To be completely honest, I have never been a huge fan of country music. It’s not that I necessarily don’t like it… I’ve just never really listened to it. I grew up on artists such as N*Sync, Britney Spears, and Hanson (Mmmbop, ba duba dop!) like your average 90s kid, and I just kind of stuck with the pop genre. Well, that was until I hit my teenage emo phase, circa 2004, and then I was all Fall Out Boy-this and My Chemical Romance-that. Needless to say, if Dolly Parton wasn’t wearing all black, shopping at Hot Topic, and screaming about teenage angst into a microphone, I wasn’t listening to country music.
While I’m now, luckily, out of the emo phase, I still listen to mostly top 40, but occasionally I will hear a country song and really enjoy it. I’ve actually discovered that I really like quite a few country songs in recent months. As pop music becomes more auto tuned, I feel like country songs are better at telling actual stories instead of just having a good beat. I also like that country artists don’t try to reinvent themselves every year (Taylor Swift is somewhat of an exception, but I will admit that I do love the newer 1989 era. Don’t judge me.). As I have gotten older, my music preferences have certainly changed and I now appreciate all types of music. Whether it’s Lady Gaga or Carrie Underwood, if there’s a good message behind the song, I am a fan.
A couple months ago, I received an email from a friend of a friend asking if I’d be interested in visiting Nashville and going on a Grand Ole Opry backstage tour. I immediately responded with a resounding “YES!”. While I haven’t been a fan of country music for very long, I know how special the history of the Grand Ole Opry is and seeing a show at the Opry has been on my to-do list for quite a while now. Since I live in the south, it’s basically a right of passage after all, right?
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Arriving to The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville Tennessee
To have the ultimate Opry weekend, I stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, which was just a couple minutes from the Grand Ole Opry. I’ll have a full blog post up about the resort in a few weeks, but I will go ahead and say that it was such a perfect stay and its location was ideal for getting to the Opry on show night.
(To check prices for the Gaylord Opryland Resort, just click here.)
There is a paved path that goes from the resort to the Opry, and you could walk/roll it in about 15-20 minutes. However, my mom and I chose to drive over to the Opry because we thought it would be quicker. The drive was short, but finding a parking spot was another matter. The Opry doesn’t really have its own parking lot, so we parked in the Opry Mills lot. Opry Mills is a huge mall and was packed on show night. The closest parking spot we could get was about a 5-7 minute walk from the Opry, so maybe we would’ve been better off just walking over from the resort in the first place. Who knows… but once we arrived to the Opry and picked up our tickets at the box office, we excitedly headed inside and were ready to see the greatest show in country music.
As soon as I rolled through the entrance of the Grand Ole Opry, I could feel the history coming to life and knew that I was in for an unbelievable night. For a bit of a backstory, the Opry started in 1925 as a radio show called “The WSM Barn Dance”. The Opry then found a home at the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville from 1943-1974, after which it moved into the larger Grand Ole Opry House, where it still is today. When the Opry moved from the Ryman to the current Opry House, an eight-foot circle of hardwood was taken from the Ryman stage and placed center stage at the Opry House. Not only did this keep in touch with the traditions of the Ryman, but it also means that every performer, whether at the Ryman or the Opry House, has stood on the exact same spot. The Grand Ole Opry House can hold up to 4,400 people and on the Friday night that I visited, it was a sold out show. Like any concert, you should definitely get your tickets as far in advance as possible.
After a quick stroll through the gift shop, we made our way to our seats with the assistance of an usher. The usher kept going closer to the stage and I thought “Is she going to put us ON the stage or what?!”. To my surprise and delight, we were in the fourth row! We were so close to the stage that I could almost touch it… if only my arms were about 8 feet longer. I was really excited to have such good seats and the accessible seating was set up great. Unlike some theaters that I’ve been to in the past where wheelchair users have to sit on the far side or in the far back of the theater, at the Opry there was accessible seating right in the middle at the very front. It’s also available further back and even up in the balcony, depending on which price level you want to sit in. The Opry isn’t a huge place, so really any seat would be a good one.
At 7pm, it was finally show time! John Conlee opened the show and there were some great acts in the first half. My personal favorites were Summer Brooke and the Mountain Faith Band and Linda Davis. Linda covered the Kenny Rogers song “20 Years Ago” and it was fantastic. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit it, but I was even getting a bit teary-eyed. Each artist performed 2-3 songs, and I loved that because I got to hear many different artists instead of the same one for the whole show. At every Opry show, you’ll get to see 8-10 artists perform, and the lineup is always new and appealing.
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Going Backstage at the Opry
After one hour of listening to some wonderful music, it was time for intermission and our Grand Ole Opry VIP Tour. Katrina, who runs the Opry’s social media side of things, came and got us from our seats and escorted us backstage, where the tour began. We met up with our guide and she immediately started telling us about the history of the Grand Ole Opry and showing us around.
We started by going to the Artists Entrance area. As the name suggests, this is where all of the artists enter on show night. Our guide said that most of the performers surprisingly drive themselves to the Opry, even if they’re extremely famous. Once they walk through the door, they go through a security check just like everyone else that enters the building. When I looked shocked that they actually had to go through security, our guide said “It’s the Opry’s way of keeping them humble”.
If the artist is an official member of the Opry, they will go to their mail box after security. Getting your own mail box is one of the perks of becoming a member, but getting that exclusive membership invitation is not as easy as you might think. New members are chosen by the show’s management and they take into account a number of different factors, including radio airplay, recorded music sales, touring success, and industry recognition. However, perhaps the most important factor is the artist’s relationship with their fans and with other members of the Opry. It’s a monumental accomplishment to become a member and as Garth Brooks famously said “To be recognized as a member is among the class of honors that will never be topped, no matter how long or how far my career goes”.
