Bizarre occurrences and jaw-dropping plot twists always dominate a mythical tale, and the story of Thomas Ryman is no different.
The mathematical odds of a riverboat captain that at one time owned the biggest saloon in Nashville becoming the namesake of “The Mother Church of Country Music” is incalculable, but it happened to Ryman.
Near the end of the Civil War, Ryman entered the family riverboat profession and prospered for two decades. In 1885, he was the proprietor of an enormous First Street tavern on banks of the bustling Cumberland River that met the needs of thirsty travelers and dock workers.
When a nearby tent revival threatened to impact the decision-making process of potential patrons, Ryman decided to attend a service and heckle the Rev. Sam Jones, one of he most influential preachers of the era.
His plan backfired.
Instead causing a commotion, Ryman listened to Jones’ message and was converted into a devout Christian that night and pledged to use his great wealth to help build an enormous building so future revivals could be held indoors. The result, after seven years of construction, was the magnificent Union Gospel Tabernacle.
When the 63-year-old Ryman died in 1904, his funeral service was held at the tabernacle on Christmas Day and conducted by Jones. At the event, Jones took a vote that changed the name of the site to the Ryman Auditorium.
Iconic figures like Harry Houdini, Will Rogers and Charlie Chaplin appeared in the auditorium before it became the official home of the Grand Ole Opry on June 5, 1943 and turned Nashville into the home of country music.
The musical memories created from the Ryman stage through the years are truly breathtaking.
It is where Bill Monroe displayed “bluegrass” music to the world and a few years later Hank Williams mesmerized a sold-out crowd with “Lovesick Blues” and played an unthinkable six encores.
The list of fabulous list of famous Opry members include: Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl, Ernest Tubb, Tammy Wynette, Jim Reeves, Little Jimmy Dickens, Eddie Arnold, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Red Foley, Kitty Wells, Lefty Frizzell, Porter Wagoner, Bill Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and George Jones.
And Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Charley Pride, Vince Gill and many others.
Sadly, on the 116th anniversary of the funeral service for the trail brazing Ryman, about halfway between where Jones pitched his revival tent and Ryman constructed his future country music shrine, a suicide bomber destroyed a huge portion of the historic Second Street/Market Street district.
A total of 45 buildings were damaged, with three facing immediate demolition.
City officials have pledged to rebuild.
“We have a long journey of recovery ahead of us,” said Mayor John Cooper.
The Music City Miracle of 2020 was that the only fatality in the incident was of the alleged perpetrator. The safety of the citizenry was credited to heroic work by six police officers who helped vacate the area moments before the eruption of a parked RV filled with explosives.
The faces of those officers are now featured in a freshly painted “I Believe in Heroes” mural in the downtown area.
With the staggering number of industry superstars that passed away in 2020, the action of those six officers, to quote an Anne Murray song title, is “a little good news” that country music needs as it heads into a new year.
Chris Stapleton helped us to mentally hit the reset button with his stark single “Starting Over,” the title track to his new 14-song LP.
There are so many new musical masterpieces for the ear to discover, work somehow magically perfected during a pandemic.
Ashley McBryde and Margo Price have assumed leadership roles with strong material that has carried over into the new year. A brilliant songwriter, McBryde flawlessly performed hit “One Night Standards” from her “Never Will” album at the Country Music Association awards. Price unleashed her stunning voice on the 10-track “That’s How Rumors Get Started.” Critics also rave about the current Little Big Town album.
Tomorrow, Morgan Wallen releases his once much anticipated 30-song double album “Dangerous.” However, Walmart employees spoiled the surprise by accidentally putting the product on store shelves a couple days ago.
Wallen retaliated by leaking several on the songs on Instagram. Coincidentally, Wallen will be performing at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Ryman Auditorium.
Last week, I made a regrettable omission when I listed the main music makers lost in 2020. Loyal fans of “Larry’s Country Diner” on RFD-TV are still reeling from the death of cast member “Sheriff” Jimmy Capps.
Capps was a member of the Grand Ole Opry house band for over 50 years. He personally knew most of the stars I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. He was a member of the A-Team of session musicians, applying his smooth guitar sound to songs like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” for George Jones, “Stand By Your Man” for Tammy Wynette and George Strait’’s “Amarillo By Morning.”
Vince Hoffard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-658-9095.