The Ryman Auditorium Nashville

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The Ryman Auditorium Nashville

The Ryman Nashville TN

If the hallowed walls of Ryman Auditorium could talk, the remarkable story they would tell is unmatched in entertainment history. Its construction is a tale of divine inspiration. In the 1880s, when prominent businessman and steamboat captain Thomas G. Ryman found salvation in the words of fiery evangelist Reverend Sam Jones, he vowed to build a great tabernacle that would project Rev. Jones’s voice clearly and powerfully for all to hear.

Designed by architect Hugh Cathcart Thompson in the Late Victorian Gothic Revival style popular at the time, Tom Ryman’s vision became a reality with the completion of the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. After his death in 1904, the Union Gospel Tabernacle would henceforth be known as the Ryman Auditorium in honor of the man who built the Nashville landmark.

As the largest structure in the area, the Ryman Auditorium soon became a popular place for community events, political rallies and popular turn-of the-century entertainment including operas, symphonies, bands, ballets and theatrical productions. In 1901, the Metropolitan Opera, for whom a stage was installed, put on special performances of Carmen and The Barber of Seville. Greats such as Ignacy Paderewski and Marian Anderson each performed five times at the Ryman during their long careers. John Philip Sousa, Enrico Caruso, Ethel Barrymore, Roy Rogers, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Mae West and even president Theodore Roosevelt all graced the Ryman stage. It was during these early years the Ryman became known as the “Carnegie Hall of the South.”

While the Ryman was gaining recognition as an entertainment site, George D. Hay was creating a radio show that would become an international phenomenon – the Grand Ole Opry®. In 1943, with crowds too big and too rowdy for other Nashville venues, the Opry found a home at the Ryman. For the next thirty-one years, the Ryman served as the premier stage for the Opry’s live radio shows, which included such legends as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline and Roy Acuff.

As the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman became inseparably linked to the origins and rise of the modern-day genre of country music. Dubbed The Mother Church of Country Music by Nashvillians, it’s well known by this moniker today. The Ryman’s famous stage is also known as the birthplace of Bluegrass. On December 8th, 1945, the definitive sound of Bluegrass was born when a twenty-one year old Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe on stage for the first time. The State of Tennessee has officially recognized the Ryman as the Birthplace of Bluegrass.

When the Opry moved to its new location in 1974, the Ryman continued to attract fans from around the world merely to step on the stage that had attracted so many greats. In 1994, an $8.5 million renovation project brought this National Historic Landmark back to its original splendor. Each of the original wooden pews was refinished. The stenciled artwork on the face of the balcony was painstakingly recreated. For the first time, proper dressing rooms were added which would ultimately be dedicated to the stars of the Ryman’s rich musical past. The latest technology in sound, lighting and engineering was included throughout every phase of the project. Central heat and air conditioning were added for the first time as well as a 14,000 square foot support building for ticketing, offices, concessions and a gift shop. The result was a state-of-the-art performance hall praised by performers for its beauty and, most importantly, for its acoustics.

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Steve Popovich, Cleveland Music

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Steve Popovich, Cleveland Music

Posted By Vince Grzegorek vgrzegorek@clevescene.com> on Thu, Jun 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm

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Former Cleveland music executive Steve Popovich, who died Wednesday in Nashville at age 68, wasn’t like most people in the music business. Even while working with major labels, he retained a passion for music that was genuine and sincere, no matter how offbeat, obscure, or unpopular. He demonstrated what sheer belief and tenacity in the face of an army of naysayers could accomplish when he moved back to Cleveland from New York in the mid ’70s to form Cleveland International Records to promote a record that had been passed over by every major label: Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, released in 1977.

Popovich was born in the southwestern Pennsylvania coal-mining town of Nemacolin and moved to Cleveland in the late ’50s. He played with one of Cleveland’s pioneering rock bands, the Twilighters, part of a small group of popular local R&B-based bands who launched the area rock scene in the pre-Beatles era. He also landed a job with the local branch of Columbia Records, where his enthusiasm and ear for music were quickly noticed. He was soon on his way to New York where he became a vice president at the label and promoted artists like the Jacksons, Cheap Trick, Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, and Bob Dylan.

In 1976, unable to convince Columbia (or any other label) to take a chance on Meat Loaf, he left the label and set up shop in his home in Willoughby. There he and his small team worked tirelessly on the album until it became a multi-platinum smash, eventually selling some 40 million records. Popovich ran Cleveland International until 1982, releasing records by Pittsburgh’s Iron City Houserockers, Bat Out of Hell vocalist Ellen Foley, Meat Loaf songwriter Jim Steinman, Ian Hunter, and Ronnie Spector, among others.

His musical taste was quirky, but there was method to his madness. He often backed older artists who seemed passé to most people — Tom Jones, the Irish Rovers, Slim Whitman, BJ Thomas. He felt that music did not lose its value once it passed its popularity peak and shouldn’t be summarily discarded in favor of something new and shiny.

He continued to act on that belief when he took over the helm of Mercury Nashville in 1986. At a time when Nashville was shoving older artists out the door in favor of a wave of newcomers, he signed Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Donna Fargo, and the Everly Brothers, and put together a tribute to Sun Records artists of the ’50s, featuring Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison.

Popovich’s first act at Mercury Nashville reflected that philosophy. It was also indicative of another of his lifelong crusades: promoting the Eastern European immigrant culture that was a hallmark of both Nemacolin and Cleveland and that he saw as core to his identity. He reissued a group of albums by Cleveland polka king Frankie Yankovic and used his position to help bring new attention to Yankovic’s music. The same year, Yankovic won the first-ever polka Grammy, giving Popovich another tool to advocate for renewed interest in Yankovic’s music, something he continued to do for the rest of his life.

