‘Follow your heart. That’s what I do. Compassion is something I have a lot of, because I’ve been through a lot of pain in my life. Anybody who has suffered a lot of pain has a lot of compassion.’-Johnny Cash
Since I had Saturday to myself, I packed in as much as I possibly could. Prior to arriving in Nashville, I had purchased tickets to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the RCA studio tour. The RCA Studio tour only runs so often, so I had two time options…10 and 11:30. As I was coming from the Opry backstage tour, I selected the latter. While I was at the MRHH, I realized how close the Ryman Auditorium was to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I looked it up and they said they had a self guided tour, which was perfect as I didn’t have a ton of time. Best of plans…
I arrived at the Ryman and had about 45 minutes to explore. It opened in 1892 focusing on gospel but became the most famous home of the early Grand Ole Opry, something that helped save the auditorium from being torn down in the early 1900s. As originally was a tabernacle, it gained the nickname ‘The Mother Church.’ I was really excited to explore and see as much as I could before the RCA Tour. I did not realize that my self guided tour involved waiting in line to get into a room to watch a video about the history of the Ryman. The video was great (not as good as the Opry one) but a bit long and it cut into my time. Your ticket includes a photo of you on stage. The stage has been replaced multiple times but a portion from the heyday of the Ryman remains. So I immediately went to the stage to get my photo taken, walked around a bit and then had to leave. It was a bit annoying to not have as much time to look at all the incredible costumes displayed with more than a passing glance but, even with what I know now, I still would have gone!
Next, I walked a down to the Country Music Hall of Fame to meet the RCA Studio Tour. I did not know that I would be taking a shuttle to Music Row to visit the studio, a 10 minute or so drive (bring small bills for a tip). I naively assumed it was near the CMHF but I was wrong. The plan was to do the studio tour and then have about an hour before my timed ticket to the museum itself (getting tickets ahead of time saves so much time) and eat lunch. Yeah, that didn’t happen either. Our shuttle driver had to have his lunch break so we were going to spend a bit more time at the studio. This mostly meant listening to some music that had been recorded there, and as it was initially built for Elvis Presley, it was several of his songs. I love classic rock but I was also so hungry and it took a long time to make it into the studio itself.
The guide, who was fine, spoke of all that recorded here. This included several of my favorites, including the Everly Brothers. I’m not a big Elvis fan (although ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’ are outstanding) so I was more intrigued with the other person who made the studio famous…DOLLY PARTON!!! I stood in the spot she recorded ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You.’ Of the latter song, the guide told about her writing the song for Porter Wagner and then, in the ’90s, driving down the highway and hearing the opening bars of the Whitney Houston’s version. Great story but, to my horror (I sent a rant to my dad), he did not tell the best story about the song. When Dolly wrote the song, Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, wanted Elvis to record it. Being the shrewd businessman that he was, it was standard practice that if ‘The King’ was going to record anyone’s song, Parker took all the rights to said song. Dolly decided she could not part with the publishing rights and refused the offer. While the song was a big hit for her, she’s made tens of millions of dollars from the Houston version. I couldn’t believe he didn’t tell the story-I mean it fit perfectly with the location!
We returned to the CMHF and I didn’t have time for lunch before my ticketed entry…grrr. I wandered a bit as the building has a whole annex that includes Hatch Show Print, known for their iconic music prints (I purchased one for the Bluebird Cafe). I still had a bit of time so I went to the visitors services person and asked if I could enter early and they said sure. The museum is really cool even if you don’t love country music. There are so many instruments and artifacts from a variety of genres. They had several items from Roy Rogers, who my mom was HUGE fan of. I grew up near his museum, so I spent time as a kid visiting, but it was nice to feel a bit of my mom on this trip. I am a big Martina McBride fan and they had a special exhibit about her life. They also had a retrospective of Kacey Musgraves, which was very cool…she is so tiny! I saw Kacey around the time of the release of her first album when she opened for Lady Antebellum-great show. I really enjoy her music and her more recent song ‘Rainbow‘ helped get me through a really hard time (including a hard cry to the song in my car while visiting Portland). There is a gallery of artists who have been inducted and the plaques don’t seem to go in any particular order. Some the bronze likenesses were a bit terrifying but interesting none the less.
I finally ate lunch (thank god for Shake Shack) and headed to the Johnny Cash Museum, which is run by his children. I did not know it existed until I saw a sign and then the Opry advertised it during the show. It was really cool. It is small and a more casual experience. There are a lot of personal items, including one of his early guitars, Roy Orbison’s glasses, costumes from ‘Walk the Line‘ (which if you have not seen, you need to…IMMEDIATELY), and personal letters between him and June. Three things really stood out to me. First, the handwritten lyrics to ‘Folsom Prison Blues‘ which includes one of the greatest lines in music: ‘I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.’ There was also a Grammy award he won for doing the linear notes for Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album. I knew him and Dylan were close friend (‘Girl From North Country‘ is a great duet) but I had no idea Cash wrote album notes for other artists. I put this in my Instagram stories and the museum actually responded and said they were so glad I enjoyed my time there! And finally, the ring and chair featured in the music video for his Nine Inch Nails cover of ‘Hurt.’ It is one of the greatest covers of all time and it is not just me or the critics, Trent Reznor, who wrote the song, said so! The video played and is positioned right after the portion that discussed June’s death. The song was released shortly before her death and took on more poignancy following their deaths.
I had a jam packed day and wouldn’t change a thing…especially because of what would happen that night!