Monday, March 16, 2020

The Night the Lights Went Out at the Ryman

K.F. Raizor, author of the website Raizor's Edge and the book We Can't Sing and We Ain't Funny: The World of Homer and Jethro is our guest writer today on That Nashville Sound. She's ever so gracious to provide wonderful tributes to honor those to whom the music we treasure just wouldn't be the same without. Thank you, K.F.

Almost nothing stops the Grand Ole Opry. Since 1925, the legendary WSM radio program has been on the air, despite snow storms, world wars, 9/11, and even last week's tornadoes.

The current COVID-19 scare is no exception; however, the Opry is having to make some modifications. In the wake of the requests from medical and government officials to "practice social distancing," some cities and states have banned large gatherings outright, forcing the cancellation of a number of concerts. Broadway shows have been shut down, as have all major sports leagues.

The Opry announced on its website that it will "pause" having a live audience for the Opry performances until April 4 (subject to change, based on the progress of containing the pandemic). This takes the 94-year-old program back to its roots: radio studio performances that were broadcast live over the air.

The "audience" for the Opry began when people would show up at the studio to watch the performances, leading WSM to begin a series of moves to accommodate the people who wanted to see the show. This culminated with the current home, the 4,400-seat Opry House where Opryland once stood.

I did say "almost nothing" stops the Opry. It's ironic that the scheduled resumption of audience shows will occur on the anniversary of the only thing that has ever forced cancelation of the Grand Ole Opry.

On April 4, 1968, Baptist minister and Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. The rioting that ensued was awful. Over 40 people were killed in the rioting, and major cities were patrolled by National Guardsmen. The tensions, in fact, were so bad that a natural gas explosion in Richmond, Indiana (which killed 41 people) had to be quickly reported as not related to the rioting.

In the wake of the rioting, many cities imposed a curfew. Nashville was no exception. Beverly Briley, the city's mayor, issued an order for a 7 PM - 5 AM curfew in Nashville. That forced the Ryman Auditorium to shut its doors on the Grand Ole Opry for the first, and to date only, time in history.

According to the Nashville Tennessean, WSM re-aired older programs (many of the Opry programs were recorded and sent to Armed Forces Radio for broadcast). Most of the people who had tickets for that weekend received refunds.

As for the few who didn't know the lights were off at the Mother Church of Country Music, they didn't leave totally disappointed. According to the paper, Roy Acuff performed a free show at a nearby club called Mr. Ed's for those who showed up, unaware of the curfew.

That's the night that the lights went out at the Ryman, to paraphrase the song. May it be the only time in history

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