In the mid 1990s, Popovich moved back to Cleveland where he revived Cleveland International as a label for oddball artists without much commercial potential that he personally believed in, among them country rebels David Allan Coe and late Clevelander Roger Martin, British musical hall act Chas & Dave, and Danish pop group Michael Learns to Rock. In addition to promoting Yankovic (who died in 1998), he released music by Chicago polka artist Eddie Blazonczyk and polka compilations. His unflagging dedication to the music resulted in his induction into the Cleveland-style Polka Hall of Fame in 1997.

A couple of years ago, Popovich moved to Nashville to be closer to his son Steve Jr. and his grandchildren. But he returned to Cleveland often, where he would be found hanging out at the Beachland. His loyalty to Cleveland and to his own immigrant roots was unflagging. He talked about writing an autobiography focusing on the contributions of immigrants to this country and at one point tried to persuade Steve “Little Steven” Van Zandt to write a rock opera about Eastern European immigration to America. He could drive people crazy jumping from one off-the-wall idea to the next, losing and regaining interest at the drop of a hat. But his ideas were heartfelt and never the sort of opportunistic schemes the music industry is known for.

He had also devoted much of the last decade to his crusade against music industry accounting practices, fighting a series of lawsuits against CBS Records, which distributed Bat Out of Hell. Eventually he won millions of dollars from them. But he never stopped being outspoken about what he saw as the unfairness of record companies, especially to artists, often pointing to the lack of payments he believed were due to Yankovic’s widow Ida.

Popovich also drove friends and family crazy with his erratic commitment to his health. He engaged in a lifelong battle with his weight and was known for his frequent stints at a weight-loss clinic at Duke University. Having outlived his family life expectancy by decades (his father died in his 40s), Popovich had recently been a proponent of the vegan heart-health diet promoted by the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Alas, it did not allow for the meaty eastern European cooking Popovich loved almost as much as he loved polka music.

In addition to Steve Jr. and his family, Popovich is survived by his daughter Pam. — Anastasia Pantsios

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Song Suffragettes Nashville TN

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Nashville’s Song Suffragettes: No Boys Allowed

By Casey Reed

At Song Suffragettes, there are no boys allowed.

They’re allowed in the audience, just not on stage. The weekly songwriter showcase at The Listening Room Cafe in SoBro is focused exclusively on female songwriters who want to elbow their way into mainstream country radio.

“Elbowing is a great way to put it. Maybe a little kick here or there,” says songwriter Kalie Shorr. Song Suffragettes is not like other Nashville writers nights. In the words of the show’s all-encompassing hashtag, it’s a time to #LetTheGirlsPlay.

All of us moved to town to be the next big thing and all of us walked into record labels and had them say ‘Hey, I think you’re a superstar, but you’re a girl and I don’t know what to do with you,’” says Shorr.

“Later, Lena Stone and I wrote this song called ‘Fight Like A Girl’ about not being on country radio. Ironically, it went on to be my first song to get played on country radio.”

“There wasn’t a place like this,” explains Shorr. “Lena [Stone] and I were part of the first group to ever play and saw that immediately people started coming to the shows because they were looking for female country music. People were searching for it, so we gave it to them.”

Over the course of its run, the innovative show has received over 700 submissions from hopeful songwriters — and more than 100 of those women have brought their voices to The Listening Room Cafe’s stage. The show’s producer, Helena Capps, is particularly optimistic.

“We’ve seen the community that’s grown around these girls,” she says. “They’ve bonded around the fact that nobody’s getting supported. If someone makes it, hopefully everybody will make it.”

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According to songwriter Lena Stone, women have always been the trailblazers in country music.

Kitty Wells had that response song ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.’ Or Loretta Lynn with ‘The Pill.’ Historically, it’s been women who pushed the boundaries,” says Stone.

Todd Cassetty, the founder of Song Suffragettes and owner of local media production company Todd Cassetty’s Welding Service, is no stranger to Nashville’s country music and its women, both performers and songwriters. He started Song Suffragettes in 2014 with the sole purpose of supporting women in country music.

“I’ve always gravitated toward female singers,” says Cassetty. “I worked with Taylor Swift for like seven years. We decided that if we could create a home to nurture these young women then hopefully, at some point, one of them will break out and get even more attention. Then it’s an all ships will rise situation.”

Cassetty’s show and its attitudes were brought to the forefront of country music in the wake of last summer’s Tomato Gate scandal. Radio consultant Keith Hill infamously claimed that women are the tomatoes and garnish of the country radio salad, while men make up the lettuce. This was intended to explain the changing tides of radio and why songs by women were played less, but instead drew backlash from women in country music and their supporters.

Song Suffragetts Nashville TN

Cassetty believes that, “the more [women] play, the more they write together, the better they get. The first show we played, there were probably 20 people there. Now it’s the biggest weekly show that The Listening Room [Cafe] has.”

“We all grew up in the time of Faith Hill and Shania Twain and The Dixie Chicks,” says Shorr. “We believed that being a woman wasn’t a good enough reason to not be on country radio. That’s why we’re here.”

Thanks to Cassetty, Capps and the Welding Service crew, fans can catch a live-stream of Song Suffragettes on Periscope, check out each week’s #LetTheGirlsPlay cover song at Taste of Country’s YouTube channel or show up at The Listening Room Cafe each Monday night at 6:30 p.m. for a sampling of the best that the women of Nashville’s country music scene have to offer.

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