The Grand Ole Opry House has been stripped to its concrete foundation as workers try to repair damage from flooding about two weeks ago.
The stage, including a historic 6-foot circle of floorboards from the old Ryman Auditorium stage, has been removed along with pews that served as seats on the house floor. That Ryman wood is considered the heart of country music by some and its status as it sat under 4 feet of water was a big concern for country music stars and fans.
Grand Ole Opry president Steve Buchanan said Thursday during a tour with reporters that a few coats of varnish helped the circle survive, though the rest of the stage was destroyed.
“It’s going to need a little attention by a skilled craftsman, but we expect that it will be ready to go back in place pretty soon,” he said of the circle.
The tour showed a building that was eerily empty and dark, but already in the midst of extensive repairs. All things touched by water that couldn’t be cleaned have been stripped and every single artifact, costume, instrument and piece of archival material that wasn’t rescued May 2 when the flood started to creep in has been shipped out for cleaning, repair or restoration.
Key pieces taken to safety included the fiddle Roy Acuff played during his first Opry show, the shoes Minnie Pearl wore for more than 50 years of performances and the steamboat whistle founder George D. Hay blew to signal the start of shows. Many others were whisked away even as the water sloshed around the knees of employees.
The Opry also housed the personal instruments, costumes and gear of performers and employees and those are getting attention as well.
Workers have already removed all carpets, drywall up to the level of the flooding, wood trim damaged by the water and electrical and technical fixtures. Large, clear plastic tubes snake through hallways, carrying air into the muggy, odiferous building.
Glass in an entryway still carried the high-water mark from the flood and a dressing room vanity with light bulbs intact sat outside the building in huge piles of soon-to-be discarded furniture, desks, road cabinets and other items that came from both the Opry House and nearby offices.
It’s taken a massive effort to get that far so quickly and dozens of workers are present at any time, carrying out various tasks.
“There are times I’ve come in here and I definitely felt like it was a small army,” Buchanan said.
There are little reminders everywhere of what the place once looked like.
The Yamaha grand piano remains on stage in the wings, its snaggletooth keys covered in a film of silt carried in by the muddy water of the Cumberland River. A statue of Bill Monroe still stands in the lobby, presiding over the work of plastic-suited laborers.
The fountain donated by Minnie Pearl was spouting cool, clear water and the door to the Acuff dressing room still has the placard with a line from the Opry patriarch: “Ain’t nothin’ gonna come up today that me and the Lord can’t handle.”
That quote pretty much sums up the attitude of Buchanan and his staff.
“There are over 70 people in my group who’ve lost their offices,” Buchanan said. “But that has not stopped them from working. Nobody’s worried about job descriptions under these circumstances.”