I've just returned from my visit to the high church of country music — the Ryman Auditorium (search) in downtown Nashville.
As I mentioned in this column last week, I was invited to serve as the guest announcer for both shows of the Grand Ole Opry (search). Normally the show is done out of the spectacular newer facility near the Opryland Hotel, but during the months of November and December, the show returns to the historic Ryman. On the very stage where the greats like Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline performed, I was introduced to Opry legends Porter Waggoner and Little Jimmy Dickens, to name just a few.
My buddy Ricky Skaggs (search) was there with his hot-as-a-firecracker bluegrass band, Kentucky Thunder. Ricky has a real passion for the Ryman — and the history of country music as well. For example, he was instrumental (no pun intended) in helping to secure Bill Monroe's mandolin for the Country Music Hall of Fame (search). Between shows, Ricky took me on a backstage tour of the Ryman that I will bring to you on next Sunday's edition of “Weekend Live.” (Click in the box above to see some of my photos.)
There is something about the vibe at the Ryman; all the artists who perform there talk about it. It's a small and intimate venue — the audience is only a few feet from the stage. The curved balcony of this converted church does something magical to the sound when the veteran Nashville cats in the Opry house band start to play.
But let me tell you brother and sisters, the hairs on my neck stood straight up when I heard Connie Smith (search) sing on the Opry stage. Connie, to put it mildly, can still bring it. Chills — I'm talking chills. Then after wowing the audience, she quietly slipped in unnoticed with the background singers for the remainder of the second show. To me, that spoke volumes about Connie Smith.
Well, I could go on and on, but let me save some of my stories for the show on Sunday. Thanks to all the folks at the Grand Ole Opry for such gracious hospitality.
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Brian Wilson is a congressional correspondent for FOX News and anchor of the Sunday edition of "Weekend Live."