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Strictly Country Magazine The Spirits of The Ryman

Our feet are planted in the real world,

But we dance with angels and ghosts.

- John Cameron Mitchell

 

By: The staff at Strictly Country

 

   In the heart of Nashville, among the music that rides the winds, there is one place that resonates with souls of the past.  If one knows the history of this place, then one can see its story unfold.

   As you approach this historic building, you can hear the echoes from the masses.  All you must do is tune out today’s noises to listen to the chatter from the voices of the past.

   Long lines filled with eager visitors, just waiting to see and hear their favorite singers.  The mixed chatter of those sharing stories, of their cherished musicians, to anyone who is willing to listen. 

   “Who will be here tonight?” they ask.

   “Oh, I hope… will be performing.”

   “I saw him the last time I was here, he was so good…”

   The doors open to allow the masses to take their seats.  Their anticipation is palpable as tonight’s line-up prepares backstage.

   “Ladies and gentlemen...welcome to the Grand Ole Opry!”

   Echoes of the past still linger in the present within the walls of the Ryman Auditorium.  You don’t have to be an empath or sensitive to energies to feel the resonance of the past in this building, to know that they still reside there.

   The auditorium first opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle.  It was a Nashville businessman, Thomas Ryman, who conceived the idea for the auditorium as a tabernacle for the revivalist Samuel Porter Jones.  Ryman intended to heckle Mr. Jones at one of his tent revivals, but instead converted to a devout Christian.

   The Ryman took seven years to complete at a cost of $100,000.  Although the building was designed as a house of worship, it was often leased to promoters for non-religious events in order to pay off it’s debts to remain open.  Over the years the building became the gathering place for the performing arts.  Performing at the venue were entertainers like W.C. Fields, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, and John Philip Sousa as it became known as “The Carnegie Hall of The South.”  The first event to sell out the Ryman was a lecture by Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy in 1913.

   It was in 1925, that the infamous  Grand Ole Opry show debuted.  Nonetheless, it wasn’t until June 5, 1943, that the Ryman Auditorium would first broadcast the longest running radio show in American history.

   For nearly thirty-one years, the walls of the Ryman played host to some of the greatest country music entertainers; thus earning the nickname “The Mother Church of Country Music.”

   For a true fan of country music, The Ryman is the one place to visit while in Nashville.  For an inspiring entertainer,  The Ryman is the one stage everyone wants to perform on.

   Very few people, and even fewer entertainers, will speak about the energies found within this well-known building.  Nonetheless, there are a few who will grace you with a tale or two.

   It is said that several wondering souls still walk the halls of the Ryman.  Most who have witnessed these long lost souls, will say that it is the soul of the late Hank Williams.  Whether you believe it or not, these spirits bring a nostalgic essence to this place while you visit her hallowed halls.

   In 2011, Mark Wills released his album Looking For America.  Within the ten cuts we found a remarkable song called “Phantom of The Opry.”  Written by Billy Lawson, John Schweers, and Roger Murrah; this tune was a huge success for Mark.

 

Phantom Of The Opry

(Billy Lawson, John Schweers, Roger Murrah)

 

Around midnight
A shadow appears on center stage
And sings a haunting melody
While a distant fiddle plays
Look closer
And you can almost see a rhinestone
Shinning in the dark
He's still a living legend
Living right here in my heart

 

 He's the phantom of the Opry
A grand old spirit from the Ryman days
He just feels at home here
He don't really mean to haunt this place
Every time it rains in Nashville
They say the angels cry
Cause the phantom of the Opry
Never got to say goodbye

 

 Some say it's Hank or Lefty
Or that Kentucky Bluebird flying back again
No one knows for certain
We all know it's more than just the wind
There's a ghostly sound of steel guitar
Cryin' in the night
Doesn't come from center stage
Often somewhere on the other side

 

 He's the…

He's the phantom of the Opry
A grand old spirit from the Ryman days
He just feels at home here
He don't really mean to haunt this place
Every time it rains in Nashville
They say the angels cry
Cause the phantom of the Opry
Never got to say goodbye

 

 Around midnight
A shadow appears on center stage
Sings a haunting melody
While a distant fiddle plays

 

  Though the song gently suggests that Hank Williams still resides and performs on the stage, one can perceive that all former great entertainers still linger within the Ryman’s walls.

   The subjects of specters may not be that popular with country music songwriters, nonetheless, it is popular with the fans.  In 1983, David Allen Coe released his song “The Ride.” This is another that pays tribute to the late Hank Williams as it speaks about his ghost.

