Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't Say You Weren't Warned

Category: 50 Songs to Hear

SONG: Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore
ARTIST: John Hartford
SONGWRITER: John Hartford
ALBUM: Morning Bugle
YEAR/LABEL: 1972; Warner Brothers

I write and sing songs for myself. If other people like what I do, that's icing on the cake.
(John Hartford)

The Grand Ole Opry's "golden era" was at the Ryman Auditorium. For more than 30 years the Opry broadcast from the famed venue. It thrived, knocking all other barn dance radio shows out of the arena of competition. The Opry's popularity put Nashville on the map, and the city once known as the hub for banking, insurance and printing became a tourist destination for millions of country music fans. People lined up outside the Ryman beginning in the early afternoon on Saturday for a chance at the first-come, first-served tickets. The queue frequently stretched around the corner from 5th to Broadway, especially in the summer.

The 1970s brought the opening of the first music-themed amusement park, Opryland. the Grand Ole Opry relocated in 1974 to a 4,400 seat theater near the Opryland entrance. The departure of the Opry from its hallowed home was not universally good news, however, most notably for the businesses on "Lower Broad" that catered to the tourists.

Grammy-winning songwriter John Hartford looked into a crystal ball, took notice of the problems that the departure of the Opry would cause and sounded warning bells about the downtown Nashville situation (and, in the larger picture, the trouble country music faced) in the fabulous "Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Anymore." This song was released nearly two years before the Opry moved, and it proved Hartford quite the musical prophet.

Linebaugh's and Tootsie's Orchid Lounge were well-known hangouts for country music performers. In the glory years of the Opry it was nothing for fans and stars to meet over a beer at Tootsie's (which was across the alley from the performers' entrance of the Ryman) or a late meal at Linbaugh's, located a block away at 4th and Broadway. This interaction vanished with the move to the Opry House; and Hartford's lament said the move was far from beneficial to all concerned. Hartford reported that in downtown Nashville "The Opry's gone and the streets are bare, Ernest Tubb's record shop is dark."

"Where can you go to see the country music stars sitting drinking coffee until four?" Harford asked in the song. Not at Linebaugh's, for "everybody's gone to the park." No more phone calls for fiddling great Benny Martin, just "a few who come around again to use the parking lot."

Meanwhile, "somewhere in the suburbs the Opry plays tonight, but the people come around to take the rides." Hartford saw that the people at the park were not necessarily Grand Ole Opry fans, and time has proven him correct. The Opryland theme park closed in 1997, a victim of corporate greed: the two million who passed through the turnstiles its final year of existence were not enough "success" to save the park from destruction. It was replaced with a shopping mall, hardly the same level of a tourist draw.

In the meantime, the Grand Ole Opry has fallen on such hard times that it has moved back to the Ryman in the winter because of non-existent ticket sales. A fan who attended int he mid-90s said that, even with superstars like Vince Gill on the bill, the Opry had to literally give away tickets to have any audience for the second show in the Opry House. This was a far cry from the days when people stood in the hot sun all afternoon in hopes of getting in.

On July 4, 2009 the Grand Ole Opry completely eliminated its second show because of the holiday, an unprecedented action. The show, for years a two and a half hour program, is now down to two hours in length. John Hartford was correct: nobody eats at Linebaugh's and nobody goes to the suburbs to see the Opry.

John Hartford battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for a decade and a half before the disease took his life on June 4, 2001. He left a treasure trove of warm, witty, insightful songs, including this gem. If there is no more Grand Ole Opry in five years, no one can say that John Hartford didn't try to warn that it would happen within the confines of this wonderful song.


The entire Live From Mountain Stage album -- John Hartford was an entertainer in the truest sense of the word. He would fiddle and clog on a board while singing. If you never got to see Hartford perform enjoy this recording for a glimpse of what you missed.

"Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry" (from Aereo Plain) -- a song that was released a year before "Linebaugh's" follows the same theme -- the move of the Opry from the Ryman was not in the best interest of the Opry, downtown Nashville, or country music.

"Gentle on My Mind" (from Earthwords & Music) -- if you've only heard Glen Campbell's cover, treat yourself to the original by the song's author.

My Book of Memories
Lost to a Stranger
A Little Bitty Heart
Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs
Life is Too Short
I Want a Home in Dixie
I Lost Today
Down to the River to Pray
Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyeballs
A Death in the Family
Dark as a Dungeon
Bottomless Well

One More Song
New Delhi Freight Train
Long Way Home
Heart of Rome
Harriet Tubman's Gonna Carry Me Home
Entella Hotel
Desperados Under the Eaves
Crossing Muddy Waters
Cliffs of Dooneen
Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)
Baby Mine


John Ireland said...

Such great talent.

Anonymous said...

Such great talent.