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Touring the Mother Church of Country Music The Ryman Auditorium

"Johnny Cash and June Carter met right here at the Ryman," our guide tells us. "Johnny always said the just started talking and never stopped. Probably still talking, I reckon.".We are standing in Johnny and June's dressing room, backstage at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, Tennessee.

This huge, red brick building is known as the "Mother Church of Country Music," and, indeed, the Ryman was built as a church, by Captain Tom Ryman in the 1890's. It still has the original stained glass windows and it still has the same pews. And every inch of the Ryman still feels sacred to me, not in a solemn way but in a way that is altogether joyous and uplifting.

The very air is thick with the memory of laughter and music and people just having a plain ol' good time.It's a mighty big building, though, and it didn't remain a church forever. It just couldn't be sustained for that purpose. By the early years of the century, it was a place for all sorts of theatrical performances.

Helen Hayes, Lilian Gish, Mae West, W.C. Fields, opera stars like Marion Anderson-they all played at the Ryman at one time or another.Real fame came, however, in 1943 when the Ryman became the home of the Grand Ole Opry. The Opry was America's favorite live country music radio show, heard over the airwaves across the South by people of all walks of life every Saturday night.

The audience for the show would start arriving early in the morning for the evening performance. They couldn't wait to sit on those hard pews in that hot building, cooled only by the paper fans the Ryman handed out, and listen to the sheer tomfoolery and down home music the Opry offered.Back to today, and our tour. We've progressed to the room dedicated to Minnie Pearl. If the Ryman is the heart and soul of Nashville, Minnie is its angel.

She is everywhere, and rightly so. Downstairs, we've already seen the beautiful brass statue just inside the entrance of Minnie sharing a bench and a laugh with Roy Acuff. It's such a perfect rendition, you can just hear Minnie exclaiming, "Oh, Roy!" and that is the title of the statue.The guard is affectionately telling one of the beloved "Minnie" stories:.Minnie said that one night at the back door of the Opry, a young man was waiting for her.

He said he wanted her money, and she told him she didn't have any. He didn't believe her, so, "Ok, search me," Minnie suggested. So the young man did- twice. Sure enough, he didn't find a single dime. "I told you I didn't have any money," Minnie said, "but if you'll do that again, I'll write you a check.".

That was Minnie, and that was the Opry. The audience loved the performers, and the performers loved them right back. And that love and laughter is what lingers all over the Ryman today.As we complete the backstage tour, and continue to the auditorium for the self-guided part of the experience, I keep almost hearing- not quite, but almost, snatches of voices: a bit of Hank Williams, Sr. doing "So Lonesome I Could Cry," a bit of Minnie's "Howdeee.just so proud to be here," a bar or two of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.

My husband wants me to stand on the stage where the performers used to stand so he can take a picture. It takes me a while to agree. I don't want to disturb the ones I can almost see still standing there.

Nothing else in Nashville feels as real and as authentic and as close to the good heart of the country as the Ryman does. For anyone with any interest at all in Country music or in American pop culture, a visit here is a must-see.The Ryman Auditorium is located at 5th and Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The tour hours are from 9-4:30. There are regular evening concerts.

.Rhetta Akamatsu is a wedding planner, paralegal, and free-lance travel writer. She owns several websites, including a new one that will feature travel articles and links. Unlike this article, the website is focused entirely on Ghost tours and other paranormal parambulations at present. You can visit it at http://www.maxandstar.

info/ghosttravel.htm.

By: Rhetta Akamatsu



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