I got a taste of Southern Americana this week. Like rockin’ on the front porch under a full moon on a steamy night in July, sipping an ice-cold, syrupy sweet tea. Yeah, it was that good.
I visited the Grand Ole Opry. The tour was planned long before George Jones died, but that did make the trip even more poignant.
Walking into that auditorium is like walking out of a time machine. The smell of the wooden pews takes you back to the days when WSM AM 650 was a 50,000-watt powerhouse radio station heard throughout the South. And every Saturday night folks gathered around their radios to listen to Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and the rest of the Opry stars.
Backstage, history comes to life in the dressing rooms, each one paying tribute to the likes of Little Jimmy Dickens and Porter Wagoner. The stars gather before going on stage in the Family Room, the Opry’s version of a green room. The centerpiece of the room is a mural by “Hee Haw’s” Archie Campbell — his depiction of a typical Saturday night there.
On the backstage tour you learn about the price tags on Minnie Pearl’s hats. You learn that Kornfield Kounty is even smaller than it seemed on “Hee Haw.” And you learn that four feet of floodwaters cannot drown out the Grand Ole Opry.
Then you step out on that stage, and the goosebumps make you shudder for a second. There it is. The six-foot circle at center stage that will not be broken.
We got to stay for the show, too. Every performer had a George Jones song to sing or story to share. Jesse McReynolds stirred the crowd with bluegrass rendition of “Pachabel’s Canon in D.” Hall of Fame songwriter Whispering Bill Anderson was there, as was “American Idol” Season 10 runner-up Lauren Alaina.
In the middle of the show, Holly Williams, Hank’s granddaughter, stood in that oaken circle and captured our hearts. She told us the love story of her maternal grandparents. As the final note of “Waiting on June” still hung in the air, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. There couldn’t have been.
That’s what separates a songwriter from a singer. Don’t get me wrong. Singers have a ton of talent that I do not possess, and I respect their bravery for getting up on stage. But there is something about the creator sharing her creation with nothing but her voice and a guitar.
That point was driven home again two days later as country music and the world said their final goodbyes to one of the biggest legends in the business, George Jones.