 

The Ride

(Gary Gentry, J.B. Detterline)

 

When I was thumbing from Montgomery
I had my guitar on my back
When a stranger stopped beside me in an antique Cadillac
He was dressed like 1950
Half drunk and hollow eyed
He said it's a long walk to Nashville
Would you like a ride? Son

 

 Well, I sat down in the front seat
He turned on the radio
And them sad old songs coming outta them speakers was solid country gold
Then I noticed the stranger was ghost white pale
When I asked him for a light
And I knew there was something strange about this ride

 

 He said, "Mister, can you make folks cry

when you play and sing?
Have you paid your dues? Can you moan the blues?
Can you bend them guitar strings?"
He said, "Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?
'Cause if you're big star bound let me warn you

it's a long hard ride"

 

 Then he cried just south of Nashville
And he turned that car around
He said, "This is where you get off, boy
'Cause I'm goin' back to Alabam"
And as I stepped outta that Cadillac
I said, "Mister, many thanks"
He said, "You don't have to call me mister, mister
The whole world calls me Hank"

 

 He said, "Mister, can you make folks cry

when you play and sing?
Have you paid your dues? Can you moan the blues?
Can you bend them guitar strings?"
He said, "Boy, can you make folks feel what you feel inside?
'Cause if you're big star bound let me warn you

it's a long hard ride"

 

 He said, "Drifter can you make folks cry when

you play and sing?
Have you paid your dues, can you moan the blues?
Can you bend them, guitar strings?"
He said, "Boy can you make folks feel what you feel inside?
'Cause if you're big star bound let me warn you,

it's a long, hard ride"
If you're big star bound let me warn you it's a long, hard ride

 

   Today, the Ryman Auditorium makes most of it’s income from daily tours.  For several months out of the year it will play host to the return of the Grand Ole Opry show.

   Although most will not admit to sightings of the spirit kind, there are numerous reports of suspected paranormal activity at the venue.  Perhaps the most notorious has been dubbed the “Opry Curse.”

   The “Opry Curse” is a legend that originated around the 1970s.  Nearly all legends are based on fact and the fact remains that many individuals associated with the Grand Ole Opry have been victims of untimely and tragic deaths.  Some believe that over thirty-five individuals have been victims of the “Opry Curse.” Such events as the separate plane crashes that took the lives of Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves as well as the murder of “Stringbean Akeman.”  Other events include the car crash that took the life of Ira Louvin, and a fire that caused the death of “Texas Ruby” Fox.  Perhaps the most notorious event is the untimely death of Hank Williams.

   The hauntings at the Ryman are some of the most popular in the state of Tennessee due to the names associated with these wondering souls.  Some employees at the Ryman report that they have seen the ghost of Hank Williams in several areas of the venue.  These locations include backstage and onstage as well as in the alley behind the Ryman, that leads to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge—where Hank frequented when performing at the Ryman. 

   Some workers at the Ryman also report seeing a ‘white mist’ on the stage and claim that too is Mr. Williams.  Others share stories of ‘The Gray Man,’ a male figure dressed in all gray clothing. 

   While most reports do not suggest that these wondering souls appear during live performances, there are reports of sightings during rehearsals.  ‘The Gray Man’ is notorious of appearing in the balcony during a rehearsal.  However, other reports state that the originator of the venue, Mr. Thomas Ryman, will show his disapproval of certain performances by creating loud noises and other disturbances that interferes with these particular shows.

   Whether you believe in wondering souls, ghosts, phantoms, and or spirits; you must acknowledge that we are all energy.  Every time we are present in a room or building we leave behind a piece of our energy.

   The Ryman Auditorium is a place that is filled with rich history.  In the infancy of the Grand Ole Opry, many great musicians played within her walls.  These entertainers performed with such beautiful energy, perhaps the walls are saturated with this positive energy.  Those performances were attended by a wide range of people who came to this venue to seek a night of fun entertainment.  They too have created a positive energy that was soaked up by the mortar and stone.  This combined energy has created a venue that feels pristine and hallowed.

   The Ryman was a place of dreams.  A place were dreams were made and dreams came true.  It was also the place were dreams were broken.  Her hallowed halls and stage are too sacred for those who wish to prove that spirits exist.

   Nonetheless, when the clock strikes midnight...the spirits of the Ryman come to life…

 

Ladies and gentlemen…

Welcome to the Grand Ole Opry...

© Strictly Country Magazine, September / October 2018

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