Grand Ole Opry fans can now get one step closer to the magic that happens on stage at the Mother Church of country music through an immersive new film that officially launches July 9 in The Circle Room, a custom built state-of-the-art studio in the Opry House lobby. Hosted by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, the 14-minute film illuminates the 94-year history of the institution.
“The people who take the daytime tours will start with this film. It puts you in the head space to experience this magical building,” says Sally Williams, General Manager, Grand Ole Opry / senior vp, Programming & Artist Relations, Opry Entertainment. “The Opry film experience gives context to everything that a guest sees when they are here. It makes these hallowed halls that much more personal for guests that come through. They understand what it means to an artist to be here, which deepens the experience for non-artists to come in.”
The film features more than 100 acts and shares clips of performers being surprised with an invitation to join the Opry, as well as many emotional speeches from artists during their induction ceremonies. It also includes archival footage of legends like Minnie Pearl, Little Jimmy Dickens and Roy Acuff, alongside current acts like Lauren Alaina, Luke Combs, Brad Paisley and Chris Young. It concludes with an all-star cast singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
“I thought they did a great job of spanning the generations and covering a lot of people,” says Jeannie Seely, an Opry member for nearly 52 years. “This is a wonderful thing for the fans…It’s really life like, about as life like as you could make it without them being there.”
Brooks and Yearwood, both members of the Opry, are scheduled to appear on Today July 5 to promote the new film. “We all were so honored that they agreed to this and I think they just knocked it out of the park,” Williams says. “The Opry [is] every person who steps on stage and that resonates so true to Garth and Trisha. They have such emotional connection, not just to what’s happening today, but what’s happened previously, and I think they have such a belief in the powerful future that’s ahead.”
The film was created by BRC Imagination Arts, who also produced The Soul of Nashville movie that is part of the Ryman Auditorium tour. “When we began to think about what can we do to continue to instill in people the emotional importance of the Grand Ole Opry, it just all pointed back to working with BRC,” Williams says. “ We brought them in more than a year ago and began to talk about the story that we wanted to tell, and the experience that we wanted people to have, and worked with them to create this.”
The room includes 340 lights—95 of which are moving— as well as four projectors and five LED screens. “It’s immersive. It an emotional story that surrounds you,” Williams says. “My goal is to add context and strengthen that relationship between the performer that’s on the stage and the fan that’s in the pews.”
The Circle Room, named for the famed circle of wood that was removed from the old Ryman stage and placed center stage at the Opry House, is part of a $12 million Opry House expansion and renovation that includes a new retail store, enhanced food and beverage options, a new parking area and additional upgrades in the outdoor Opry Plaza area. In addition to the new film being part of the daytime Opry House tours, the Circle Room is also used for special events and meet-and-greets with artists in the evening.
“People can hang out with a legend like Jeannie Seely or one of our Opry Next Stage artists like Tegan Marie. It gives those people who are coming to the show the opportunity to meet an artist and hear a little bit direct from them,” Williams says. “It reinforces what I know is true about country music, which is that that connection with the fan is so important to the artist.”
Seely has played hostess several times when fans visit the new room. “I go in and I talk 15-20 minutes. I talk about whatever is on my mind and then I ask if anybody has a question. That often leads to something else that I talk about.”
Seely admits viewing the film brought up nostalgic feelings. “I felt like our generation pulled the music up, dressed it up, took it to places that it had never been accepted before and broadened the scope of our industry a lot. I’m very proud of the era that we came in and I think they captured that,” she says. “The film was overwhelming. You can’t react to one scene before you’re onto the next. It’s an exciting film as well as emotional.”