In The Wake Of Nashville's Floods, Opry Gets A First-Class Restoration

Renovations in the venue world are common and ongoing, but few are attached to such passion and history as was the resurrection of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House.

The Opry House, home of the Grand Ole Opry and other live entertainment events, was ravaged by floods that hammered Nashville the first weekend of May 2010.

Flood coverage carried shocking images of the Opry's lower level under water and boats navigating the aisles. Reports told not only of the waterlogged stage and seats, but of destroyed dressing rooms and irreplaceable Opry memorabilia and history.

According to Opry House manager Pete Fisher, water reached 4 feet above the stage, "so nearly everything on the first floor of the Opry House had to be rebuilt or refurbished."But the Opry House restoration project didn't stop at just returning the esteemed venue to its previous condition-it strived for improvement.

The most visible change, Fisher says, is "a phenomenal new artist entrance, including a Member Gallery honoring each of the Grand Ole Opry's distinguished members through its 85-year history." A new stage contains the historic circle of wood taken from the Ryman Auditorium when the Opry moved from there in 1974, now restored and returned to center stage at the Opry House.

Nearly 20 new themed dressing rooms each honor an iconic figure in country music or part of the Grand Ole Opry's character that makes the show so special, Fisher says. "The Into the Circle dressing room, for instance, spotlights the excitement of an artist's Opry debut and features artists' quotes from their debut night," Fisher says. "Taylor Swift's quote reads, 'Oh, my God, I'm on the Opry!' "

About $20 million was spent on the Opry House refurbishment, with funding coming from parent company Gaylord Entertainment, as well as from the City of Nashville.

The reopening, held Sept. 28, will stand as one of the most legendary nights in Opry history. "The Opry House reopened with a star-packed show that aired live on GAC and streamed on," Fisher says. Among the many artists who played that night were Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Charlie Daniels, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Keith Urban.

"It will go down as a historic night for many reasons-just one being that Blake Shelton was invited to become an Opry member that evening," Fisher says. "Brad Paisley spoke for the artists, staff and fans at the show that night when he said, 'This night shows the heart of the Opry like I've never seen it before. Every single artist on that stage tonight was absolutely overcome with emotion when that curtain went up. This American tradition is stronger than ever, and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.' " According to Fisher, 62-year Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy Dickens added, "I thought I'd seen everything in all my years at the Opry and in country music. After tonight I know the circle will never be broken. Never."

The Opry House later welcomed such names as Swift, Dolly Parton and Academy Award winner Kevin Costner (plus more than 2,000 fans for free backstage tours on a single Saturday) before the Grand Ole Opry returned to the Ryman for its annual three-month winter run. Fisher says bookings for non-Opry events are also going well. The Stellar Awards, which honor stars in gospel music, returned in January for its 26th national broadcast, and the building is scheduled to host comedian Ron White with Rascal Flatts and others for a CMT taping in March.

The Grand Ole Opry also returned to the Opry House on Feb. 4, with scheduled late-winter performances from the Band Perry, Ronnie Milsap and Chris Young, among others. Additionally, the venue is open seven days a week for guided backstage tours.