It’s a six-foot piece of circular wood, scuffed and nicked and grooved, but it’s a monumental symbol. Brad Paisley and Little Jimmy Dickens joined four construction workers Wednesday in installing a major piece of oak into the center of the stage at the Grand Ole Opry House.
The moment was captured by a herd of reporters and photographers as Nashville continues its recovery from a devastating flood in early May. At that time, water from the Cumberland River swamped the historic venue, piling 46 inches of liquid on top of the stage. The waters were so significant that mud was hurled onto the ceiling and Opry VP and general manager Pete Fisher literally floated a kayak through the house.
Dirt and construction dust still litter the grounds around the Opry House, but the placement of the circle back onto the stage was a hardy symbol for the restoration of the Opry and its history. The circle was cut from the floor of the Ryman Auditorium and installed at the Opry House when it opened in 1974, providing a physical link between current generations of Opry members and some of the late performers who stood behind the mic stand on that same wood — people like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff and Marty Robbins. It was damaged during May’s floods, but not so much that it couldn’t be repaired. Its resilience embodies as well as ever the durability of the Opry and its legend.
“It’s one thing to play at the Grand Ole Opry, which is the birthplace of my form of music and country music in general,” Brad said. “It’s another thing to have a home for it. I don’t think any other form of music necessarily has this — this place where the past and the future sort of collide. It would be enough to stand in the presence of people like Jimmy out on this stage, but there’s something about having a physical piece of the old place, of the floor that Hank Williams stood on, of the people over the years from Loretta Lynn to Ernest Tubb to you name it who have performed on this stage. I think keeping physically and metaphysically this bond of the past is something that separates the Opry from almost all other musical institutions.”
The Opry House has been closed since the flood, though the radio show has continued to air from a variety of Nashville locations, including the Ryman Auditorium, David Lipscomb University, War Memorial Auditorium and even Two Rivers Baptist Church. When the Opry returns to the Opry House Sept. 28, GAC will capture the event live. And it’s already set to be a star-studded night with Brad and Little Jimmy, plus Trace Adkins, Diamond Rio, Jason Aldean, Josh Turner, the Charlie Daniels Band, Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Mel Tillis, Montgomery Gentry and the Del McCoury Band.
In October, the Opry will celebrate its 85th birthday with a series of events, including an open house for the city of Nashville and appearances by a still-evolving cast of performers, including The Band Perry, Kevin Costner, comedian Mike Snider and the Judds.
The installation of the circle brings it all a little bit closer, and the moment was an emotional one for both Brad and Little Jimmy, who made his first Opry appearance on that same piece of wood when it was in the floor at the Ryman. The two sang a highly appropriate verse and chorus of the Carter Family classic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” to start the music in the Opry House anew.
“This place is always in my dreams,” Little Jimmy noted. “I walk the floor at home and my wife says, ‘What are you doin’?’ I said, ‘I’m waitin’ for Friday, so I can go to the Opry House.’”