Installed in 1951, the current stage reflects the wear and tear of events ranging from simple acoustic performances to major theatrical, concert, television and film productions. Replacing the Ryman’s sixty year old stage is important to insure the integrity of the National Historic Landmark for future generations. In addition to offering an improved performance surface, the new stage will have a greater load-bearing capacity to insure safety and increased durability to withstand the strenuous production requirements of modern events.
During the stage replacement project, the existing hickory support beams will be strengthened with concrete at their bases and the joists will be reinforced with steel brackets. Additionally, new cross-beams will be put in place to further enhance the structural integrity of the stage. The current oak plank stage will be replaced with Brazilian teak certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the same type of wood used to replace the Grand Ole Opry House stage after the 2010 flood. Currently, the Ryman’s oak stage can bear 40,000 pounds of weight. By using teak products, one of the hardest woods available in the world, the new stage will be able to support up to 120,000 pounds. The size of the stage will remain unchanged at 60.5’ by 36.5’.
To honor its role in an unparalleled history of classic performances, an eighteen inch strip of the oak planks from the current stage will run along the front of the new stage. By combining the lighter oak of the past with the deeper colored teak of the future, performers will still have the opportunity to touch the stage where so many of their heroes once stood.
The project will begin the morning of Saturday, February 4. Craftsmen will work a minimum of 12 hour days, seven days a week to complete the project within two weeks. Around-the-clock security will be present as the current stage is dismantled and the oak planks are moved to an off-site location. An announcement on future plans for the historic planks will be made at a later date.
The Ryman will remain open for daytime tours throughout the project and will offer a special rate of $10.00 for self-guided tours daily from February 3 – February 20.
The Band Perry’s performance on the new stage will be followed by a diverse line-up of concerts and events including: NEEDTOBREATHE February 23 and 24, Lewis Black February 25, Diana Ross March 2, Andrew Bird March 19, The Moody Blues March 21, Gabriel Iglesias March 23, Daughtry March 30, Snow Patrol April 3, Merle Haggard April 11, Béla Fleck & The Flecktones March 14, The Fresh Beat Band April 15, Jammin’ To Beat The Blues featuring Vince Gill & Friends April 17, A Prairie Home Companion April 21 & 28, Tedeschi Trucks Band April 29 and Trace Adkins May 18.
RYMAN AUDITORIUM STAGE HISTORY
1892 – When the Union Gospel Tabernacle opened its doors in 1892, it was used primarily for religious revivals, most notably those by Reverend Sam Jones for whom the building was built. Although without a stage at the time, the building did host concert performances by artists ranging from Fisk Jubilee Singers to John Philip Sousa. It wasn’t until Tom Ryman’s death in 1904 that the venue was renamed Ryman Auditorium in honor of the man who was the chief benefactor and driving force behind its construction.
1901 – At the special request of the Metropolitan Opera, funds were raised and the first stage was finally built so that the Ryman could accommodate performances of “Carmen” and “The Barber of Seville.” The addition of a stage made it possible for the Ryman to host luminaries from every facet of the entertainment business including the likes of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin, Helen Hayes, Katherine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, Orson Wells and Mae West. Speeches were made by presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft as well as Williams Jennings Bryant and Booker T. Washington. The Grand Ole Opry moved to the Ryman in 1943 and for 31 years its broadcast served as a beacon to bring the pioneers of classic country music to the Ryman. Bluegrass music traces its origin to the Ryman where on December 8, 1945 Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt on the Opry for the first time. It was during an Opry show in 1949 that Hank Williams made his debut and was called back for six encores.
1951 – The Ryman’s existing stage was removed and replaced by a larger, more durable stage that allowed the venerable building to meet the production needs of performances at the time. The Grand Ole Opry entered the realm of television in 1955 bringing the likes of Roy Acuff, The Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, Marty Stuart and Porter Wagoner into homes coast to coast. Johnny Cash was among those who got his start on the Opry during this time. He would go on to film “The Johnny Cash Show” at the Ryman, bringing an eclectic mix of guests to the Ryman ranging from Neil Diamond to Stevie Wonder and from Eric Clapton’s Derek & The Dominos to Linda Ronstadt.
1994 – During the Ryman’s major renovations in the early nineties, stage improvements included the addition of a proscenium as well as accommodations for modern audio and lighting systems. The Ryman’s diverse programming has continued with the biggest names in show business including The Black Keys, Harry Connick, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, Lady Antebellum, The Raconteurs, Robert Plant, Van Morrison and more. The Ryman also has been featured in many television and film projects including “American Idol,” Levon Helm’s “Ramble at the Ryman,” Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” O Brother, Where Art Thou? concert film “Down from the Mountain” and Austin City Limits Live “Americana Music Awards.”