Summer 2024

Another Angle: The Opry Stage and Honky-Tonks

Genuine joy and passion can shine most brightly through the simplest things and most ordinary actions.

I began thinking about this whenever I was in Nashville at the end of May for the annual K-LOVE Fan Awards with the Sports Spectrum staff, a weekend-long celebration centered on Christian music that incorporates some of the top bands in the industry. The weekend is filled with concerts, activities, and an awards show on Sunday evening at the iconic Grand Ole Opry House.

Though I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music, I enjoy live music no matter the genre. Alternative, folk, country, rap, jazz, soul, rock, punk, Christian, I don’t care what it is—if a song is meaningful, if it takes me somewhere, I’m always willing to walk through the portal, leaving my chaotic world and stepping into peace and freedom.

It’s weird that I have such an obsession with music because I’m not musically talented at all. I can play six or seven chords on the guitar and I can do a decent imitation of Creed, which is cool, I guess. I suppose I’ve accepted that my closest involvement with music will be my love and appreciation for it. I think that’s why I’m obsessed with music. And this is one reason why I love Nashville.

The day before the awards show, I remember walking by the Grand Ole Opry on my way to the Opry Mills mall and thinking about the Opry stage and its rich history—how the best artists in country music have performed there and how its stage is a national symbol of success. The next evening, the most popular bands in Christian music would take the stage at the K-LOVE Fan Awards. And in two weeks, some of the most popular country bands would take the stage in conjunction with Nashville’s CMA Music Festival.

I then began thinking about the darker side of Nashville, the stories that never make it to the Opry. Nashville, it seems, is a mosaic of success stories and broken dreams, fame and failure, radio hits and undiscovered hymns. Bands have their beginnings in Nashville, but also their ends. Behind every Opry performance are a thousand bands in smoky bars with big-stage dreams. Nashville might be a music mecca, but it also seems to be a graveyard. All of this might sound cynical, but that’s just what I was thinking about.

I guess maybe I began thinking about this because I identify more with the band in a smoky bar that is trying to make it. Sometimes I think I need a New York Times bestseller, or a book that leads to a movie, or a viral article that I write to truly have an impact. It’s easy to correlate success with influence and anything less than a big ol’ stage as meaningless.

But my thinking and tendencies were challenged later that evening when a few friends and I decided to soak up some live music at Honky Tonk Central on the corner of 4th and Broadway in downtown Nashville. Honky Tonk Central is a three-story live music joint with a different band on each floor, a music lover’s paradise.

We spent two hours on the third floor listening to a band that played anything from country pop to “Ms. Jackson” by OutKast to “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift. Then we went out and walked around for a half hour or so, only to return to the top floor at Honky Tonk for two more hours. Now, I hardly dance, but that night I couldn’t stop dancing—or whatever you call the shifty, awkward movements of my body. And it had nothing to do with the songs that the band was playing, but rather had to do with the band in the “smoky bar” that was playing the songs.

The band consisted of four guys dressed in black and red dress clothes, reminiscent of a 90s punk band—so basically really cool. They could play any cover you asked them to play, and they performed each song with so much passion you’d think they wrote it themselves, living in the moment as if there was no such thing as the future or the past, as if the Opry stage was wherever they were.

I noticed that the long-haired bassist on the right, dressed in a black button-up, slacks, and red suspenders, could not stop smiling—he had found the stream of joy, and he welcomed others into the deluge. He was not thinking about where he wanted to be one day, the destination he had in mind; he was lost in the present, absorbed in the artistic process. He was not performing at the Grand Ole Opry or at a sold-out outdoor amphitheater, but it did not matter—his purpose was wherever he was.

I continued to think about all of this as the weekend unfolded. The following day at the K-LOVE Fan Awards, we interviewed Indiana University head basketball coach Tom Crean on the red carpet—someone who has both tasted coaching success on the highest level and proclaims his Christian faith on a grand stage, but also allows his genuine joy and passion for his faith to shine through the simplest things and ordinary actions. He believes his purpose is wherever he is.

“You get around an environment like this and you realize that we all have platforms,” Crean told Sports Spectrum. “Some of our platforms are maybe more public than the other, but there’s not one of us who doesn’t have a platform to help people; there’s not one of us who doesn’t have a platform to encourage and inspire and impact people.”

This summer, a picture was taken of Crean squatting next to two people in a parking lot, giving them food and a Bible. Of course, Crean never intended for the picture to be captured and bounced around the Internet. But I’ve heard numerous stories like this about Crean from credible sources—and I see no need to write about these stories because that’s not the point.

The point is that stage is everywhere. Sometimes the stage is glamorous and flashy, but most of the time it’s simple—saying “yes” to the moment and living in it like a song, no matter where that song is played.

“And it doesn’t have anything to do with where you are from or who you are or what your academic background is, any of that,” Crean continues. “We can all help people be better. That’s really what you want to see the world become more like.”

By Stephen Copeland

This column is taken from Sports Spectrum’s Summer 2015 print issue. Log in HERE to view the issue. Not a subscriber? Subscribe HERE to receive eight issues of Sports Spectrum a year.