(By Chris Talbott, The Associated Press)
The venue was different, the tickets were handwritten and the gear was cobbled together. But the floodwaters that deluged Nashville couldn't stop The Grand Ole Opry.
Marty Stuart kicked off Tuesday night's show, which was moved to the city's War Memorial Auditorium after 4 to 6 feet of water from weekend storms flooded the Grand Ole Opry House east of downtown. Stuart, an Opry veteran, said it's not suprising the show went on: "That's wat we do at the Opry."
The evening was as much catharsis as it was entertainment after a harrowing three days when floodwaters killed dozens, destroyed thousands of homes and flooded some of Nashville's most well-known attractions.
Opry officials aimed for as much normalcy as possible. Hundreds of fans turned out to see the show at the auditorium, the Opry's home from 1939-43. As she has for 11 and a half years, Minnie Pearl impersonator Tesse Swinehart greeted fans outside with a super-sized, "Howdy!" She couldn't help but be affected by the devastation at the Opry House, though, after seeing pictures. "It's very sad, very disheartening," she said.
Once the show got underway, Stuart was joined on stage by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who played piano on "Tennessee Waltz" and there were several poignant moments throughout the evening. Longtime Opry member Jeannie Seely lost her house in the flooding. She said friends were suprised she was still going to perform a set, which she pulled off in borrowed shoes. "We'll, she told the crowd, "it's not like I can sit and watch TV on the couch," before adding: "You can either laugh about it or you can cry, and I don't feel like crying."
The rest of the week's Opry shows have been moved to the Ryman Auditorium, also a former site of the show and a part-time host currently. The Ryman wasn't affected by the floodwaters, but many of the city's musical landmarks and institutions were.
Country stars have expressed concern about the state of the Opry House since it was flooded Monday. Stuart, in an interview earlier Tuesday, said he'd been told of widespread devastation by those who witnessed it. "What I understand is that as of yesterday one of my friends floated through the Opry House in a canoe and there was 4 feet of water on the stage at that time," he said. "The dressing rooms are a total loss."
It has yet to be determined if the Grand Ole Opry Museum, the Acuff instrument collection and the archives were lost. Stuart said if those things were destroyed, it would be "a profound
American loss." "I would say you lost photographs, "he said, "I would say you lost film. I would say you lost audio and the costumes, instruments, manuscripts, boots. You know, just everything that goes along with the Opry and Opry stars."
Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed says it will be a minimum of three months before the massive entertainment complex that also includes the Opryland Hotel and the Opry Mills Mall host guests again.He said ther will be thousands of workers on site within a week.
Opry General Manager Pete Fisher said it's too early to assess the damage in the Opry House. He called the evening historic because of the show's return to the auditorium and said it was a celebration of the enduring nature of the 85-year-old Opry. "We're here to get the word out that the Grand Ole Opry is not a place, it's a show," Fisher Said.
Of special concern was a 6-foot circle of wood from the old Ryman floorboards that was incorporated into the Opry House stage when it opened in 1974. Many consider it the very heart of country music.
Fittingly, the evening came to an end with the Opry's stars gathering on stage to perform "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" "It's done in such a way I would have to think when the water goes down it will still be there and that's what I've got my eye on," Stuart said. "That circle really is symbolic of the spirit, and so the circle will be unbroken, if you will."
Here is another article, from the Tennessean:
Relocated 'Grand Ole Opry' show goes on
There were no padded wooden pews or big red curtain no barn in the background and no hallowed circle in which to stand, but the show went on, just like always. Due to extensive flooding at the Grand Ole Opry House, Tuesday night's Opry moved to the War Memorial Auditorium downtown, marking the first time an Opry show has taken place in the venue in more than 60 years. Tuesday's show was also the first time since 1975 that an Opry has taken place anywhere other than the Opry House or Ryman Auditorium.
The evening kicked off with opening remarks from Steve Buchanan, president of the Grand Ole Opry Group. "The Opry is a show," Buchanan told the crowd that filled about two thirds of the space. "No matter where the show is held, it takes the heart of country music with it. This is a historic occasion."
Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander also dropped by to address the Opry attendees. Corker said he thought it was important for the Opry to continue its programs because Middle Tennesseeans desperately needed a return to normalcy. Alexander then took a turn on the keyboard, performing a version of "Tennessee Waltz."
Other stars who lent their talents to Tuesday night's Opry-the first performance since floods ravaged downtown on Sunday-included Suzy Bogguss, Restless Heart, Marty Stuart, Jimmy C. Newman, Chris Young, Jack Greene and Jeannie Seely.
Seely, was also one of many local residents to lose their home in the flood. She was able to save her dog, but she did have to borrow a pair of shoes to wear on Tuesday night's show. "It's so great to be here," Seely said from the stage. "Somebody said, 'I can't believe you're going to play the Grand Ole Opry tonight.' I said, 'Well, it's not like I can stay home and watch TV.' You can laugh about it or cry, and I don't want to cry."
The show ended with all of the evening's performers returning to the stage to sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." The crowd sang along and as the audience was leaving there was a feeling of reverence and optimism among many of its members.