Earlier this summer I reluctantly made my first trip to the South since the disastrous presidential election of fall 2016. While in Nashville I visited the Grand Ole Opry. Here are my observations about the venue:
The setting surprises, but upon reflection makes sense. It is not the original Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, but the current Opryhouse, a concert venue built outside of town, next to the highway. An enormous parking lot serves the Opry and its adjacent shopping mall, which is filled with crass, pumped-up versions of chain stores and restaurants, and a wax museum of country celebrities. It is an amplified, backward-looking (but strategically forgetful) version of vernacular americana.
Inside the new Opryhouse, simulation of the authentic and the rustic is everywhere– raw-looking wood finishes and cast iron railings. This image of old-timey simple rigor is belied by factors including an accommodation to bodily infirmity and sprawl. Seating is on shared benches made to look like church pews (the on-stage announcer repeatedly refers to the opry as “the mother church of country music”), yet these pews are not rough and homespun, but softly upholstered and placed far apart. If Opry customers happen to be obese and/or advanced in age, that is planned-for.