NOTHING COMPARES: BACKSTAGE AT THE GRAND OLE OPRY
BY BILL ANDERSON
Every auditorium, theater, and arena in the world has an area behind the stage where performers gather, dress, rehearse, and simply hang out before, during and after their performances. And I have stood on hundreds of them.
But I’ve yet to see any such area that can even begin to compare to the professional frenzy that exists every weekend backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
The first time I ever went to the Opry minus my parents, my high school buddies and I walked around to the far left side of the balcony in the old Ryman and spend a large portion of the evening mesmerized by the stars moving around and interacting with one another behind the backdrop.
I can still see Lonzo and Oscar sipping on R.C. Colas, at the time one of the Opry’s primary sponsors. Comedian Rod Brasfield was walking around with a car tire tucked up under his arm. He would later use the tire as a prop during an onstage comedy routine with Minnie Pearl. George Morgan was engaged in pulling some kind of prank on Johnnie & Jack, and everyone was laughing themselves silly.
Years later, when I was first invited to make a few guest appearances on the Opry myself, I wondered at the maze of musicians, singings, dancers, announcers, and stage hands who seemed to be aimlessly wandering around backstage, yet somehow managing to keep the unscripted show running and on time.
Once I became an Opry member myself, I came to understand it better, but I never ceased to wonder at it all. Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music himself, would sit casually with his dressing room door open, inviting fans to come in and talk with him and take pictures, and yet Mr. Roy insisted on rehearsing our duet, “I Wonder If God Likes Country Music,” each and every time before we sang it onstage.
Hank Snow would pack his band into a tiny, hot dressing room backstage at the Ryman to rehearse songs like “I’m Movin’ On,” which he had obviously performed hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Bill Monroe was constantly playing his mandolin and singing those high, lonesome bluegrass tunes to only a handful of fellow musicians.
One day it hit me. For all the apparent confusion and turmoil backstage, these performers were much like professional athletes who talk about “getting their game faces on” before a big contest. They always wanted to be ready to give their fans their very best, and that’s why they always did.
And yet, away from the footlights, there was always such a human side to it all. Minnie Pearl never left the building until she had walked the main hallway and told her friends goodnight. I can still hear her reassuring voice saying, “Goodnight, Bill Anderson. I love you.”
There are now mammoth pictures of both Miss Minnie and Mr. Roy hanging just inside the artist entrance to the Opry. Every night as I leave the building, I look up at those photographs and say goodnight to them both.
“Goodnight, Minnie Pearl,” I always say out loud. “I love you too.”
And every time I say it I just can’t help but think to myself there simply will never be anything to compare with the pure magic that exists backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.