It’s worth noting that anyone, even you, can send letters to the Opry members. Just address it to whichever member you like and mail it to the Grand Ole Opry. It’ll then be in their mailbox the next time that they perform at the Opry. You better believe that I’ll be mailing a letter to Dolly Parton in the near future.
After scoping out the mailboxes, we got to see the dressing rooms. There are 18 dressing rooms and each one has a different theme. Some rooms had the door shut because there were people inside, but the large majority of them were open for us to see. There was a room devoted to Opry legend Minnie Pearl (the “Cousin Minnie” room), a room devoted to America’s service men and women (the “Stars & Stripes” room), a room devoted to country duets (the “It Takes Two” room), and many more. It was fascinating to see the differences from room to room, and see how much thought and attention to detail went into each one.
Keep in mind that my tour was during the show, so things were a bit hectic backstage as performers got ready, but that made it even more exciting. Everyone was shuffling about and as we passed by one of the dressing rooms, Linda Davis (the artist whose performance I loved so much earlier in the show) was sitting in it. As soon as I saw her, she waved at me and started talking. I told her how much I enjoyed her performance and she was incredibly sweet. We even posed for a photo outside her room.
I also got to see the large green room, where the performers can hang out and socialize before taking the stage. There were couches set up and a coffee/tea area. It felt like a big cozy living room, complete with pictures on the walls and a large mural painting on display. The painting showed many Opry performers on stage dancing and having a fun time. It reflected the spirit of the Opry; togetherness, fun, and happiness.
Another interesting thing in the green room was a flood line on the walls. Back in 2010, Nashville was severely flooded and the Grand Ole Opry was affected by it. The Opry actually had to shut down for five months for repairs because it was destroyed. I knew that the Opry had been flooded, but I was shocked to see how high the water was. Luckily, the greatest show in country music came back better than ever after the damages and repairs.
What happened next during our Grand Ole Opry backstage tour was unbelievable. “Would you like to go sit on the stage during the next performance?”, said our guide. You can imagine how quickly I said “YES!”.
We made our way onto the back of the Opry stage and watched Sundance Head (winner of season 11 of The Voice) perform a couple songs. It was a totally different experience watching the Opry from the stage instead of out in the crowd. I could see how vast the audience was and, sort of, imagine what it felt like when the performers stepped out on that stage. It’s truly overwhelming to see so many people staring back at you.
Since I’ll probably never truly perform at the Opry, I took this opportunity to sing (very quietly) under my breath. Why? Because now I can say that I sang on the Grand Ole Opry stage! Haha! After Sundance performed a couple songs, he exited toward the back of the stage where I was, so I got a photo with him. I only talked with him briefly, but he was nice and didn’t care at all to stop for a photo.
Another surprise happened next; Katrina asked if I’d like to interview Craig Morgan in his dressing room. Craig is a member of the Opry and was this evening’s headliner. If you listen to country music at all, then you’ve certainly heard his songs. Some of his more popular ones are “That’s What I Love About Sunday” and “Redneck Yacht Club”. He’s a huge deal in country music, so I was honored to chat with him at the Mecca of country music. He told me how much the Opry means to him during our chat and it was so much fun. He’s an awesome guy and it was easy to see why he’s had such an extensive career in the industry. Check out our chat by watching the video below –
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As you can see, I had a whirlwind experience backstage on the Behind the Opry Curtain VIP Tour. It was more than I could have ever hoped for and I would definitely encourage everyone visiting the Opry to take part in this tour. It’s one thing to see the show from the audience, but seeing what happens backstage during the show gave me a greater appreciation and understanding for the Opry. The Grand Ole Opry tour length was only about 30-45 minutes, but it was some of the most exciting minutes in all of my travels.
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The Grand Finale
Now that I had been backstage and truly experienced the Opry, it was time to head back to our seats and see the remainder of the show. There was only about 30 minutes left of the show, but it was the best part in my opinion. Craig Morgan performed a few songs, which was great to witness since I had just talked with him backstage. His performances were full of energy and he really got the crowd excited.
The most special moment of the night however, happened when Ashley McBryde took the stage. This was Ashley’s debut at the Opry, making it extra special for her. She sang two songs, but her second one had the entire crowd in tears. It was called “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” and she wrote it specifically for this debut performance at the Opry. Back when Ashley was in school, her teacher asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up. Ashley said that she wanted to write songs and sing, and her teacher said she was stupid and basically wasn’t going to go anywhere in life. So Ashley wrote this song to prove her teacher wrong. It was a beautiful Opry moment and at the end of it, she got a standing ovation. She was actually the only performer all night to get a standing ovation, so that should tell you how spectacular it was. Want to hear the song? Here it is below –
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And here’s a clip that I put together of many of the different performances that I saw –
From watching incredible performances to hanging out backstage, my first ever experience at the Grand Ole Opry was more than I could have ever dreamed of. Aside from just simply having a great time, this experience showed me that Nashville is cooler than I ever thought possible and the Opry even managed to turn me into a bit of a country music fan. The 14 year old emo version of me would never believe it, but sometimes all it takes is opening yourself up to new experiences and you just might find that you enjoy them.
To plan your own Opry experience, visit the Grand Ole Opry website.
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*Thank you to the Grand Ole Opry for this experience! While my tickets and tour were complimentary, all opinions are authentic and my own. This post includes affiliate links. When you click on a link, I may receive a small compensation, which will help this blog grow into a better resource for disabled travelers.