Grande Ole Opry Returns

The Grand Ole Opry has ended its itinerant ways and returned home.

A host of country music’s enduring legends joined some of today’s biggest names on stage Tuesday night to kick off the “Country Comes Home” celebration. They began with a stirring rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” as the curtain rose at the Opry house for the first time since the May flood damaged the building.

Photo: AP Photo
Wendell Knowles mops the stage in the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn.

The nation’s longest running live radio program never missed a beat, moving around town to venues such as the Ryman Auditorium and War Memorial Auditorium, as laborers worked feverishly for 5 1/2 months to repair the Opry house, the show’s home since 1974.

“I think the flood goes completely unnoticed if this building’s not underwater,” Brad Paisley said in a news conference before the show. “I think everybody in the country goes, ‘Yeah, there’s another flood,’ if this doesn’t happen. … It’s completely metaphorical in it’s destruction as it is in it’s rebirth.”

The Opry’s stage sat under nearly 4 feet of water at the flood’s height in early May. A monthslong restoration project cleaned the building and replaced the stage, dressing rooms and audience seating.

The famed circle of wood on stage from the Opry’s old home at the Ryman Auditorium was restored and returned last month.

That’s where Paisley and Little Jimmy Dickens kicked things off Tuesday. They were joined on stage by dozens of longtime Opry members, including the ailing Charlie Louvin, who has pancreatic cancer, and Jeannie Seely, who lost her home in the flood.

Photo: AP Photo
Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Steve Wariner and Marty Stuart, from left, perform together during a performance of the Grand Ole Opry.

Whispering Bill Anderson was up next.

“It’s only fitting,” Anderson told the near-capacity crowd. “Back in May, I sang the last song the night before the floods hit.”

The final two hours of the celebration were broadcast on GAC and featured performances by Paisley, Keith Urban, Martina McBride, Trace Adkins and the Opry’s newest member, Blake Shelton.

Shelton, who’s had a stellar year that’s included his engagement to fellow country star Miranda Lambert and two No. 1 hits, was invited to join the Opry in a surprise moment toward the show’s end. After singing “Hillbilly Bone” together, Adkins handed him a cell phone with a text message that read: “You’re invited to join the Grand Old Opry!”

Shelton grabbed his chest and staggered backwards in surprise.

“I don’t know what I did in the last year to turn Nashville’s head a little bit, but I love it,” Shelton said.

The celebration backstage was as big as the one at the front of the house. Stars mingled with industry professionals and fans in remodeled dressing rooms that showed off the Opry’s eclectic history.

Dierks Bentley, the Del McCoury Band and Jon Randall Stewart held an impromptu jam session in the “Bluegrass” dressing room. Adkins laughed his thunderous big man’s laugh with a friend outside the “Mr. Roy” dressing room dedicated to Roy Acuff. Sixteen other refurbished rooms carried themes like “Women of Country,” “Now That’s Funny,” “Into The Circle” and “Cousin Minnie,” dedicated to Opry icon Minnie Pearl.

New pictures dotted the walls and displays holding Porter Wagoner’s stage costume and boots, Acuff’s fiddle from his first Opry performance and Webb Pierce’s custom acoustic guitar dotted the hallways.

Photo: AP Photo
Members of the Grand Ole Opry perform "Will the Circle be Unbroken?" in the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn.

Dickens, the oldest living Opry member, has his own dressing room, decorated with bright green chairs and shag throw rug. The 89-year-old said he brought his wife to the Opry to see the repairs on Monday and she was moved to tears by the beauty.

“That made my heart swell,” Dickens said with tears in his eyes.