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June 22, 2004 > On The Road Again! - To the City of the Grand Ole Opry

On The Road Again! - To the City of the Grand Ole Opry

by Praveena Raman

A few weeks back I was at a conference for Information Specialists, organized by the Special Libraries Association (SLA), in Nashville, Tennessee. For those of you wondering what a Special Library is and who is an Information Specialist - a Special Library is a library with a specialized focus and an Information Specialist is a Librarian, often with expertise in a particular subject area. At the conference, one of the vendors had a mug with words that gives a glimpse into the world of an Information Specialist - Technology Guru, Knowledge Manager, Budget Analyst, Sleuth, Marketeer, Instructor, Information Specialist a.k.a Librarian. During my stay in Nashville, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying the sights and experiences of the Mecca of Country Music.

From the moment we arrived in Nashville, my colleague Josephine and I were treated to Southern courtesy and hospitality. At the same time, we also experienced the keen sense of humor of Tennesseeans. During the shuttle ride to the Gaylord Opryland, the site of the conference, the informative driver was tickled pink to know that most of us on the bus were first time visitors to Opryland and that we were actually staying there. A few hours after arriving at Gaylord we began to understand the driver's amusement. The resort has nine acres of lush indoor gardens set in huge climate controlled glass atriums, which shielded us from the heat and humidity during the following few days. Set in these gardens was a delta river, two waterfalls and a variety of shops and restaurants. A huge conference center bordered one end of the atrium while guest rooms bordered the other sides. The resort was opulent and huge and it took us a few days before we could go from our room to the conference rooms without getting lost.

Josephine and I spent days immersed in topics ranging from competitive intelligence, to pharmaceutical regulations, patent information, electronic resources, immunology and open access publishing while enjoying the evenings with the sights and sounds of Nashville, the Music City. On the first evening we went on a tour of Nashville and saw the capitol, set on top of a hill. The structure and setting reminded me of Arlington Memorial in Virginia. Below the capitol was the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park containing numerous artifacts relating to the history of Tennessee.

At the entrance of the park, a railway trestle represents the importance the railroad played in the history of Tennessee Also at the entrance was a 200-foot Granite state map highlighting the major roads, 95 counties, rivers, interesting geographic formations and details of each county. Beyond the railway trestle was an area containing thirty-one vertical water fountains, one for each of the predominant waterways in Tennessee. The Riverwalk had a bowed and arched granite wall with inscriptions about Tennessee's waterways and at each end there were clusters of 18 Tennessee flags. The park also had a Walkway of the Counties with the Tennessee Time Capsule and a Path of Volunteers. The Path of Volunteers ended at the Court of the Three Stars and the ninety-five bell carillons, the largest in the world. The Court of Three Stars was made of red, white and blue granite representing the three grand divisions of the state. The carillon represents Tennessee's musical heritage. A ninety-sixth bell is located in the grounds of the capitol and it rings in answer to the ninety-five bells representing the government answering to the people.

The park also houses a World War II Memorial, featuring an 18,000 lb. granite globe "floating" on 1/8 inch of water. The countries on the globe are as they were during the war. There is a small map of Tennessee with lines showing the mileage to different theatres of war. The Memorial also includes large granite markers giving a brief history of events such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Battle of the Bulge. On the west side of the park is the Pathway of History, which consists of a granite wall marked by historic milestones. A granite pylon marked each ten-year period along the wall. The wall had a break during the years of the civil war representing the divisive nature of the war on the state. An amphitheatre is located in the center of the park.

The tour continued with a visit to the homes of Country Music stars and legends including Tex Ritter, Reba McIntyre, Martina McBride, and the owner of Krispy Kreme donuts (I don't think he has taken to singing in public as yet). After that, we were dropped off in front of the Ryman Auditorium (the original home of the Grand Ole Opry) for an hour and a half to walk around the downtown area. Our group visited a local pub for dinner where I had my first taste of vanilla ale.

On the third and fourth evening we were invited to private parties hosted by vendors at locations that exposed us even more to the Nashville culture. One of the parties was held at the Country Music Hall of Fame which had an inspirational motto "Honor Thy Music." After initially enjoying the food and music we toured around the museum. The exhibits in the museum were arranged chronologically in two floors. Some attractions were the Elvis Presley car made of 24 karat gold and the Webb Pierce car with brake and accelerator pedals in the shape of a horseshoe.

A wall with enclosures shaped like records (the computer archive arcade) played songs of famous Country Music singers when opened. Other exhibits included an instrument demonstration gallery, star experience with Tim McGraw and the Hall of Fame. On the fourth evening we went party hopping starting with a party at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. There, a display of a variety of colorful three dimensional paper pop-up works by Nashville artist Red Grooms and contemporary works made from jigsaw puzzles by Tennessee artist Al Souza were of great interest. There was also a display of the touring Tate collection of the Pre-Raphaelite Dream. After taking in our fill of the visual senses and food and drink, we dropped in on another party at the resort. We were treated to a performance by the Four Tops singing their hit, "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch."

The fifth evening was the highlight of my visit to Nashville - watching a performance at the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry, founded 75 years ago, is the longest running live radio program in the country. It is to Country Music what Broadway is to musicals and Hollywood is to films. Initially the Grand Ole Opry started out in smaller houses but with audiences at an average of 3,000, it moved to the Ryman auditorium. The Ryman, with perfect acoustics, was the Opry's most famous home. In 1973 it moved again, this time to its present home, the Grand Ole Opry House. We attended a Tuesday performance that was fully packed. It was exciting to see a live radio show with the station breaks and advertisements being announced on stage. It was being broadcasted by radio, television and the Internet as we saw the show. The line-up included Diamond Rio, John Conlee, Daryle Singletary, Rhonda Vincent, Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson, Sherrie Austin and Lorrie Morgan. When Jimmy Dickens and then Bill Anderson walked on stage it was an exhilarating experience. We had heard and read about Little Jimmy Dickens and Bill Anderson in the Country Music Hall of Fame just two days previously and then to see them walk on stage was great.

Little Jimmy Dickens was very humorous and started by announcing that he would sing his latest release. After a brief pause, he continued, "released in 1963". After seeing and hearing these country giants we then were treated to a more recent Country star - Lorrie Morgan. Lorrie was celebrating 20 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry on June 8th, the day of the performance. She was greeted with roses on stage by Bill Anderson and then she, in turn, acknowledged and presented her mother, husband, kids, band members and some relatives with a rose each. After the ceremony, she sang a few songs beautifully.

On the final day at Nashville, we visited the Opry Mills Mall, filled with outlet stores. However, instead of shopping, we saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on Imax. That was indeed an experience. We enjoyed the movie thoroughly but I came to the conclusion that It was more enjoyable to see movies like "The Everest" made specifically for the Imax screen on the large screen. We returned home to the Bay area filled with knowledge and memories. As Josephine says, "There was so much country music piping out of the sound systems in Nashville that I came back to San Francisco with a twang." Country music was playing even in the restrooms. Nashville aptly named The Music City is worth visiting, especially for music lovers.

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