When it comes to the best live music venues in the United States, one of the top contenders is certainly the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville.
The venue is rich in history, dating back 125 years and continues to thrive today with anywhere between 200 and 250 events each year.
Once inside it doesn’t take long to realize the beauty of a well-seasoned performance hall, like that of a fine vintage instrument, which cannot be reproduced.
The Ryman’s acoustics, built to project the voice of Sam Jones so long ago, are among the finest in the world.
Today, the Ryman Auditorium remains true to its diverse entertainment legacy, hosting concerts of all genres by a new generation of entertainers for a new generation of audiences.
For anyone visiting Nashville, The Ryman Auditorium is open for tours seven days a week. Each “Soul of Nashville” tour kicks off the reimagined Ryman daytime tour experience in an innovative, one-of-a-kind 100-seat theater custom-built for the show.
Created by BRC Imagination Arts of California, “Soul of Nashville” utilizes cutting-edge technology to surround the audience with moving images on multiple projector planes and sound that engulfs the senses and puts them in the center of the show.
Through special effects, archival images and footage, performers from the Ryman’s past become multidimensional right before the viewer’s eyes.
The show dives into the Ryman’s fascinating history as more than a century of legendary performances come to life on all sides of the room.
The dramatic story of the building’s near demolition and rebirth climaxes with a new collaboration featuring Darius Rucker, The Fisk Jubilee Singers, Sheryl Crow and Vince Gill.
By design, this experience makes an emotional connection with the audience who will then exit the theater and begin the rest of their tour experience.
“Soul of Nashville” is hosted by a virtual Lula C. Naff, the Ryman’s longtime promoter and manager from 1904 to 1955.
A remarkable woman not widely known today, Naff’s business and booking savvy garnered prestige for both Ryman Auditorium and the city of Nashville as a performance arts center for the region.
Hailed as the “first lady” of theater management, she brought the greatest performers and Broadway plays of the day to the Ryman Auditorium including: Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Enrico Caruso, Harry Houdini, Katharine Hepburn, Mae West, Ziegfeld Follies, “Guys and Dolls,” “Oklahoma!” and many more.
Naff also ushered the Grand Ole Opry into the Ryman in 1943, where the show resided until 1974.
Under her leadership, the Ryman Auditorium became a showplace for great diversity, a tradition that continues today. She was also a trailblazer for working women, branching out on her own before women even had the right to vote.
After the video introduction, visitors are free to roam the inside of the auditorium and enjoy five all-new exhibits inside the famed auditorium: “Workin’ on a Building,” “Showplace of the South,” “Mother Church of Country Music,” “Ryman Stage to Screen” and “Ryman Renaissance.”
Guests will see genuine artifacts and enjoy videos with hosts Charles Esten, Marty Stuart, Nicole Kidman, Ricky Skaggs, Robin Roberts and Trisha Yearwood taking them through each chapter of the Ryman’s illustrious history.
“Workin’ on a Building” video host Trisha Yearwood tells of the famed meeting between Thomas Green Ryman and Samuel Porter Jones, and the inspiration that led to the construction of one of the nation’s grandest tabernacles.
On display are artifacts documenting Ryman’s life, construction of the building and events that took place during the early years of the Union Gospel Tabernacle.
Most know of the Grand Ole Opry’s time in the Ryman Auditorium, but some may not be aware of the performances that graced the stage long before the radio show arrived. Video host Nicole Kidman shares the fascinating story of the Ryman’s transition from a revival hall into a premier performing arts venue in the video “Showplace of the South.”
In the video “Mother Church of Country Music,” the story is told of how The Ryman Auditorium acquired a new identity when a soon-to-be world-famous radio program found itself in search of a new home.
The Ryman’s new tenant brought a whole new fan base into the pews when they began broadcasting their clear-channel signal coast to coast from the stage of the old “Mother Church.” Hear firsthand accounts from Opry members Marty Stuart and Ricky Skaggs as they host the exhibit video, enjoy rare performance footage and see stage costumes and instruments on display.
Many remember hearing the sounds of the Opry resonating over the airwaves but do not realize how many times the Ryman Auditorium has appeared on the big screen, as seen in the video “Ryman Stage to Screen.”
Visitors will see clips from the concert tapings, television episodes and major motion pictures that have used the Ryman Auditorium as their setting during a video hosted by Charles Esten. From “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to television’s “Nashville,” “Honkytonk Man” to “American Idol,” the Ryman has served as an important backdrop for many filmmaking projects over the years.
Finally, the last stop on the tour is the video exhibit “Ryman Renaissance” dedicated to the ongoing legacy of the Ryman Auditorium. Video host Robin Roberts shares recent Ryman history and relates the importance of its continued tradition.
The Ryman is open for tours seven days a week (closing only for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) 9 am to 4 pm.
Self-guided tours (including “Soul of Nashville”) are $20 for adults and $15 for children ages 4-11. Backstage tours (including “Soul of Nashville”) are $27.50 for adults and $22.50 for children ages 4-11.
For tickets or more information on Ryman Auditorium, visit http://ryman.com.