You were expecting, maybe, a pair of raunchy hillbillies, a pick-up truck with a hog in it, a still hidden in the woods that turns out pot likker and a passel of revenooers beating about the bushes?
Well, that's not what life is like among the fiddlediddlers. For one thing they play in the Grand Ole Opry House, a grand ole pile of bricks that was put up for 15 grand ole million bucks. The country singers stage two shows every Saturday night broadcast across the country, and right now seats are sold out until November.
To match the Opry House the same folks opened a modest little shelter called the Opryland Hotel that looks like Monticello in the 10th power. It was unveiled in November, has 614 guest rooms, six tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool, covers 30 acres and cost $25 million.
The Opyrland Hotel stores a lot of the people who come down here to buzz around in Opryland, an amusement park that has been designed on a musical theme. There are 13 musical shows tooting in the park and everybody is tapping toes on the turf, including the buffalo and the elk.
Nashville may have started with country music, but now it trills the full scale. It may play folk and bluegrass in its Appalachian mountain village, but it celebrates the '50s in a metropolis called "Do Wah Diddy City." Here the hamburger pavilion is Chubby's Drive-In (in honor of that musicologist of the '50s Chubby Checker). The hostesses twirl hoola hoops and the clean-up squad moves about on roller skates strapped to saddle shoes.
Groups perform in the open-air, two-sided Juke Box Theater. The mechanical nail-biter in this corner of playland is called the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.
New Orleans pours coffee in the Cafe Mardi Gras, serves shrimp in the Seafood Wharf and dishes up the delta beat in the Dixieland Show.
In general, the vittles follow the musical theme. Over in the Hill County Area a party can live well on a country sausage with biscuts, or a big bowl of white beans with ham hocks and corn cakes. Ham on buttermilk biscuits goes nicely with bluegrass, too.
The blue-haired ladies clap their hands red and give a standing ovation to a George M. Cohan-style show called "For Me and My Gal" in the Gaslight Theater. But then the country people recognize Broadway with a huge show held in the Opry House during daylight hours when it isn't playing Grand Ole Opry. The show plunges all the way back to Rodgers and Hart's "Garrick Gaieties" and comes all the way up to "A Chorus Line" with stops along the way at "The Desert Song," "Oklahoma," and snatches from "Brigadoon."
All this Opry stuff started in November of 1925, when a country music maker called Uncle Jimmy Thompson hit some jiggly notes on a radio show called the WSM Barn Dance. Uncle Jimmy claimed he was able to "fiddle the bugs off a tater vine." He did more than that. He turned the barn dance into the Opry, which is still on the air today, broadcast over WSM's clear channel heard all over the United States.
Three-quarters of a million listeners make tracks to Nashville every year to see the show in person. It broadcast for years out of the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville until the new Grand Ole Opry was opened in 1974.
The new Opry, the largest broadcasting studio in the world, does its live show before 4,400 onlookers, many of whom alternate between clapping and chomping on Goo-Goo candy bars. The sponsors put up banners advertising anything from biscuit mixes to chewing tobacco.
A double-decker bus piles back and forth from the grounds of the Opry to the Opryland Hotel, where the Old Hickory Restaurant dishes up veal scaloppini forestiere, stuffed pheasant and other vittles not often seen back on the farm.
Late at night the Stagedoor Lounge keeps the beat alive, entertaining customers who sit in seven tiers rising two stories above terra firma. Darlene Shadden brings the house to its feet every night with a spirited rendition of Dixie, which requires the use of clarinets, electric pianos, synthesizers and amplifiers, all of which evoke a sound that would have sent General Sherman running.