Last month, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium picked up its sixth Academy of Country Music Award win for Venue of the Year—Small Capacity, as country music’s Mother Church hosted the 13th annual ACM Honors.
The moment completed the Ryman’s coveted “Triple Crown” of award triumphs, following its fifth consecutive win as the Country Music Association’s Venue of the Year, and Pollstar’s Theatre of the Year honor, which the Ryman has won for the past nine consecutive years.
“These are peer-voted awards, so that’s really important, that we are doing something right to be seen and acknowledged by our industry peers,” notes Chrissy Hall, Director of Concerts for the Ryman Auditorium.
In 2019 alone, the Ryman has been home to 283 events, including 203 concerts—a mix of country, bluegrass, rock, contemporary Christian, and more.
Throughout its 127-year history, the Ryman Auditorium has been heavily—and appropriately—associated with country music, given its former place as home to the Grand Ole Opry for just over 30 years, from 1943-1974. The hallowed stage also helped give birth to the bluegrass genre when Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys—Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts—performed on the stage. Elvis Presley and rock group The Byrds each made appearances at the Ryman as part of the Opry.
However, since the May Music Festival, featuring the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, led the first concert in the venerable space in 1892, the Ryman Auditorium has hosted a variety of artists, including modern day stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran, Harry Styles, and Counting Crows, but also performers, dancers and lecturers including Booker T. Washington, Metropolitan Opera star Emma Eames, Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Marian Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, and Neil Diamond.
“Our motto has always been, even in the Lula C. Naff days, has always been ‘All are welcome.’ We try to continue that and push it forward to broaden the programming,” Hall says.
The Ryman Auditorium continues to strive for that objective. In June, rap group Wu-Tang Clan played a sold-out show at the venue, marking the first time a hip-hop group has headlined a show at the Ryman.
“Wu-Tang was an epic get. We were so excited, and they loved this place just as much as we do,” Hall says.
At 2,362 seats, the Ryman is a mid-sized room with a towering history—a unique selling point often used to book artists who would normally play some of Nashville’s larger venues.
“It’s a unique fan experience, especially when it’s what we call an underplay, when fans can see someone they would normally play a much bigger place, to see it here at this historical venue,” Hall says.
Hall and the rest of the Ryman team are just as determined that fans have a exemplary experience at the venue. In 2014, the Ryman’s parent company, Ryman Hospitality Properties, invested $14 million to expand and renovate the venue, including adding Café Lula, as well as a new gift shop and a theater experience titled “Soul of Nashville.” In 2017, lifesize bronze statues of Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Monroe were installed outside the Ryman, greeting all who visit. The following year, the Ryman Premium Pass was launched, including upgraded ticket and experience options for patrons.
Earlier this year, plans were announced for an outdoor stage to be added to the northeast corner of the property as well as for an Icon Walk on the plaza, with the addition of more bronze statues.
In recent years, the Ryman has hosted select artist residencies, starting with Little Big Town’s inaugural six-night residency in 2017. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit launched a six-show residency at the venue later that year, and will return to the Ryman for a seven-night run next month. Americana favorites Tyler Childers and Brandi Carlile both have residencies set for next year. The Jack White-led band The Raconteurs recently live-streamed their three-night run of shows at the Ryman.
Hall credits the Ryman’s operations, in addition to its enviable history, with bringing performers back again and again.
“It’s the excellence of the tech team, the FOH team, the marketing team, the box office team, it makes my job easier,” Hall says. “It’s a really small industry, and the artists and their teams really do talk to each other. If you have a reputation for being a difficult place to play, that does get around. So the ease of an experience here makes it easier for artists to want to come back. And for any other artists that team works with, they think, ‘Oh, this will be a great place to play.’”
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