Talk about a city with a heart and soul. Nashville is like nowhere I have ever been. Admittedly, I haven’t been everywhere which is why I’m on this road trip, but this place has something special – an actual beating heart that shines through its people. They don’t call this the Volunteer State for nothing.
Now I know that the best comes out in people during a crisis (I’ve been through my share of them with work, and I, too, thrive in them), and that was certainly evidenced following the flooding from the Cumberland River which devastated downtown and surrounding areas, taking lives and livelihoods – and destroyed much of the Grand Ole Opry building. Of course people in most places pull together and pitch in to help recovery efforts following tragic events. But I can tell that the kindness and support offered then was no different than the people of Tennessee display every day. They care for each other, are interested in others and want to make everyone welcome. Who wouldn’t want to live here?
This spirit couldn’t have been better demonstrated than at the reopening of the Grand Ole Opry, five months after the floods, on Day 20 of my road trip. Tina, Kristen and I flew in from three different cities to spend the one night here and were so honored to witness this incredible event. It wasn’t just the stars, although they couldn’t have shown much brighter as the show featured: Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Josh Turner, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels Band, Diamond Rio, Montgomery Gentry, Lorrie Morgan and Blake Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Mel Tillis, Steve Wariner - and the list goes on! It was the feeling that emanated through the building. The shared love of the music, the history and the community came through every note, whether sung or spoken. We got chills.
In addition to the artists glowing with pride to be singing on the restored Opry circle, we witnessed other memorable Opry moments such as a video tribute to Nashville from President Obama (didn’t really go down too well with the people of Tennessee); a welcome home and thank you from the Mayor of Nashville (which went down much better); a hair-raising, electric performance of The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band and Montgomery Gentry; Trace Adkins giving Blake Shelton a tweet that invited him to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry; and a rousing concluding set by Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner and Marty Stewart.
It’s the next morning and we’re still in awe of the fact that we were there and experienced such a historic event. I was lucky enough to have my seat changed (not sure by whom) so I was in the front section and able to go to the stage as every artist appeared. Never have I been in a more welcoming venue for photographers – and with more polite people who actually took turns moving so everyone got a chance to be at the stage for the best view! I glowed when a man said to me at the end, “You’re going to have some great pictures. You put your heart and soul into taking them.” I told him I love it all so much, and he said it clearly showed. I couldn’t have gotten a better compliment.
The rest of Day 20 is a blur but combined Tina, Kristen and I remember: getting up way too early, traveling to Nashville, exploring the shops downtown in our quest for cowboy boots (yes, we found them – three for the price of one!), meeting the friendliest people on earth around every corner (including these two great ladies from Indiana who we ran into multiple times during the day and the night) and concluding the night after the big show at the bars of Broadway where live music filtered through every open door and poured onto the street.
We love it here. Nashville, we’ll be back!