For almost seven decades, country music legends have stood on a single piece of oak floor to perform in the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. The “Opry Circle” was just the center part of the stage at the Ryman Auditorium when the legendary show moved there in 1943.
When the current Grand Ole Opry House was finished in 1974, a 6-foot circle was cut from the oak stage floor and installed center stage in the new auditorium.
Last week, the circle and the rest of the Opry stage was submerged under two feet of water when the Cumberland River overflowed its banks. But this week, the news is good: The rest of the stage will be replaced, but the Opry Circle can be salvaged.
Yes, it’s just a circle of wood, but to country music fans, it is sacred ground.
Late legends Hank Williams and Johnny Cash have sung in the circle. Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Porter Wagoner and hundreds of others have stood in the same spot when they took the Opry stage.
As our friends at the Boot note, even Elvis Presley sang on this piece of flooring early in his career, during his only Grand Ole Opry appearance in 1954.
(Legend has it that Elvis was practically booed off the stage during his performance, leading Opry officials to suggest he go back to driving a truck.)
%Gallery-92866%I grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio on Saturdays, and then, when cable finally came to my tiny hometown, watching it on TV. I followed all the country music artist’s careers, and I even entertained childhood dreams of singing on the Opry stage myself one day.
As most fans do, I have made a couple of pilgrimages to the Grand Ole Opry myself through the years. Last fall, I finally got a chance to take the backstage tour, and I stood in that Opry Circle for the first time as an adult.
I can’t describe the feeling, except to say that I was moved to tears standing in that sacred spot. Of course I had not idea at the time that the Opry House would be flooded — and that circle would be in jeopardy — in just a few months’ time.
“That circle is the most magical thing when you’re a performer,” says Brad Paisley, “to stand there and get to sing on those same boards that probably still contain dust from Hank Williams’ boots.”
Despite the flood, the Opry will go on, as it has every Saturday night since 1925. Most of the upcoming performances have been moved to the Ryman Auditorium while crews try to remove the muck covering the Opry House and assess the damage.
The show would have gone on without that precious circle.
But I’m glad it doesn’t have to.