Garth Brooks THE BIGGEST-SELLING COUNTRY ARTIST in history pondered the steps he would take from a small dressing room, down a hallowed hallway and onto the stage of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Ryman Auditorium, Nashville And in that moment, Garth Brooks—who had just become the first person to earn a seventh Diamond award from the Recording Industry Association of America, for selling more than ten million copies of individual albums—said he was scared to death. “The Ryman is where the gods played,” says Brooks, who considers himself an accomplished mortal, not a deity along the likes of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and others whose shoes have scuffed the same oak planks that span the front 3 feet of the stage. Once called “The Carnegie Hall of the South,” the Ryman is now too storied to exist in the shadow of any other venue. It is best known as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” though its scope is not limited to the country genre. Its import is such that Brooks avoided playing a concert there for the first 27 years of his career, feeling unworthy and a little seasick at the prospect of taking the helm of such a ship. Asked about plans for his first show there in September 2016, Brooks just said, “I’m trying not to bawl like a baby.” statue of founder Thomas Ryman In the end, Brooks triumphed in his Ryman debut. Most performers do; the Ryman is frightening to ponder but welcoming in reality. It is the friendliest of intimidators, and performers find that their voices and instruments sound palpably better when coming from the Ryman stage than from other venues. The Ryman is an analogue wonder that thrills a digital age. Keith Urban says hearing music there is like being inside of some grand guitar, as sounds reverberate all around. Beck called it “the sweetest-sounding room of all time,” while Chris Martin of Coldplay said it is “the greatest theater in the world.” Thomas G. Ryman was a covetous businessman and steamboat captain whose wayward tendencies were straightened by evangelist Sam Jones. Ryman determined to build a tabernacle for Jones, so that the righteous reverend’s words could be clearly heard by large crowds. A place where all were welcome regardless of denomination, race or economic standing. Designed by architect Hugh Cathcart Thompson, Ryman’s Union Gospel Tabernacle was opened in 1892. After Ryman died in 1904, the building was renamed in his honor. The venue then played host to symphonies, political rallies and all manner of performances. Conductor John Philip Sousa played there, as did actor Charlie Chaplin, ballerina Anna Pavlova, magician Harry Houdini and the great Louis Armstrong. The Ruskinian Gothic-style building became country music’s Mother Church in 1943, when the Grand Ole Opry moved in, a multi-artist show that had grown too popular for other Nashville venues. On December 8, 1945, young banjo man Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys band for the first time on the Ryman stage for an Opry performance, and the music now known as bluegrass was born. The Opry—with genredefining artists including Williams, Cline, Cash, George Jones and many more— stayed at the Ryman until 1974, when it moved to the larger Grand Ole Opry House. By that time, the luster had worn off Thomas Ryman’s tabernacle, and through the 1980s the building fell into disrepair. But in the spring of 1991, Emmylou Harris played concerts there that were released as a Grammy Award-winning live album, and that again raised the profile of a building that Harris said was sprinkled with “hillbilly dust.” Popular attention and an $8.5 million renovation ensued, and the Ryman returned to a manifestation of Captain Ryman’s gleaming dream. Full house at the Ryman The Ryman is where the gods played. GARTH BROOKS The Ryman Auditorium now exists as a prime concert venue and renowned tourist attraction, with daily tours that include five historical exhibits and a one-of-a-kind theater experience called “Soul of Nashville,” which spotlights more than a century of legendary performances and features a new collaboration with Darius Rucker, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill. Hatch Show Print, Nashville Hatch Show Print To this day, Hatch Show Print, the historic letterpress shop dating back to 1879, still creates eye-catching posters for nearly every event held at the Ryman.
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