Known colloquially as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” Ryman Auditorium began as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Local entrepreneur Thomas Ryman built it as a permanent location for tent revival-style gospel meetings. The auditorium was also the site of secular gatherings like Helen Keller’s lectures, Fisk Jubilee Singers’ performances and WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. While a statue of Ryman is located outside this National Historic Landmark, a bronze tribute honoring Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff is situated inside the lobby.
During the entertaining tours, guests can visit the historic dressing rooms and stand on the center stage.
Formerly the Grand Ole Opry House and the Union Gospel Tabernacle, Ryman Auditorium has been an iconic landmark in Nashville since it first opened its doors in 1892. A more than 2,300-seat entertainment complex, Ryman is known for its unsurpassable acoustics and is considered by many to be the city’s most popular venue, including hosting world-renowned performers and serving as a location for television and film productions. Today, in addition to the many concerts and events, guests can enjoy a variety of experiences at the Ryman, including tours, shopping and dining. While in Nashville, visiting the Ryman is a definite for those who wish to discover all they can about the roots of country music and the impact that this historic structure has had on the city.
The brainchild of a prominent Nashville businessman, Thomas G. Ryman, the Ryman Auditorium was originally constructed in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle to provide a place for evangelist Reverend Sam Jones. It was Ryman’s dream to build a venue for Jones to project his voice and message to everyone and this Victorian Gothic Revival structure went on to do just that. In 1904, after Thomas Ryman passed away, it became known as the Ryman Auditorium.
In the beginning, the Ryman was the largest structure of its kind in the area, so it became the place to host community gatherings and political rallies and numerous entertainment events including operas, symphonies, ballets and theatrical productions. It wasn’t too long before the Ryman was hosting some of the world’s top performers and most important figures including Ignacy Paderewski, Marian Anderson, John Phillip Sousa, Roy Rogers, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope and Mae West. The Ryman soon earned the nickname “Carnegie Hall of the South”.
At the same time, the radio show, The Grand Ole Opry began to gain international fame and in 1943, when the show drew crowds too big for any other Nashville venue, the Ryman became its new home. For the following 31 years, the Ryman was the premier stage for the Grand Ole Opry’s live radio shows, featuring the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff and Hank Williams, to name just a few.
The Ryman is also credited with being the birthplace of Bluegrass. It was on the Ryman stage that Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe took the stage together for the first time in December of 1945, belting out the first definitive sounds that would become known as Bluegrass.
After the Grand Ole Opry moved to its new location in 1974, the Ryman was still one of the city’s hottest attractions. And in 1994, the auditorium received a much-needed $8.5 million restoration that returned the National Historic Landmark back to its original magnificence. The renovation included removing all the original oak pews, restoring them and then reinstalling them. Also a part of the project was installing performer dressing rooms for legendary acts that had graced the Ryman stage, upgrading sound and lighting technology, central heat and air conditioning and a 14,000 square foot building for ticketing, concessions and a gift shop.
Today, the Ryman remains a top venue for performers and attracts visitors from all over the world. New and renowned artists including Aretha Franklin, the Zac Brown Band, Annie Lennox and others continue to wow crowds at this legendary Nashville icon.
As a visitor to the Ryman, you’ll have the opportunity to see the stage that has been graced by so many famous musicians and performers. Guided tours are given every day from 9:30am to 3:30pm and include a look backstage, as well as the opportunity to learn more about the rich past of the historic Nashville venues. You can also enjoy a short film, The Soul of Nashville, that showcases the historical timeline of the Ryman. You can also take a self-guided tour and stop in at the Ryman’s recording studio to cut your own CD. You can select from an array of classic songs or bring in your own and the Ryman sound engineer will not only record your performance, they’ll give you your own labeled CD. A great souvenir!
A tour of the Ryman treats you to a look at numerous rare and collectible items and artifacts on display in these exhibits:
See the dressing rooms of the stars of the Ryman’s past including Minnie Pearl and Hank Williams. View the wings where performers stood to await their turn to take the stage and see Ryman Alley where the stars cross over to the honky tonks and where the Everly Brothers were discovered.
Open daily from 9:30am to 3:30pm, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Soul of Music City Tour
Ryman Auditorium is a point of interest on this tour. Kick back, and cruise through Music City enjoying scenic nighttime views and classic Nashville tunes. On this tour, you’ll not only be taken to popular points of interest, but talented guides will dazzle you with their musical talents and extensive historical knowledge of the city. The tour is a perfect choice for date night or a group outing and a definite must-do when in Nashville!
Eat, Drink and Shop
Café Lula is named in memory of Lula C. Naff who served as the Ryman’s manager during the 1920s and is credited for keeping the venue at the forefront of Nashville’s entertainment scene. The café serves up locally-inspired cuisine in a casual atmosphere. Open daily from 9am to 8pm (later on nights there are concerts), the café is an ideal spot to stop in and enjoy chicken, steak and seafood, salads, soups and chili.
The Ryman gift shop provides you with the opportunity to bring home a piece of this legendary Nashville venue. There are t-shirts, seat cushions and a variety of souvenirs as well as Hatch Show Prints, CDs, DVDs and books.
The Ryman Auditorium is located at 116 Fifth Avenue North in downtown Nashville.
Open daily from 9am to 4pm for tours.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Things to do nearby
A legendary honky tonk bar, Tootsie’s is just a few footsteps from the Ryman. Here, you will enjoy live music, cold drinks and the iconic Tootsies Hall of Fame, including pictures and memorabilia of past and present country music stars that have visited the lounge and influenced country music through the ages.
Located inside the original building of the Sho-Bud Steel Guitar Company that was owned by Shot Jackson and Buddy Emmons (two of the greatest steel guitar players in history), Robert’s Western World is steeped in history and is just a short walk from the Ryman Auditorium. One of Nashville’s famous honky tonks, Robert’s features live music, awesome cowboy boots and a unique menu, including fried baloney sandwiches and ice-cold beer.
Located within the Country Music Hall of Fame museum, Hatch Show Print is the oldest print shop in the USA and the place where prints of the biggest names in country music are still being made. Here, you can see the original printing press that is still in use to create prints. You can purchase a variety of posters featuring stars from yesterday and today.
Another famous live music venue in Nashville, B.B. King’s Blues Club boasts two stages featuring artists performing blues, Motown and classic rock. You’ll have the opportunity to dance, eat and sip your favorite cocktail. Their menu includes an array of Southern comfort foods influenced by the flavors of New Orleans, Mississippi and Memphis-style barbecue.
Learn about the history of Tennessee in this expansive museum located just a short walk from the Ryman Auditorium. In over 60,000 square feet, you’ll have the opportunity to view permanent and changing exhibits that showcase the historical journey of the state.