Five months after a flood left the hallowed stage of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House submerged under 46 inches of water, the venue reoped Tuesday as the Opry held a three-hour event — two hours airing as a GAC special, Country Comes Home: An Opry Live Celebration.
The flood’s assault on the Opry House has been the biggest story in country music this year, so it’s only appropriate that the evening was heavy on music from 2010: Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party,” Blake Shelton’s “All About Tonight,” Brad Paisley’s “Anything Like Me” and Keith Urban’s “I’m In,” among them.
But the night also included performances that offered a smattering of country music history — of which, the Opry has been central. Dierks Bentley and Del McCoury injected bluegrass into the proceedings with a cover of Bill Monroe’s “Roll On, Buddy, Roll On.” Martina McBride and Connie Smith traded lines in the 1964 classic “Once A Day.” Charlie Daniels teamed with Montgomery Gentry on a sizzling version of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” And Josh Turner and Lorrie Morgan turned in a stunning version of the George Jones & Tammy Wynette hit “Golden Ring.” (Lorrie, incidentally, wore a leopard-patterned dress — not something in red…)
Brad, Keith, Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs and Marty Stuart teamed up on a closing cover of Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues.” And the Opry made more history as Trace Adkins invited Blake to become the next member of the exclusive cast.
“I’ve had people ask me,” Trace noted, “as we travel around the country doin’ the shows this year, ‘Did I lose anything in the floods? Was I affected personally?’ And I answer that question yes, because when the water was this deep on this stage, it hurt in my soul.”
But Trace lightened the mood quickly, turning the image of four feet of water into a punch line: “Little Jimmy [Dickens] woulda been swimmin’ right here. I’d-a been fine, but he’d-a been swimmin’.”
Several performers’ personal battles with the flood were recounted. Jeannie Seely, whose home along the Cumberland River had to be renovated, said the damage to her house and the Opry House made her feel “like I lost two homes.”
Josh recalled that his band members had left their vehicles in the Opry House parking lot while they went on a tour that weekend and came back to find them under water. “So,” he noted, “they all have new cars.”
Keith added that he’d been scheduled to start recording his next album that very Monday in May when the water crested. He didn’t change plans; instead, he started recording with borrowed instruments.
“The show,” he said, “must go on.”
So it was for the Opry, which was held in multiple venues around Nashville for the last five months. Not once was a single show missed. Meanwhile, workers went into high gear to not only restore the Opry House but to improve on it. The artists were all impressed Tuesday with the upgrades in the back stage area — but particularly happy just to take the stage again.
“It’s very moving,” Keith said, “to be standing in this circle and be a part of this tonight.”
The “circle” is a six-foot piece of oak that was transferred from the stage at the Opry’s former home, the Ryman Auditorium, when the Opry House was built in 1974. Its legacy connects the current crop of stars with some of the 85-year-old radio show’s past figures, including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Roy Acuff. Brad and Little Jimmy sang “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” when the wood was re-set on the Opry House stage in August, and they led a huge contingent in the song at the start of Tuesday’s re-opening.
Before the telecast ever began, all of the night’s stars took part in that performance along with the pre-telecast acts such as Diamond Rio, Bill Anderson, John Conlee, Jean Shepard, Riders In The Sky and Mel Tillis. Several other artists also joined the mass choir, including the Whites, Jack Greene and two ailing stars — Mel McDaniel, who’s recovering from a 2009 heart attack; and Charlie Louvin, currently battling pancreatic cancer.
The mass ensemble symbolized the Opry’s unity. “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” represented its resilience.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a harder time fightin’ back tears than that first song tonight,” Brad said. “Being back in our home — it’s crazy.”