On June 1st, 1994, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, the revered Mother Church of Country Music, hosted an invitation-only event to celebrate its reopening as a music venue after two decades of falling into disrepair. Twenty years earlier, in 1974, it just barely sidestepped the wrecking ball and was supplanted by the all-new Opry House as the home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Today, the Ryman is once again in the midst of a major renovation, but on that June night 21 years ago, the hallowed hall was refurbished and sparkling, and the time was right for a celebration. Marty Stuart, one of the musicians who would bridge the gap between country music’s old guard and the “new traditionalists,” opened the evening (which doubled as a CBS special with guests including Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris and Reba McEntire) with a poem he penned especially for the occasion. Stuart’s verse spoke of the Ryman as “a diamond that has been covered up in dust” and of the “new melodies [that] drift up out of my windows [and] bloom like magnolias in the night.” It was effusive praise, but acknowledged the influence of the brick and mortar structure, the mecca of country music.
Stuart went on to host his annual Late Night Jam every June at the building, an all-star midnight ramble that kicks off CMA Music Festival week. During the 2011 installment, Stuart welcomed Dolly Parton to the Ryman stage. An infrequent performer at the Mother Church, Parton joined the host in sharing stories and performing a pair of songs she had previously recorded: “The Pain of Loving You,” which she sang on the landmark Trio album with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, and “Put It Off Until Tomorrow,” one of her early duets with former singing partner Porter Wagoner. It was a loose performance, one that displayed the easygoing nature of Parton, who made the pilgrimage to Nashville from her home in the Smoky Mountains in June of 1964.
Stuart’s Late Night Jam will once again return to the Ryman this year. The June 10th concert features performances by Eric Church, Charley Pride, Jimmy Webb, Connie Smith, EmiSunshine and Brothers Osborne.