The 4593rd Grand Ole Opry

Hello loyal followers! And a special hello to any newbies! Tonight’s post is brought to you by the Grand Ole Opry, because that is where I have been! KG wrote about the rest of our day over on her blog with “Better than that time we walked through Tenderloin” while I am going to give you a run down of our evening. No trip to Nashville is complete without a trip to the longest running radio show in existence and we were lucky enough to see a really stellar show.

Because it is winter we caught the live broadcast from the Ryman Auditorium, also known as the first church of country music. This iconic building used to house the Opry full time however now it only plays host to the show from December to January. It was amazing to see such talented acts play in such an important place. Plus the acoustics were superb (apparently it is ranked as the second best sounding auditorium in the USA).
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But the rare venue wasn’t the only reason we were lucky…we were lucky to even get tickets to this show. The story goes like this: KG had just confirmed with me that she was going to her event conference and I had confirmed I would be tagging along. We hadn’t book anything else yet, not the hotel/hostel, not plane tickets, but I thought I’d check out if there were Opry shows while we were going to be there. I mean what else was I going to be doing at work? Work? Turned out that there are shows on Friday & Saturday nights. The Friday we planned on being in town had no headlining act listed yet but the Saturday performance featured Eric Church. Eric Chruch! I couldn’t believe our luck! He’s possibly my favorite artist in country music right now! I texted KG to confirm buying Saturday night tickets would work for her and she agreed. So I bought some. Second row of the balcony. Amazingly good view from what I read online. Perfect! But wait! That’s not even the luckiest part yet! It turns out that tickets to the Eric Church Opry show sold out within like 2 hours of going on sale. Apparently I happened to randomly check within those few hours without any prior knowledge. I was like the luckiest person ever! Everyone we’ve talked to in Nashville keeps saying we’re so lucky and they couldn’t get tickets! I guess we know now why I was stranded in Denver: I used all my luck up on Eric Church tickets.

The Ryman Auditorum is beautiful. Colored stained glass windows cover the back wall, seating is just simple wood benches (that are actually surprisingly comfortable) and the stage is right there in front of you. The venue is airy yet intimate and made all the more significant by its history. I’ll talk more about the Ryman when we tour it tomorrow though, so right now let’s get to the show…
If you’d like to listen along just go here and pick the 01/11/14 show.

We were in attendance for the 4593rd consecutive broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry. And it is primarily a radio broadcast. That’s where the Opry’s roots lie and it continues to play on local stations & satellite radio today. As an audience member you are just watching them put that broadcast on…but the artists need someone to perform to. Our rowdy co-audience members were happy to oblige. The Opry is a show in 4 acts, each a half hour long and featuring 2 to four performers. Each performer does one or two songs, unless you’re the headliner then you get to do four. Shall I walk you through who we got to see?

ACT ONE
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The show kicked off with John Conlee. He was our first host of the evening. Each Act has its own host who introduces the other performers, provides some fun commentary and, as they are all Opry members, sings the first & last song of the Act. Conlee had seven number one hits between 1978 & 2004, two of which he performed for us. I always feel like I don’t know classic country music but I not only recognized but could sing along to both Common Man and Rose Colored Glasses.

Conlee struggled a bit with introducing the next ‘gentleman’ to perform: Morgan Frazier. Morgan turned out to be a super cute, blonde girl. The first of her 2 songs, Yellow Brick Road, turned the Wizard of Oz into a quest for love, meeting a not-so-bright farm boy (the scarecrow), a heartless jerk (the tin man) and a guy who was afraid of commitment (the cowardly lion). It was fun & catchy and I could see her having great appeal to young girls. Her second song chronicled her experience being bullied. Hey Bully had a great message that Morgan is spreading to schools with the Stand for the Silent organization.

“Hey bully, you’re a lot like me.”

Act One was rounded out by Jimmy C Newman. Newman is an 86 year old Cajun country singer who serenaded us with Alligator Man, a song he was appropriately dressed for. I am endlessly entertained by the classic country rhinestone-spangled get-ups! So fun! The most impressive thing about Jimmy though, even more impressive than the alligator jacket, is that he’s been an Opry Member for over 50 years!

