Dozens of people died, homes were destroyed, and the honky tonks on Broadway went silent.
The torrential rain that pounded down on Middle Tennessee over the weekend of May 1, 2010 drowned the Grand Ole Opry in 10 feet of water. The Cumberland River spilled over its banks, floodwaters engulfed the stage, the pews were ruined, and the floors were demolished. But come hell or high water, the show must go on.
The stage was submerged under water the Monday after the storm. So, Opry President Steve Buchanan began searching for an alternate venue for Tuesday night’s show.
“The Show That Made Country Music Famous” relocated from its home east of downtown to Nashville’s Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium. The Opry gave out handwritten tickets for the makeshift gig and gathered instruments and gear from anywhere they could.
But this wasn’t the first time the Opry had been forced to retreat due to flooding. The show was also forced out of the Opry and into Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium when the Cumberland River flooded in 1975.
Marty Stuart headlined Tuesday’s show at the alternate venue. The country star said he feared water had destroyed instruments, costumes, audio tapes, boots and “just everything that goes along with the Opry and Opry stars.” But he wasn’t surprised that the show still went on.
“That’s what we do at the Opry,” he said of the show’s resilience.
Despite losing her home in the flooding, longtime Opry member Jeannie Seely still performed her set. Since she lost most of her belongings, the “Don’t Touch Me” singer performed in a pair of borrowed shoes.
“Well, it’s not like I can sit and watch TV on the couch,” she told the crowd, according to NBC News. “You can either laugh about it or you can cry, and I don’t feel like crying.”
The storm also ravaged the home of Grand Ole Opry member Dierks Bentley. For the first time in his career, Bentley canceled a handful of shows to take care of the flooding at his house.
“We’ve all been affected by it,” Bentley told Today of the flooding. “There’s devastation all over the city. But to see the Grand Ole Opry affected, that just really hit home for me, even more than having water in my house.”
The Grand Ole Opry House isn’t just a building. It’s the mecca of country music. Country artists were affected by the devastation at the sacred venue.
“The Opry House is hallowed ground,” Blake Shelton told the Associated Press. “We all need to help to make sure it lasts. I am devastated to hear that it is affected by this disaster.”
The Opry stage was submerged in two feet of water. But country music’s most famous circle survived. The six-foot circle of wood on the Opry stage was cut from the floorboards of the original Opry stage at the Ryman Auditorium. The legends of yesterday and stars of today have all sung on that hallowed circle.
“As a country singer, there is only one place you dream of playing in your lifetime, and that is the Grand Ole Opry House,” singer Blake Shelton said. “Standing on center stage in the 6-foot circle of wood cut from the stage of the Ryman is something I never take for granted. The history and legacy of that circle is awe-inspiring.”
After the Opry’s stint at the War Memorial Auditorium, they finished out the week’s scheduled shows inside the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman is the original home of the Opry, also known as “The Mother Church of Country Music.” The Opry moved between the two venues throughout the following summer.
The Grand Ole Opry House underwent a $20 million renovation, which included rebuilding the entire floor. The Opry House reopened its doors in September 2010.
Country stars put on a homecoming performance at the Opry that was broadcast live on Great American Country, entitled Country Comes Home. The show closed with an all-star guitar jam featuring Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs, and Marty Stuart.
Since then, the Opry house has welcomed hundreds of stars, from Garth Brooks to Carrie Underwood, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill, Loretta Lynn, Chris Young, Trace Adkins, Reba and many more. Fans can walk the Opry stage and explore the historic dressing rooms on the public backstage tours. Now, the flood is all but a memory.
Nashville is taking precautions to ensure another deadly flood won’t sweep through Music City. The Metro Council has tossed around plans for a flood wall. The proposed wall would protect downtown Nashville from rising water levels on the Cumberland River.
But should Nashville find itself engulfed in flood waters again, the city should take notes from the Opry on how to keep the music going in the midst of tragedy.