They say people can feel the spirit of the Ryman Auditorium while visiting it, whether you’re on its stage or sitting in the old wooden church pews that are its seating. I know I felt like there was something really special about the space, like I could sense the presence of all the people who performed inside its walls over the years.
Located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee, also known as “music city,” the Ryman has got a ton of history. Almost all of which I had no idea about until I visited it for the first time. In fact, I felt like I uncovered a secret when I found out it has a little recording studio tucked in a corner, that they let people like me record in!
They also say sometimes strange or unexplained things happen in there.
Two strange things happened while I spent 15 minutes inside the Ryman Auditorium recording studio on July 31st, 2018.
But before I give you goosebumps…let me back up just a bit.
(Oh, and read this one until the end because there’s a recording link you won’t wanna miss! Okay, scroll down if you must, but come back up to read the rest of the story too because I think you’ll appreciate it more hearing what led up to it’s making)
Here’s how it started
I went to Nashville with my husband on a road trip the summer of 2018. This was only the second time I had been there. The first time was in 2012, the year before I had our first son, and we only had a day to squeeze in going to the Grand Ole Opry. It was then I’d learned that the Ryman Auditorium was actually the home of the Grand Ole Opry for 31 years and showcased some of the best country music performers of all time. When we went back six years later, after I’d had our second son and was finally feeling like we could leave both kiddos for a quick getaway, we decided to check it out since we missed it the first trip.
Driving down from Minnesota with my guitar in the backseat
On this trip, we planned only a couple things but both involved me bringing my guitar down. I say “down” because we drove from Minnesota to Wisconsin, dropped our two kids off at my parents, and then drove the rest of the way to Nashville. In place of a car seat and booster, my guitar was tucked behind the seats. I was excited to think about playing it when we got there and having a chance to do something adventurous for myself. It’d been years since I’d performed in front of an audience, and I’d only been playing guitar for less than six months.
But “why not!” I said. So off we went.
The first thing we planned was to have me call in to see if I could get a spot at the Monday night, weekly open mic night at the Bluebird Cafe. (That story is coming soon) The second thing we planned was to visit the Ryman Auditorium.
Doing a little research ahead of time, my husband and I found out people who toured the Ryman could choose to either record a cover or an original song for a small fee with a purchase of a tour ticket. I thought that sounded like a really fun idea. I had started to think about recording the original song I wrote called “Carry On” anyway and it’s what I wanted to play at the Bluebird Cafe as well. Whether or not I got in to the open mic night, at least this way I’d have a cool souvenir from the trip.
On the Monday I called into the Bluebird Cafe, I actually sat in the lobby of the Ryman. (like I said more about that story is coming soon.) While we were there, we scouted out the recording situation and made our plans to do the tour so I’d be all set.
Walking to the Ryman with my guitar
The next day, dressed in a new cute flower dress I had packed, and a new pair of cowgirl boots I had just purchased the day before, I carried my guitar down the streets of Nashville all the way to the Ryman. I wanted to “look the part” I guess you could say. My background in musical theatre was probably coming out a bit, but something about my new boots made me walk different too, and I liked it!
I wasn’t the only one carrying a guitar down the street either. Since Nashville is known for being “Music City” there are musicians, singer songwriters, and people carrying guitars everywhere you turn. I guess I kinda felt like I fit right in. It was my adventure unfolding, and like I was living out a scene in a movie I’d been cast in on a whim. Somehow it just felt like it was something I was supposed to do and my guitar was my sidekick.
Walking into the Ryman, I was so nervous though. I’m not sure why completely, but I knew they give you just 15 minutes and only two takes to make a recording. So maybe that was part of it, and also feeling like I wanted to do well and like I wasn’t sure if I could get through the entire song without making any mistakes was also part of it.
Just before it was my turn to record “Carry On”
I waited outside the hallway of the recording studio with my ticket in hand. I had my guitar out of its case and tuned up so I’d be ready.
The walls were painted all in white, with beautiful old wood doors. The floor was a light tile and I tried to imagine who might have been standing right where I was from the past. I tried to think about my Grandmother and what she might have thought about me singing a song I’d wrote about her there in a place like the Ryman. She’d have been giddy as all get out too!
“Don’t work too hard,” she’d say. “Just have fun!”
I allowed my thoughts to wander a bit, anything to keep me from feeling anxious with the anticipation of the door opening.
Here I am waiting:
When it was my turn to record “Carry On”
A really nice guy named Hunter opened the door and invited my husband and I into the studio. It was a small little space. It had windows looking out into the auditorium and a few people were looking in at me when I entered. There was a long counter, a few computers set up, and microphones pointing at a chair. I gathered that that was where I should be, so I took a seat.
Hunter explained that the first take could be a practice take and then we’d record “for real” after that. Thinking I knew myself pretty well, I explained how I sometimes do better the first time around practicing. He agreed to try and save both so I could pick.
Here’s a couple pictures of us getting the mics set up and doing a sound check before we started. I decided not to use the headphones because I had never recorded anything before and I thought it might make me hear myself differently.
But as it turns out, my first go had one mistake so I was really hoping my second would be perfect. I still felt nervous. In my mind I was like, “calm down, just play it like you’re singing to Grandma and she’s smiling along happy I’m here and trying my best.”
Here’s where it gets interesting though…
Just as we were starting again there was a loud feedback sound that surprised us all, and so we stopped.
Hunter said “That was really unusual.” (That was #1 of the weird things that happened.)
I took a deep breath, about ready to begin again.
Then, of all things, the old-school phone he had on the desk rang!!!
It was just like the one my parents used to have in their bedroom when I was a kid, same tan color, except this one had buttons instead of the rotary dial.
The ring made us all turn to each other with a look in our eyes like we were all thinking that this was really strange. The timing, and a second interruption so quickly after the first, right before I was going to start each time. (That was #2 of the weird things that happened)
Hunter told us that that phone just rarely ever rings, and that he really does think magical things can happen in the studio for whatever reason.
Here we are before we started again for the final recording. You can see the phone on the desk and Hunter literally scratching his head. I guess I must have put the headphones on here to maybe listen to how things were sounding, but I do know I recorded with them off.
Whether it was the spirit of the space that caused the interruptions to my recording session or not, it made me get over my nerves. The loud feedback sound and phone ringing randomly was just what I needed to snap out of my nervous mindset. I think because of this, I was able to get through my entire song without messing up!
I think I thought wearing the headphones looked more official or something, so I popped them on for this photo. All 15 minutes of it was my little test to see how I liked recording. I discovered that the feeling of accomplishment I felt singing and playing a song I wrote was something I could get used to. Having my song captured in time, along with the memories I just shared, made it a really special experience I’ll never forget.
When my time was up, it was like Grandma had just winked in from behind the glass, given me a thumbs up, and watched me walk out with my guitar wearing my lucky new boots.
This is the CD they gave me at the Ryman Auditorium with the recording I made of my original song “Carry On” on July 31st, 2018. The red background is the inside of my guitar case.
It’s not at all a fancy dancy, mixed and mastered final product, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it captures where I was at with this song at this point in time. Because of that, I’m sharing its humble beginnings. It even has the original lyric of my name “Annie” in it rather than “honey” that will be on my re-recorded version I’m working on right now. (More about that project here: New Song)
But have a listen for yourself…I’ve loaded the recording to Sound Cloud, and there’s a link to listen below.
Click this link to listen: https://soundcloud.com/andrea-brandt-60563745/carry-on-ryman-auditorium