ACT TWO
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Act Two was hosted by the Riders in the Sky. This quartet of cowboys is my new favorite. They began by introducing themselves: Ranger Doug (the sensible guitar playing leader), Woody Paul (the adorably awkward fiddler), Too Slim (the ridiculous bassist) and Joey the Cowpolka King (the funny accordion player). Do you like how I gave them all boy band worthy personality types? Based on those descriptions can you guess my favorite? Too Slim of course! I always love the ridiculous one J Too Slim kept trying to distract the radio announcer during commercials by dancing, pulling faces and staging puppet theater. For their performances they sang their namesake hit Ghost Riders in the Sky (whistle…Yah!) and The Yellow Rose of Texas (yodeling!). Unfortunately they did not sing anything off their two Grammy winning albums: Woody’s Roundup: A Rootin’ Tootin’ Collection and Monsters, Inc.: Scream Factory Favorites.

Connie Smith is considered one of the best female country vocalist ever. She’s received 11 Grammy nominations and had over 50 charted singles in the last 5 decades. Yes, you read that right: 5 decades. Connie was made an Opry Member back in 1965, which means it’s been almost 50 years since she was considered to already be a country superstar. There are only 66 current Opry members which means it’s quite an elite group. Stars such as Taylor Swift & Luke Bryan are only invited to perform as guests and people like Keith Urban & Brad Paisley have only join the member ranks in the last 2 or 3 years.

When we’d look at the Opry program I had stated “I haven’t heard of any of these people” (other than Eric Chruch of course) and KG had agreed. It turns out we were just being stupid. We had heard of multiple people. One being Will Hoge. A while back we had heard his song Strong on a tv commercial. I had decided it was basically the best and that I must own in. After a little internet research we discovered it was by Will Hoge. I then preceded to download his album. Basically I totally know Will Hoge, just apparently not by name. His performance was very enjoyable, especially Strong. I just love that song…this blog post does a great job of explaining it.

“Everyone knows he ain’t just tough…he’s strong.”

ACT THREE
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Jim Ed Brown hosted Act Three. Being a radio host he was well qualified for the position. When he sang Lying In Love With You & The Old Lamplighter for us he was backed up by a very good but, as far as I can remember, unintroduced female companion. Many of Jim Ed’s songs featured strong women; he was originally signed as a group with his sisters and after they disbanded most of his hits were duets with Helen Cornelius.

Jean Shepard tottered onto the stage looking quite good for 80 years old. How she looked was nothing compared to how she sounded! She belted out the first line of Tennessee Waltz and the crowd went wild. We never should have underestimated her. Jean is considered a pioneer for women in country music, has been an Opry Member for 58 years and is the longest living female member of the Opry to date. Basically she’s a timeless superstar.

When Parmalee took center stage I looked at KG and said, “I have never heard of Parmalee but I like the look of these guys. I’m excited to become a fan.” They opened with Dance which had a fun hook and got me bopping away in my seat. Yup, definitely becoming a fan. Little did I know that I already was. In between songs the band expressed their excitement at playing the Ryman for the first time and in just recently getting their first Number One. They have a number one song? What could it be?

“She feels like Carolina. Looks like California. Shining like those New York lights on Broadway.”

Carolina reached number one on Dec 21 and from the first few chords I was feeling incredibly perplex by my lack of knowledge. I love this song…and knew all the words…apparently my inability to remember names has now spread out of real life situations and into band names… Now that I know the name Parmalee though I will be downloading all of their music!
Fun Parmalee Fact: The band is made up of two brothers (lead singer/guitar and drums), their cousin (bass) and their best friend since childhood (guitar). How cute!

At this point we were entertained by the Opry Square Dancers. I think they were doing difficult square dancing steps and performing them well…I think…I don’t know much about square dancing. I do know that every single one of those dancers absolutely LOVES to square dance! It was written all over their faces as their feet flew across the stage.

ACT FOUR
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Bill Anderson was the host & opener for this Act. Instead of starting & finishing though he played both of his songs right off the top. The Opry has figured out that in order to finish strong they should let the headliner close the show. He was very charismatic, as all of these men seem to be, and I enjoyed his performance. But to be honest I was really just bobbing in my seat waiting for him to introduce the main attraction.

Poor Bill could barely make his introduction heard over the whoops & hollers that echoed through the Ryman. Eric Chruch walked on stage to thunderous applause. He wore the modern cowboy’s standard outfit: boots, jeans, solid colored t-shirt and leather jacket. This was the same style that Will Hoge and Parmalee had sported. “I was gonna play this really introspective songwriter stuff, but then you guys are just rowdy like you always are. So I tell you what: I’ll give you a little bit of both.” Ummm ok…that’s quite alright with me!

