By Ellis Nassour
"Come on in and sit right down and make yourself at home!” sang the country music legend Patsy Cline. It was the tune that opened her live shows. That was then. Today, New Yorkers don’t have to travel very far for some country music and flavor.
Opry City Stage, the first Grand Ole Opry outpost outside Nashville, is huge. Located on Broadway, between 48th and 49th Streets, the venue encompasses four floors of retail space with country music-inspired merchandise, a towering atrium, main stage, restaurant and bar. Not to be overlooked, of course, are the church-styled windows in tribute to Ryman Auditorium, a former tabernacle, and site of the original Grand Ole Opry.
MUSIC CITY MEMORIES
For 92 years, the Grand Ole Opry has been a country music mecca, showcasing the genre’s biggest stars. Opry City Stage doubles as a colorful pilgrimage to country’s spiritual home. Taking a cue from the Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood, decades of memorabilia have been imported from the Opry. These include a 17-foot re-creation of Jimmie Rodgers’ Blue Yodeler guitar gifted to Ernest Tubb; more than 300 photographs from the Opry’s photo archive spanning nearly a century; and showcases of costumes worn by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Minnie Pearl, Johnny Cash, and “new country” chart-makers such as Taylor Swift.
The Grand Old Opry dates to 1925. Concerts were broadcast over WSM 650 radio and broadcast nationally on Saturday nights. Although an admission of 25 cents was charged, that didn’t deter the every-growing attendance. To accommodate the demand, the Opry relocated to the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville. It stayed put there until 1974 when it moved to a 4,400-seat facility on the city outskirts. The Ryman remained shut over a decade before Gaylord Entertainment did a full restoration and reopened it as a museum and concert hall.
A GOOD TIME FOR ALL
Colin Reed, Ryman Hospitality chairman and CEO, notes that country music and a laid-back lifestyle have never been more popular. Such enthusiasm is demonstrated with the opening of this new venue. “We can share an authentic slice of country’s most famous institution with the millions from around the country and world who visit Times Square.” Lincoln Schofield, entertainment manager agrees when he says, “Opry City Stage has the potential to be a new country hub right in the center of New York City. I can imagine future country stars coming out of this venue,” says Schofield. One of the venue’s biggest appeals, he states, is the feeling that almost anyone passing through town could stop by and sit in with the house band. “You never know who might turn up.” In fact, local country musicians have the stage until closing. The fourth-floor studio, with seating for 300, has been designated for ticketed events and open-mike nights.
The menu designed by Bruce and Eric Bromberg of the Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group includes country favorites like Nashville Hot Chicken, Sweet & Spicy Pulled Pork, and Catfish & Chips. Also available on the menu are signature beers from Nashville’s favorite Yazoo Brewery.
Opry City Stage is a joint-venture of Ryman Hospitality Properties (RHP) and New York’s SPK Hospitality Group. RHP, an off-shoot of Gaylord Entertainment, owns the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman, WSM, and, among its resorts, Nashville’s mega Opryland Hotel.
For more information on Opry City Stage and scheduled entertainment, visit oprycitystage.com.
Ellis Nassour writes on the entertainment business. He’s a veteran of The New York Times, New York Daily News, and Playbill; the author of the definitive biography Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline and the hit revue Always, Patsy Cline.