How Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris Helped Save the Ryman Auditorium After the Opry Changed Locations

by Keeli Parkey

Marty Stuart and Emmy Lou Harris were key figures in the movement to save the Ryman Auditorium after the Grand Ole Opry moved out.

According to the venue’s website, the Opry’s final broadcast from the auditorium took place on March 15, 1974. The Opry then began broadcasting from The Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. That left the Ryman Auditorium standing in need of some love.

In a recent interview with the Musicians Hall of Fame Backstage, Stuart talks about how the venue changed after the Opry changed locations.

“… it kind of became this empty thing that people would pay, you know, two bucks to go in and sit and have their picture made,” he said during the interview.

Stuart also said that the Ryman Auditorium was going to be torn down. However, he wasn’t ready to let the home of so many great country music moments go. So, he began having conversations about how the beloved music hall could be saved.

Emmylou Harris agreed with him. And, pretty soon others were joining the crusade to save the Ryman. Another key player was Bud Wendell.

“(Saving the Ryman Auditorium) might not have happened if Bud Wendell hadn’t been the guy,” Stuart also said during the interview. “Because he understood hillbillies and he understood who we were, what we were as a collective group of people. But, he also understood corporate life. And, he was the magic guy to get it done.”

And, they got it done. The Ryman was saved and renovated. It continues to be a great place to go to see some great live music.

Marty Stuart Calls Ryman Auditorium ‘Mother Church of Country Music’

Also during the interview, Marty Stuart describes the Ryman Auditorium as “the mother church of country music.” To say the least, the building was, and is, very close to the singer’s heart.

“… I knew before I ever set foot in Nashville is that was where Bill Monroe had put Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and Chubby Wise and Howard Watts next time him and they had formed what we now know as bluegrass music. Defined it, you know.” Stuart added. “I knew that’s where Johnny Cash drug his microphone stand across the footlights and got sent home politely.”

Stuart also said he vividly remembers listening to one particular broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry from the Ryman Auditorium. It was the broadcast that took place following the death of Patsy Cline. She, along with Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and pilot Randy Hughes died in a plane crash on March 5, 1963.

This airing of the Grand Ole Opry took place on March 9, 1963, according to a photo displayed during the interview. Stuart said he listened to it at his grandmother’s home in Mississippi.

“They started the Opry broadcast that night with a moment of silence and I could hear people crying from 380 miles away and feel the weight of their tears,” Stuart recalled. “So, (the Ryman Auditorium) was huge to me in my mind and itn my heart. It was just Yankee Stadium, it was the Colosseum. …”

No wonder Marty Stuart, and so many others, fought to save the historic building.

These days, according to the Ryman Auditorium website, the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts from there during November, December, and January.

You can watch Marty Stuart talk about the Ryman Auditorium below.