He started with Give Me Back My Hometown, which is his new single. When I think of Eric Church my mind jumps to rowdy outlaw country and a party crowd. So it gave me goosebumps to see him on stage alone, just him & his guitar, crooning out heartfelt acoustic versions of his songs. I think it’s a sign of a great artist when they can make you want to stand up, grab a drink & guzzle it down and hit you so emotionally.

Holding true to a promise he’d made at the top of his set, Eric followed with A Man Who’s Going To Die Young, a song he was performing live for the very first time! It was about how he’d lived a crazy life and had frankly never expected to live to 36 years old with a wife & kid. It was also an incredibly beautiful love song.

“I put the rage in the river, the roll in the thunder. But you kept me from going under when that current got too heavy. I always thought I’d be a heap of metal in a cloud of smoke, foot stuck to the petal. Sold for parts like a junkyard, rusted as shit. Fear, I’ve had none. What made you want to love a man who was gonna die young?”


The only song from his super popular Chief album that Eric performed was his major hit Drink In My Hand. This song was soooooo cool. I imagine this is not a song he would usually perform so stripped down, I mean it’s his biggest party anthem. So I think this was a very rare opportunity to see a very unique version of this song. The moment was only enhanced by the enthusiasm of the crowd. It felt like every person in the place knew every word and with the lack of a band the voluntary back-up singers seemed almost too loud for such a small venue. Everyone belted each lyric out at the top of their lungs while clapping out the important drum beats. We were of course part of the screaming masses when he let the crowd take over the fun “ring-ring-ring” part.

To wrap his set we got another song off The Outsiders album. Being that it doesn’t come out until February it meant that Dark Side was another track no one had ever heard before. I love getting early sneak peeks! For any other Eric Church fans out there, in Eric Church’s own worlds, “The Outsiders record, it is the shit” and from what I’ve heard I think this album will be even more epic than his first. Dark Side was written for his son, who was at his very first Opry show.

“If you touch my little boy you begging for this bullet will be the last thing that you say, before I let my dark side come out to play.”

Post Opry we hopped, skipped and possibly floated to Broadway. We were on my giddy high. Every two seconds one of us would turn to the other, “Remember that time we saw Eric Church?” Or “Oh my god that was amazing.” “That was the best thing ever.” “I can’t believe we just saw that!” Being that it was late on a Saturday night there were lines outside of any bar worth going to,but we didn’t care. We just wanted to flit around reminiscing and gushing over the Opry & Eric Church.
Wait. Wasn’t that just…? “KG stop! It’s them!”
No it wasn’t Eric Church; I’m not that lucky. But it was the brother-duo lead singer and drummer (Matt & Scott Thomas) of Parmalee. And that is how we happened to meet a famous person!
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Obviously we got pictures. And obviously we tweeted about it. The much to my excitement someone with a number one song tweeted back at me! More specifically the cute lead singer 😉 Best day ever! So I guess my luck is picking up…first no line at the Pancake Pantry then meeting Parmalee!
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Love & Luck,
Kris

Fangirling – Nashville Edition

This morning I had the very difficult task of loiter about the Opryland Hotel. It was a hard job and took all of my tenacity to complete 😉 KG’s conference ran until the afternoon so I was left waiting until she was ready to move on. I would think I had the easy morning considering I just lounged in bed, wandered around the gorgeous lush greenery scattered about the hotel and drank Starbucks in the Garden Conservatory Cafe but if you’ve read her post about her morning (The Hot List) you’ll see she was having a pretty fun time too.

When the conference was concluded, our bags were packed and we had checked out it was time to head downtown. We looked a little odd loading our suitcases onto the Wildhorse Shuttle but it was the most economical way to proceed. We didn’t care that it was normally just Opryland guests going on a day trip to the main part of the city, we were using it to get us from our high class resort to our next residence. I am, of course, speaking of the Nashville Downtown Hostel. If you had expected anything else you (a) overestimate our level of class, (b) under estimate our adventurous natures and (c) obviously don’t regularity read our blogs. It was only a few blocks walk from the drop off point (being the famous Ryman Auditorium) and was hardly as hilly as the trek we made with our suitcases in San Fran. We are now settled into a 4-person mixed dorm, although from the look of their stuff we believe both of our roommates are girls, and are prepared for four nights of hostel life. To prep for such a life we hit up a grocery store for snacks & easy lunch/supper food and a convenience store for liquor. This is after the hostel employees looked at us like crazy people for asking where the nearest liquor store was. “Um…there’s a specialty wine store up the street…if you need more selection.” “More selection than what?” “Than what you can get across the street at the convenience store.” It was like light bulbs went off above our heads…oh yeah, you can just buy beer absolutely anywhere in this country, not just from its own special store.

