A Taste of Nashville’s Historic Grand Ole Opry
Comes to New York’s Times Square
By: Ellis Nassour
“Come on in and sit right down and make yourself at home!” sang the legendary Patsy Cline. It was the tune that opened her live shows. Now a huge bit of the history of authentic country music has come to New York’s Times Square with Opry City Stage, 1604 Broadway between 48th and 49th Streets.
Opry City Stage, the first such Opry outpost outside of Nashville, is huge – four floors and 28,000-square feet. The second floor, up from a retail shop with Grand Ole Opry and country merchandise, boasting a towering atrium, has the main stage, restaurant, and bar. An angled smaller balcony has additional seating, It has faux church windows in tribute to “country’s mother church,” the Ryman Auditorium, a former tabernacle on Fourth Avenue in downtown “Music City” that that dates to 1831
The hopeful appeal will be a draw not only residents who crave country, down-home hospitality [“Yes, sir,” “Yes, ma’am,” and the proverbial “y’all” roll off the tongues of staffers, few of whom are from Down Yonder], but also a share of the tourism market. Instead of piped-in recordings, Opry City Stage is going hard on live music. Local country musicians have the stage until the 1 A.M. close. A fourth-floor studio, with seating for 300, is for ticketed events and open-mike nights.
For 92 years, the Grand Ole Opry has been a country music mecca, broadcasting 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. There are hand-made narrative folk art banners created by Nashville artisans throughout with classic country lyrics.
Colin Reed, Ryman Hospitality chairman and CEO, calls Opry City Stage” Noting that country music and the country lifestyle have never been more popular, he says, “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.”
Entertainment manager Lincoln Schofield, 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.”
The menu designed by Bruce and Eric Bromberg of the Blue Ribbon Restaurant Group [which includes Blue Ribbon Federal Hall in Manhattan’s Financial District at 84 William Street] ranges range from pimento cheese, smoked corn chowder, ribs, mac & cheese, meatloaf, chicken with waffles, prime rib [in “Cowgirl” nine ounce or “Cowboy” 14-ounce portions], and, of course, biscuit and barbecue. There’re also signature beers from Nashville’s popular Yazoo Brewery.
The Grand Old Opry dates to 1925. Weekend concerts were broadcast over WSM -650 on your radio dial. An NBC affiliate, a half-hour segment aired national on Saturday nights. To curb attendance, an admission of 25 cents was charged. That didn’t deter anyone. To accommodate ever-growing throngs from four-stats, the Opry relocated to the Ryman Auditorium on Fourth Avenue near Broadway in downtown Nashville. It stayed put 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.
Opry City Stage is a joint-venture of Ryman Hospitality Properties (RHP) and New York’s SPK Hospitality Group. RHP, an off-shoot of Oklahoma’s Gaylord Entertainment, owns the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman, WSM, and, among its resorts, Nashville’s mega Opryland Hotel.
For more information and scheduled entertainment, visit www.OpryCityStage.com.