Country music has exploded across the U.S. and undergone a sweeping revolution, transforming the once ridiculed world of Nashville into an unlikely focal point of American pop culture. Bruce Feiler was granted unprecedented access to the private moments of the revolution. Here is the acclaimed report: a chronicle of the genre's biggest stars as they change the face of American music.
From the historic stage of the Grand Ole Opry to the dim light of a recording studio, here is a ruggedly authentic behind the scenes tour that takes you places outsiders have never been allowed to go. Part social history, part backstage pass, this penetrating and graceful book presents the most comprehensive portraits yet painted of Garth Brooks and Wynonna Judd-two of the most celebrated artists of our times-as well as a touching picture of Wade Hayes, a young man who hopes to follow them to the exalted heights of one of America's richest traditions: the world of country music.
"Fresh, sympathetic, but shrewdly skeptical. "
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 06, 1999
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Excerpt from Dreaming Out Loud by Bruce Feiler
The sheets of rain were falling so hard and the rush of headlights was so expectant that it was easy to miss the cloverleaf exit that banks hard to the east off Briley Parkway and deposits the driver right into the heart of what the neon hails as Music Valley. U.S.A. Turn here for Shoney's. There for Cracker Barrel. You don't even have to turn at all to veer into the world-famous Nashville Palace, which appears to be a Denny's with an overly ambitious Vegas Strip sign attached. All these establishments, with their blinkety beacons and boppity billboards promising extra-fluffy biscuits and the best catfish anywhere!, are to the east off McGavock Pike, which itself is ten miles east of downtown Music City, not far from the blue-collar outposts of town, and just up the road from the real countryside. In short, in the middle of nowhere. A fine place to recreate a small corner of Everywhere, circa Anytime at all.
Welcome to Opryland. U.S.A. Turn right for the Magnolia Lobby.
Left for Old Hickory Lounge.
Unlike the ones across the street, these signs are written in soothing script. They are painted in white on handsome red boards that remind you of fairy-tale wholesomeness. And they unfold before the driver's eyes on a faux country tableau of fluffy green grass, a white picket fence, and dozens of sculpted storybook trees wrapped in thousands of twinkling lights. On this night, uncommonly cold and rainy, the normally idyllic entrance to the Opryland Hotel, with its churchlike steeples, plantationlike columns, and county courthouselike red brick grandeur, has been overtaken by an even more idyllic constellation of candy cane light poles and plush fir wreaths in a holiday vision out of Currier and Ives. Even the guardhouse has been rebaked as a two-story peach-colored gingerbread house complete with giant plastic gumdrops and bouncing marshmallow ladies who wave at every car that makes it through the valley and into the parking lot of Gaylord s fantasy: Welcome to a Country Christmas. All self parking $4.00
Gaylord, in this instance, is Edward Gaylord, the Walt Disney of Southern culture and the aging, legendarily frugal proprietor of Gaylord Entertainment Co., which controls the dominant institutions in country music, the Opryland Hotel, Opryland Theme Park, CMT, TNN, and the gemstone in this hillbilly tiara, the Grand Ole Opry itself. All of these he has gathered in a 406-acre entertainment complex that draws visitors to an undistinguished plot of land not far from the airport with the paradoxical promise of unimagined wonder and old-fashioned small-town wholesomeness. Ironically, the hotel alone is larger than many small towns. With 2,870 rooms--the seventh-largest in the country and the largest outside Las Vegas--the hotel is an air-conditioned biosphere cum-theme park complete with giant murals, dancing fountains, and a 6-acre, glass-covered interiorscape with over ten thousand tropical plants. The newest extension, known as "The Delta," has a fifteen-story-high glass dome covering 4.5 acres and featuring a 110-foot-wide waterfall and a quarter-mile-long "river." Move over, Mickey Mouse. Tom Sawyer is the new American icon here, and he has gone uptown.
Driving around the facility (24 MPH Speed Limit), past the Conservatory, alongside the Cascades, under several neo-Georgian overhangs, I finally arrive ten minutes later at the backdoor entrance to a modest, unornate, redbrick theater that since 1974 has been home to America's most beloved radio show, the Holy See of Country Music, the Grand Ole Opry.
"Hi. May I have your name please, sir . . . ?" The officer retrieves a portable stop sign that has blown over in the wind.
"And who are you here with . . . ?" He starts flipping through his clipboard.