Grand Ole Opry House Ready for Shows After Flood

10 Sep

Little Jimmy Dickens celebrates the rebuilding of the Grand Ole Opry house with Brad Paisley.

When the Cumberland River went over its banks in May, the Grand Ole Opry house in Nashville, Tenn., sustained major damage, including the loss of much of its electrical system, lights, pews and carpet on the main floor and the stage’s wooden floor, all covered by 46 inches of water. The balcony area of the venue was not affected by the flood waters.

When all repairs were complete, the rebuild of the venue cost in the neighborhood of $20 million, according to Debbie Ballentine, executive director of operations at the Grand Ole Opry. After months of hard work, the Opry house will finally reopen its doors on Sept. 28, several weeks ahead of schedule.

On Monday morning after the flood, Opry staff members had to find a place to hold the Tuesday night Opry house, and alert ticket holders about the location of the new venue. A remediation company brought fans into the building to start drying the wood so workers could get inside.

“Sally Williams, general manager of the Ryman, began contacting Nashville area venues on Monday to book the Opry shows in other venues,” Opry Vice President and General Manager Pete Fisher, explained. “We secured War Memorial Auditorium for that first Tuesday night show. It had been the home of the Grand Ole Opry from 1939-1943. It probably took two to three weeks to finalize all the dates with different venues.”

The Opry held shows at Lipscomb University, Two Rivers Baptist Church, Nashville Municipal Auditorium, War Memorial Auditorium, the Ryman Auditorium and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Theatre. The Opry did not miss a show during the five months it was on what Fisher calls the High Water Tour.

R.W. Matthews of Nashville was the general contractor overviewing the construction. Wolfe & Travis Electrical was the electrical contractor, and Anderson Design worked on the interior of the venue. David Plummer of PLAD Studio worked on getting the inside of the house ready.

“For the most part, it was truly a rebuild, but we definitely had an architect looking at everything we did,” Ballentine said. “We were very fortunate that the contractors we worked with were people who had worked there before and were familiar with the building.”

“Clair Brothers in Nashville did the audio and video, Bandit Lites in Knoxville did the lighting, and United Staging out of Alabama handled rigging and soft goods,” Fisher said. “Music manufacturers like Peavey and Yahama stepped up to help out in a big way.”

The new stage, which sports a teak floor, has all new moving lights by Vari-Lites and a new audio monitor system. The new stage curtains remain a deep burgundy color, and the riggings and backdrops were repaired. The signature barn backdrop now sports a high definition video projection system including an LCD video wall. There are new front-of-house amplifiers and additional speaker cabinets. The main floor of the Ryman has newly built pews identical to the ones that were lost in the flood and new carpet.

The new entry doors have stained glass, a reminder of the stained glass windows at the Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Opry from 1943 to 1974.

The backstage entrance now has a warmer and more inviting look to it as artists and guests enter the building. The 18 dressing rooms have a slightly different layout and each is themed to tell a chapter about the Opry. Roy Acuff’s dressing room remains the one closest to the stage. Workers were able to salvage the brass plate on his door which reads “Ain’t nothing gonna come up today that me and the good Lord can’t handle.” Porter Wagoner’s dressing room, designed by Marty Stuart, remains, and a Minnie Pearl room has been added. The administrative offices, also located backstage at the Opry house, were completely renovated.

The stage doors inside the house were preserved to be displayed in the Opry Museum because there was a clear line where the flood waters reached. The Green Room has a bronze marker that shows how high the water was in the building.

“The backstage at the Opry house will have accommodations and aesthetic appeal unlike any backstage I’ve ever seen in any venue,” Fisher said.  “We have done all that can be done to weave the Opry’s legacy through this newly renovated Opry house.”

Studio A, located behind the dressing rooms, is being retooled to accommodate mobile productions. Fisher said now that the Opry house is finished, they will determine what to do with the Acuff Theatre, the Grand Ole Opry museum and other facilities at the complex.

When the Grand Ole Opry returns to its home, Opry members including Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels Band, Montgomery Gentry, and Brad Paisley will be on hand to celebrate. The two-hour show will air live on GAC: Great American Country.

Special events and artist appearances will follow throughout October in celebration of both the show’s return and its 85th Birthday. The Opry will resume its regular schedule the weekend of Oct. 2, when there will be an open house for fans to see the renovated venue. There will be music on the plaza and free tours of the building, plus regular Opry shows on Friday and Saturday night. — Vernell Hackett

Interviewed for this article: Debbie Ballentine and Pete Fischer, (615) 316-6000

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One Response to “Grand Ole Opry House Ready for Shows After Flood”

  1. le Singe September 14, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    nashville is a great city I visited this summer (http://monkeybusiness1.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/back-foto-essay/)

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