Country Music’s most revered piece of real estate, the Grand Ole Opry House, didn’t escape the wrath of Mother Nature when Nashville flooded in May 2010. The event turned the historic 4,400-seat theater into a sad, swampy mess that gave new meaning to the phrase “you done me wrong.” Crews worked nonstop for five months to restore the iconic 37-year-old landmark while the show went on — albeit elsewhere. Recently, the doors reopened to reveal a better-than-ever Opry House. American Way spoke to Opry VP and General Manager Pete Fisher about the flood’s impact and what it took to make a legend live again.American Way: Can you give us a snapshot of your first impression of the flood?Pete Fisher:
I took a kayak in through the side door — that’s how much water there was — to survey the damage. Then our staff took immediate steps to salvage historic artifacts and important items.AW: Was anything lost?PF:
We were able to get historic pieces — Minnie Pearl’s shoes, George D. Hay’s whistle that he blew to start the shows, guitars that belonged to Little Jimmy Dickens and others — to higher ground. Archive videotape footage of the Opry and old photographs were sent to restoration houses. The circle of wood from the Ryman Auditorium [one of the Opry’s previous homes] was restored and reimplemented on the main stage.AW: Who took charge of the restoration?PF:
The whole Opry team and [owner] Gaylord Entertainment. We all threw our titles out the window and did what had to be done. Country music is one big family. Everyone pitched in.AW: How much was the damage in financial terms?PF:
Approximately $20 million.AW: Tell us about some of the improvements.PF:
There’s HD projection in the auditorium, a new audio system, an artist gallery with placards of all the Opry members for the past 85 years and 18 themed dressing rooms backstage.AW: What can visitors look forward to at the Opry this year?PF:
Backstage tours begin in February. You’ll see photographs of big stars on their Opry debut and the decorative chair rail that signifies the floodwater line. Also, Opry patriarch Roy Acuff’s restored dressing room. His favorite plaque survived and still hangs on the door: “Ain’t nothin’ gonna come up today that me and the Lord can’t handle.”
Did You Know?
- The Opry has had eight homes throughout its 85 years. In 1974, it moved to the Grand Ole Opry House, and it has stayed there longer than anywhere else.
- For 4,430 (and counting) consecutive Saturday nights, the Grand Ole Opry has rung out on the airwaves. The world’s longest-running radio show, it broadcasts on Nashville’s WSM-AM 650.
- The Opry House complex is lined with more than 15.8 million feet of audio, video and lighting cable.
- The Opry seats 4,400. The Ryman Auditorium, one of its former homes in downtown Nashville, seats 2,200. Every year, the Opry plays a winter run in the Ryman.
- The Opry has welcomed more than 300 members throughout its history, from Hank Williams and Patsy Cline to Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.
- (Little) Jimmy Dickens, 90, is the Opry’s most senior member, and he still performs regularly. He joined the Opry in 1948.
- Opry member Lorrie Morgan made her Opry debut when she was 13 years old.
- Famous faces who’ve played the Opry but who aren’t country-music artists: former President Richard Nixon, Kevin Costner, Jack Black, Kevin Bacon, and CBS anchors Bob Schieffer and Charles Osgood.
- Four Opry members have been honored with their own U.S. postage stamp.