When you walk through the doors of the historic Ryman Auditorium, one thing becomes clear right away: this isn’t just another nightly music venue, and it’s so much more than a daytime tourist stop. This place is hallowed ground. This is the exact spot where bluegrass was born—where Johnny Cash met June Carter, where souls were saved and a slice of history was nearly lost. It was right here that country music found an audience beyond its own back porch, and countless careers took off as deals were signed on napkins and paper scraps backstage. This is a building where anything is possible: a soul can find redemption, a crumbling building can find salvation, and an unknown kid with a guitar can find his or her name in lights.
Our story starts with an 1885 tent revival led by fiery evangelist Sam Jones and attended by 5,000 people, including steamboat captain and prominent Nashville businessman Thomas G. Ryman. The captain was so unexpectedly moved by the experience that he dedicated his life and fortune to building and constructing the Union Gospel Tabernacle, a place where all people could gather and worship. When Ryman died, its name was changed to honor his legacy.
When fearless show promoter Lula C. Naff leased the building and took the reins in the 1920s, the Ryman became the anchor of Nashville’s cultural offerings. The venue was known as the Carnegie of the South, hosting sought-after traveling acts including John Philip Sousa, Roy Rogers, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Mae West, and even former President Theodore Roosevelt.
When the the Grand Ole Opry put down roots here in 1943, the world would never be the same as the live radio and TV show brought the likes of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, and Roy Acuff to the stage and into living rooms around the country for thirty one years.
After the Opry changed venues in the early 1970s, the Ryman sat empty, neglected, and facing demolition. It took the hands and hearts of Nashville to fight for it, shine it up, and eventually spearhead a complete renovation in the 1990s. The effort saved one of the world’s most significant music heritage sites and breathed new life into a one-of-a-kind performance venue that continues to make history, one night at a time.
Think the Ryman is just for country music hotshots and fanny-packed tourists? Think again. This venue draws artists from all corners of the globe and all entertainment genres, eager to experience the privilege of facing the pews. The outstanding acoustics, intimate atmosphere and the ghosts of legends past have beckoned to artists from Elvis to Emmylou Harris, from Paul Simon to the Pixies, and from Kings of Leon to B.B. King. It’s one of the reasons a Ryman show is unlike any other—the artists, authors and comedians on the bill are truly humbled to take the stage.
The Ryman is known around the globe as one of the best performance halls in the world. Named Theatre of the Year in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 by the venerable trade publication Pollstar Magazine, the historic venue is currently ranked twenty-fifth in the world and nineteenth domestically based on year-to-date tickets sales in the Pollstar Theatre category. Other awards include Venue of the Year nods from both the Academy of Country Music and the International Entertainment Buyers Association, and recently named SRO Venue of the Year presented by Country Music Association.
Why does the Ryman sound so good? It was born this way. Built to project the booming voices of evangelists and enhanced by cutting-edge technology, this room of century-old, wrap-around church pews and the signature curves of the room create a warm, clear sound environment like no other room on the planet.
The Ryman was originally built for people to experience something transformative together, and it continues to provide that with backstage tours by day and incredible performances by night. The Ryman is a testament to all the ways a stage can connect people to one another, and when you visit us, you become a part of that story. This place still welcomes all of us to take a seat in the pews, just as the steamboat captain intended. We preserve its legacy by sharing it with the world, so that the next generation can tell good stories about the things we did together when it was ours.