Starting Friday, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville will welcome its first in-person audience since COVID-19 shutdowns started in March. Scotty McCreery will perform for the Live at the Ryman series with 125 ticketed guests (approximately 5% capacity) with approval from the Nashville Public Health Department and local healthcare company Vanderbilt Health.
Live At the Ryman is a hybrid concert model developed by Opry Entertainment with input from the company’s official wellness advisor, Vanderbilt Health, designed to allow fans back to the live concert experience in addition to livestreaming shows for at-home viewing via the Mandolin platform. McCreery will be the first with an in-person audience.
Opry Group Entertainment, which runs the Ryman as well as the Grand Ole Opry, has been working with Vanderbilt and the local health department since the pandemic brought live shows to a halt in March. According to Opry Group Entertainment president Scott Bailey, the Grand Ole Opry has not “stopped broadcasting shows in 95 over years and that includes during COVID.”
During the pandemic, the Grand Ole Opry has continued to run about 20 weeks of audience-free shows without issue and will transfer both the technology and safety techniques to resuming shows at the Ryman Auditorium.
“We’ve proven to be able to manage things in the right way and engendered a fair amount of confidence with the department of health,” Bailey tells Billboard. “We are in many cases exceeding what their requirements are.”
The Ryman will strictly comply with operating plans developed in partnership with the Nashville Public Health Department and Vanderbilt Health that include socially-distanced seating, mandatory masks for all guests and staff, as well as enhanced cleaning practices. In addition, health personnel will be on hand to observe and ensure compliance throughout the events.
“We’re not looking to be a one-and-done thing or try to sneak something through and hope nobody paid attention. We want all eyes on this. Nobody has put on a hybrid product like this before and we don’t want to be on the other side explaining what went wrong,” Bailey says.
Additional safety protocols for the in-person shows include physically distanced in-venue “POD” seating for groups of 2-6 people and designated restrooms, as well as entrance and exit points for main floor and balcony seating. All Ryman staff will be temperature checked and concessions will not be available outside of complimentary water bottles.
“If you are a fan of the artist and you’ve been dying to see a concert, this frankly is the golden ticket. To be able to sit alongside your friends in the Ryman to have a private concert is unheard of,” Bailey says. “This will be one of those examples of, ‘I was there.’ This is a moment in history for sure.”
In-venue tickets for McCreery begin at $89, which include an exclusive Hatch Show Print poster and in-person access to the artist Q&A prior to the show. Livestream ticket prices begin at $10 with VIP upgrades available at $40 with virtual access to the Q&A and $95 also with an autographed Hatch Show Print poster and series T-shirt. All merchandise is available for purchase in advance online to commemorate the landmark series.
As for the series’ financial feasibility of the series going forward, Bailey says it “certainly will not be the same as having a packed house.” He adds that the economics will be completely different given the reduced staff and supplemental paid live stream viewing.
“If you take a look at the success that we’ve had with the Opry shows, we’re doing anywhere between a million and a half to 2 million streams around the world [per Saturday night show]” says Bailey, adding that around 100 countries tune in every week. With more than 25 million views of Opry shows since the pandemic hit, The Opry Group hopes the same enthusiasm for their high-quality content will translate to the Ryman performances.
“We think the economics and the business model will hold and everybody kind of wins in that case. The fans win. Certainly the artists win and we think it’s a winning strategy for us,” says Bailey.