NASHVILLE, Tennessee– Mayor Megan Barry declared Wednesday, “Ryman Auditorium Day” in an event held on location in downtown Nashville to mark the historic building’s 125th anniversary. Entertainer Vince Gill and Ryman CEO Collin Reed were among the local luminaries who joined Barry in celebrating the day.
Nashville-based entertainer Vince Gill, who has been one of the most frequent and favorite regulars to perform at the Ryman over the last 25 years, said “the Ryman was built to save people and it still is [saving people] today.”
Even though he may play solo, in small or group or in larger bluegrass band, Gill said that each time he performs at the Ryman it is “magical” and that he “will be here as long as they need me.”
Ryman Chair Colin Reed said he is not an owner, but a “custodian” of the venue and he will “make sure to preserve and nourish this place.”
Mayor Barry added that the Ryman is the “coolest venue in the world” and she hopes artists continue to relish and respect the privilege of playing here.
On May 10th, 1885, Nashville riverboat captain and entrepreneur, Thomas G. Ryman heard Rev. Sam Jones speak at a tent revival near the current location of the Ryman and his life was transformed. Seven years and $100,000 later, the Union Gospel Tabernacle opened its doors to all Nashvillians. At the time, it was the largest venue in area and was used for civic gatherings and touring shows. Soon after his death in 1904, the auditorium was renamed for the captain, the “Ryman Auditorium.”
Shortly thereafter, Lula C Naff moved to Nashville and began booking talent for the auditorium and continued bringing headlining acts and VIPs for the next 35 years. Those who performed at the Ryman under Naff’s direction included Katherine Hepburn, Harry Houdini, Ziegfeld Follies and even President Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1943, The Ryman became the 5th home for the Grand Ole Opry which changed broadcast entertainment forever as live radio and TV acts brought the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline and Roy Acuff into people’s living rooms. This 31-year run at the Ryman sparked the beginning of country music.
When the Grand Ole’ Opry moved to its new home on Briley Parkway in 1974, the Ryman was left virtually empty for twenty years. The Ryman was saved from being torn down by the Nashville community and many renowned country music artists, especially, Emmylou Harris who in 1991 recorded her famous live At the Ryman album in the crumbling venue.
In 1994, current owner and Ryman CEO, Collin Reed reopened the venue to tourists and acts, where performers from every genre have performed to intimate audiences on a nightly basis. Even though the venue only seats 2,362 people, among those who have eagerly taken the stage are Gregg Allman, Arcade Fire, Jackson Browne, Steven Curtis Chapman, Harry Connick Jr., Coldplay, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Earth Wind & Fire, Foo Fighters, Aretha Franklin, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Jennifer Hudson, Jack Johnson, Tom Jones, Bill Monroe, Mumford & Sons, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Ross, Santana, Ed Sheeran, Paul Simon, Chris Stapleton, Eddie Vedder, Neil Young and Wilco. With it’s beautiful architecture and superb acoustics, the Ryman is considered one of the finest performance venues in all the world.
The success of the Ryman has been so spectacular that in 2014, the venue was redone with the addition of a gift shop, lobby, restaurant and patio that better serves the tourists who visit. In 2016, well over half a million people visited the venue and with at least that many expected in 2017.
We hope the Ryman will continue to “save” people for years to come.
For more information on the yearlong activities available at the Ryman, go to https://ryman.com/.
##Bethany Bowman is the entertainment writer for the Tennessee Star, lives in Nashville and is a follower of country music.