NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Symbols took the place of song during the silence of the pandemic. Empty pews inside country music cathedrals are just one sign of a struggle for these iconic institutions.
“The first few weeks it was just an eerie feeling,” said Dan Rogers, the executive producer of the Grand Ole Opry. “You didn’t smell popcorn, didn’t hear the excitement of the audience behind that curtain.”
Since mid-March, the Opry, and until just recently, the historic Ryman Auditorium, had been off limits to fans, but the music never stopped. As hard as that turned out to be for the venues, the singers kept singing and the bands kept playing.
“This hasn’t been easy for anyone in our industry and we realize that,” Rogers said.
Rogers points out, the Opry began as a radio show. During the pandemic, it continued as one.
“In our 95th year, it happened once again, this time people were gathered around a radio, a mobile phone, experiencing the best of Nashville and country music,” he said.
The Opry needed the music and the people still wanted to listen. Rogers said they pulled it off, providing performances while broadcasting live for the last 29 weeks.
“Artists were looking out over empty pews, ringing out, literally, across the world. It was thanks to those great artists who were willing to come here on a Saturday night and step up to a microphone.”
But the fans will return to the pews, as soon as Saturday, Oct. 3, at the Opry. There will be 500 fans allowed inside, wearing masks, for a performance for the people and finally in front of them.
The curtain will rise on the Opry’s 95th year, and hopefully a step closer to filling the 4,400-seat house.
“We could not have gotten to this day without the people I was reaching out to, so a big thanks to them,” said Rogers.
“It’s been devastating obviously, much like the rest of our industry we’ve been impacted very severely by the shut down, and limitations on the number of people,” said Ryman director of concerts, Chrissy Hall.
As beautiful as the building is without a crowd, it’s been hauntingly hurting the Ryman.
The silent stretch finally ended in early September as Scotty McCreery played before 125 fans for the first in-person show in Nashville.
McCreery spoke to News 2 before the show.
“If anybody is going to do it right it’s going to be the Ryman,” McCreery said. “And the fact we’re able to get people in here, socially distanced, masked up, hopefully this can be a blueprint for other venues down the road, to be able to do this.”
McCreery got first dibs doing what he loves, creating what a city has been craving. It’s progress, music played to the people, the identity of Music City.
A concert, a crowd, and a calling, from the Ryman and soon returning to Broadway.