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Grand (well, pretty good) Ole Opry

See photos from the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Marty Stuart’s “Sparkle & Twang: An American Musical Odyssey”
By Barry Gilbert

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 1, 2007) “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.”And welcome to the Grand Ole Opry, theme-park version. Little Jimmy Dickens was the host for the first segment of Saturday’s late show at Opryland USA, and his crossover novelty hit from 1966 set the tone for the night.

What was the tone? Kind of laid-back. Folks laughed politely at the moldy, cornpone jokes, and Dickens seemed to get a bigger hand for being 86 years old than for anything else.

Loudest cheers of the night went to the exciting gospel quartet Legacy 5 — No. 5 plays the piano — but they cheated, bringing in a busload of fans.

Perhaps I’m feeling ambivalent about this experience because it came only a few hours after I toured the “church of country music” and the Opry’s original home, the Ryman Auditorium. And perhaps no first-time trip to the Opry can meet expectations fueled by years of reading stories and books about it, seeing it on TV and hearing it, ableit rarely, on the radio. Because it is a radio show, broadcast still over WSM in Nashville, complete with live scripted ads for Martha White Flour.

Then there’s this whole Opryland USA thing, this monster created in the middle of nowhere 20 minutes out of downtown Nashville by Gaylord Entertainment, which saved the Ryman from the wrecking ball 20 years ago and rehabbed the old church, but not before moving the show out of downtown.

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