NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- A Southern Baptist congregation will take its place as the "mother church of country music" -- at least for a while -- as temporary host of the historic Grand Ole Opry on the evenings of May 14-15.
The weekly country music stage concert broadcast by WSM radio since 1925 -- making it the longest running radio program in history -- has moved to temporary venues since flooding that swept through Tennessee the weekend of May 1-2 left the iconic stage of the Grand Ole Opry House under two feet of water.
The Opry performed May 4 at Nashville's War Memorial Auditorium, a downtown venue adjacent to the State Capitol, one of the Opry's past homes between 1939 and 1943.
Friday and Saturday shows May 7-8 were moved to the historic Ryman Auditorium, the Opry's most famous former home dubbed the official Mother Church of Country Music. The Ryman was home to the Opry from 1943 until 1974, when it moved to a new 4,400-seat Grand Ole Opry House that was part of the Opryland theme park.
The theme park closed in 1997 and was replaced by the Opry Mills mall. Opry Mills is also closed due to flooding, as is its next-door neighbor, the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort hotel and convention center, which brings in about one forth of Nashville's convention business.
Located across Briley Parkway on higher ground sits Two Rivers Baptist Church, a 6,500-member congregation aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention. Ed Stetzer, the church's interim pastor, announced what he called "an incredible opportunity to help our community and our city get back up on its feet" by hosting the Opry in letter to church members also posted on his blog.
"Basically, they had no available alternative venue that could handle the crowd," Stetzer said May 7. "And, we want to help get this community back on its feet -- so now our church is hosting a bunch of things we never considered a week ago.
The only announced artist so far for the May 14 performance at Two Rivers is the Charlie Daniels Band. Daniels, from nearby Mt. Juliet, Tenn., is an active Christian who attends World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., when at home.
Stetzer said Opry officials assured him the content of programs will be appropriate for a church setting.
The May 5 Opry program, the first since being displaced from its permanent home, opened with Marty Stuart doing an acoustic performance of "Let the Church Roll On," a song popularized by past Opry duo Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Guests included Tennessee U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. The performance concluded with the entire cast performing the Opry standard "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."