They said it in the same sentence: Opryland and Prince George's County. And something about Minnie Pearl and Washington and country music, and that didn't sound right: like country-fried veal. Who might have thunk it?
So we called up Gaylord Entertainment, which operates the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Hotel Convention Center in Nashville and plans to build a $560 million Opryland hotel and conference center on the banks of the Potomac in Prince George's.
The question went something like this: How did you decide to, umm, bring, ummm, country music to, ummm, Prince George's? We mean, what focus groups, ummm, this is one of the most affluent majority-black counties in the country and, ummm, what, we know a lot of people are closet country music fans, but, ummm, why country music in Prince George's--even Washington--and, ummm, are blue suits and khaki pants and sensible black pumps, ummm, country music?
"You are making a wrong assumption," said Tom Adkinson, a spokesman for Gaylord, quickly understanding the question and quickly giving it a kick in the pants.
"We have not concluded that, and did not say so yesterday," he said, speaking of the news conference at which the project was announced. "We want all of our hotels to be representative of the areas in which they are located. While the theme Opryland has connections to country music and the Grand Ole Opry, in the hotel world, it is not synonymous with country music."
The nitty-gritty truth is that the conference center, which will anchor the National Harbor resort, will have a little bit of country, a little bit of rock, a little bit of R&B, a little bit of pop. And some gospel and Christian music. Gaylord Entertainment owns World Entertainment, one of the country's largest contemporary Christian music companies. It also has a music publishing business, which includes the songs of writers such as Don Gibson, Hank Williams and Roy Orbison.
The Opryland project will be one of the biggest convention sites in the North, umm, the Washington area, which thinks of itself as Northern but is often accused of being Southern. Whatever.
Okay. But if many people think country music when they hear Opryland, why name the hotel that in Prince George's?
Jerry Wayne, senior vice president of marketing for Opryland hotels, kicked that question in the pants. He said that before the company expanded to Florida and Texas, it did extensive marketing research to see whether "the name Opryland would be associated strictly with country music."
The answer came back: "Over 70 percent in each category said Opryland should be part of the hotels because they associate the name Opryland with quality hotels, a place of subtle luxury, comfort and high-quality service."
So we called some regular folks of our own. And we asked the question pretty much the same way: What do you think when you hear the name "Opryland"?
"I think of the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville and who is that woman who used to wear the hats with the tags on still? You know who that is," said Mark Coggiano, 42, a biologist who lives in University Park, referring to the late Minnie Pearl. "I mean, in a way sometimes when I see OPR together, I think of Oprah."
Aha. We are getting somewhere. The survey continues.
Jay Endelman, 41, a building contractor who lives in Hyattsville, answered the survey this way: "I think of Disneyland. I think it's . . . my fear is it's a tacky theme park or Dolly-land. I've never been to the Grand Ole Opry, but I've been around some of the area and we seem to turn all those types of attractions into tacky theme parks. . . . I guess I would reserve judgment to see a site plan."
It's conclusive then: Two out of two Prince Georgians did not immediately think "quality hotel."
"Everything we do has entertainment at its core," said Gaylord President and CEO Terry E. London. "Our hotels are not just hotels. They are entertainment experiences. We create 'wow' in all that we do."
If Gaylord can convince us here in the land of hip-hop and go-go that Opry doesn't mean country, they're definitely creating a "wow."
Prince George's Council member Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington) said it this way: "I have mixed feelings. It's a lot of money to invest in an area, and I'm happy about that. I have apprehension about what this will bring. I don't know whether it's going to be all country music or whether it will be a broad spectrum of different cultural music and entertainment. . . . This county has more of a Northern flavor."
Council member Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills) said she understands clearly that the hotel will not focus just on country music. "It's very different from what people are imagining. I'm excited about it."
Besides: "There are many of us who really are open and closet lovers of country music.
"And I openly like country music."
CAPTION: Don't expect the Prince George's site to resemble the scenic delta area at Nashville's Opryland Hotel.