We needed an afternoon snack (also know as lunch if you believe in such a thing) so we headed out in search of live music, beer and bar food. We ended up at The Stage. This is a pretty iconic Nashville bar where many a country music legend has played. We had a drink, some jalapeños poppers & an order of spring rolls. It was serious deep fried goodness. While we ate we enjoyed the song stylings of a man and his band. I call them that because I don’t think I ever knew who they were…sometimes these performers don’t do a very good job of informing an ever-changing crowd of their name. It was an entertaining set though. The lead singer pulled off a wide variety of covers, from classics to current outlaw country hits. He created a stellar party atmosphere, especially when you consider it was the middle of the afternoon and no one in the bar was attempting to party.
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Otherwise we spent most of our day relaxing. We got our belongings organized in our rooms. We sat in the common area & blogged. We intensely listed out everything we still wanted to do in Nashville and systematically scheduled each thing in for the next 4 days. We made a light supper of cold meat & cheese sandwiches and salad. It was pretty chill. Spending time at this hostel is pleasant. We are pretty sure it is a converted office building. Our room has 2 bunk beds pushed against the walls of what would have been an office. It’s not a lot of space, but it’s clean and well laid out. Plus the fourth floor where we are bunking has beautiful hardwood flooring. There are small common spaces on the dorm floors, but they are designated quiet areas for just hanging out in to read, etc. (I use etc because I’m not entirely sure what else you’d use them for) the main common area is on the main floor and has an open concept. The check in desk, tv area, dining tables and kitchen are all in the same large room, which seems hectic but due to superior planning actually flows quite well. Everything is nice quality and has a new & classy look to it. Basically it’s still up there with San Francisco as a beautiful place to stay. It doesn’t appear to be as lively though. We’ll see how the weekend progresses, but so far people seem a little lethargic when out lounging and not eager to organize a big hostel-group drinking party.
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It was after nine before we even considered moving. KG looked at me and said “We should probably go do something, shouldn’t we?” “I guess so…although it feels like it’s already 4 in the morning.” Ironic…just a little foreshadowing being thrown in here… We decided that the night life is a huge part of the Nashville experience and we could suck it up and go out. Just because we felt sluggish now didn’t mean we wouldn’t perk up with some fresh air and alcohol. Not to mention the music. Instant Party: Just add Beer & Country Music.

After walking 2nd Ave and Broadway we settled on Tootsies Orchid Lounge. The bouncer had done the “Ladies come in here” non-sell that seems to work on us so well. Tootsies is a Nashville institution that we intended on visiting at some point so this was as good of a time as any. The cramped but lively bar is wallpapered with signed photos of all the classic country music greats. When the Grand Ole Opry was situated in the Ryman Auditorium the artists used to finish their set, walk out the back door of the theater and into the back door of Tootsies.
We were luck enough to snag 2 seats at the bar. The place was already squished standing room only but we’d entered as the on stage talent was changing so we also hit the changing of bar patrons. We came in for the new act as the previous owners of our stools left with the last singer. Once on our thrones we kind of just held court while the people around us changed. We made all sorts of random friends as they drifted past, some just for a few minutes but many who kept coming be to pay us a visit as the night progressed. One fellow thought KG should dance with him even though she repeatedly insisted she was good. Multiple old men (and we mean 50+…sorry dad but I’m counting that as old) stopped to tell me how pretty I was. A group of studio musicians alternated between kinda fun, kinda creepy and kinda fun, depending on the time they’d stop by. A super drunk but totally harmless business man kept awkwardly flail-dancing in our vicinity, much to our entertainment. Basically we had a steady stream of randoms to keep us amused.
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But the real entertainment of the evening was that evenings entertainment. The band that played from minutes after we entered the bar until close was spectacular! This group of gentlemen had everyone singing, dancing and having a kick ass time. Orio and the Goodfellers are born entertainers who ran through the best party-playlist of requests and inspired fangirl reactions from this prone-to-fangirling duo. We made our request when we tipped the band: something Canadian. Anthony Orio, the lead singer, promised us he’d choose something good. We ended up getting a 2-for-1 deal when he first proudly stood on the stage and belted out Man I feel like A Woman by Shania Twain, then had the whole bar rocking to Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69. After that we got a kick from his random Canadian shout-outs.
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As we were now the bands biggest fans we ended up staying right till close…which came a bit sooner than expected when there was a fight upstairs and the police helped the bouncers clear the bar. Staying was aided by the acquisition of 2 new friends, Hostel Friends! When we’d been relax earlier two young men had been playing pool across the common area. Now they spotted us across the bar. Staying at the same hostel always equals instant friends. We tried to educate this Australian & Argentinian pair as to what were the best country songs and enjoyed the company of some other excited travelers.

When we left the bar it was pouring rain. We ran back the hostel trying to duck under store front canopies and into covered doorways…well the others did at least. I, on the other hand, tried to jump in as many puddles as possible and make the most epic splashes my rain-soaked companions had ever seen.
Once back at the hostel we played pool while we dried off. Everyone bonded over travel adventures, stories from home and cross-continental shared interests. Time flies by when your having fun and we finally crawled into bed at 4am. What can I say? We’re party animals 😉

Love & Luck,
Kris

Opryland: A Land of Wonders

The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is a magical place. It isn’t just a hotel, it’s an experience. And one we were happy to participate in! You may be curious how some hostel-ers like us ended up at such a ritzy place…it’s a fair question as we as definitely budget travels, especially when it comes to accommodations. KG’s conference was taking place in the Conference Center portion of the resort so we decided to give the hotel a try. It would be more convenient for her and would ensure she got the most out of the experience. And it would be super luxe and fun for me! Well I missed out on over half of our time there (the Denver airport is far more luxurious than some fancy resort anyway) but would still like to share some of the magic with you…
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The resort is divided into 5 sections, one of which is the Convention Center. Remembering what the other 4 areas are and their positions relative to the others is crucial in finding your way around. Here’s a map:
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Now that you have the overview allow me to give you a peek into each lobby.

The Cascades
The Cascades is the first section most people will see. The main hotel lobby where the front desk sits and the shuttle drops new-comers off is in the Cascades. You get an idea of the extravagance right off the bat when you see this sculpture and roof fresco right front & center.
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As you continue off the beautiful but conventional lobby you enter a tropical paradise. The main walkway takes you between a bar and a sushi restaurant, but they are hidden away amongst fountains, ponds and lush greenery. I entered in the evening so the glass ceiling was dark and the twinkle lights that hang from above were in full effect. It’s like walking into the Land of the Fairies.
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One side of the cascades is dominated by The Falls. The Falls are 2 things: (1) a bar and (2) a literal waterfall. With multiple stream of water falling down a realistic rock face into a deep pool it feels like you’ve left Music City behind and have been transported to the South American rainforest.
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Garden Conservatory
Proceeding through the Cascades you naturally move into the Garden Conservatory. This area shares a lot of similarities with Cascades, in that it is strung with white lights and inspires a feel of the tropics, but has a far different set up. Rather than have paths run around a few eateries, the paths of the Garden Conservatory are the main attractions. Two skyways arch over the jungle to let you walk among the stars and look down at the paradise below. Or you can descend the stairs and frolic in the woods. Here you’ll find random statues, hidden reflecting pools and a breath-taking domed gazebo-style building. The first night they were hosting a private party amount the vine choked arches.
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Magnolia
The Magnolia lobby is secondary to the Cascades. There are also shuttle launches from here, as well as a small desk. But mainly this lobby houses a grand staircase (that makes me want to enter like a Southern Belle) and two stately fireplaces. It’s like you stumbled into a classy Georgian mansion on the other side of the jungle. The rest of Magnolia is outside. This confused us for a bit as it was winter and the pools were not in use. However if you were visiting in the summer I’m sure it would provide hours of aquatic entertainment.
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Delta
Finally there is the Delta section. This is where we were roomed so it may be the best explored. It’s a convenient happenstance because I think it was also the most complex of areas. Delta has an outer waterway that circles Delta Island. You can walk through many trails both around and on the island or take the boat cruise through the water ring instead. On the island are a small gazebo that is set up great for weddings, a dancing fountain that performs in time to music, multiple eateries of various types (fancy restaurants, frozen yogurt shop, burger joint, etc) and shops.
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The Orpyland must have some sort of affiliation with Dreamworks because we saw several little sets assembled to look like they were out of various animated movies. There was Kung-Fu Panda, Madagascar and Shrek. Although we never say any characters in them.
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Now that you’ve seen what a wonderland the Opryland Resort is I hope you’ll take a magical journey there too…even if it’s just to check it out…you know, if you’re in Nashville 🙂

Love & Luck,
Kris