Now the Opry is gone
And the streets are bare
Ernest Tubb's Record Shop is dark
In 1972 John Hartford wrote those words as the chorus to his song "Nobody Eats At Linebaugh's Anymore," a track from his album Morning Bugle. When he released the song the Grand Ole Opry was still nearly two years away from moving from the Ryman Auditorium to the Grand Ole Opry House on the Opryland Theme Park grounds, yet he wrote, "Somewhere in the suburbs the Opry plays tonight, but the people come around to take the rides."
Oh, what a prophet Hartford turned out to be.
Today longtime country music fans were hit with a double whammy. The Midnite Jamboree, the legendary post-Opry radio show that Ernest Tubb began in 1947 shortly after opening his record store, has suspended all broadcasts, including the archival shows that had been running. "We hope to be back in May or June 2015," the message on the wall of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop says regarding the program. The radio show is behind in payments to WSM for carrying the show, according to the story on Saving Country Music's web site.
When (IF) it returns, it will be held somewhere else. The Music Valley Drive location of the Ernest Tubb Record Shop has been closed. That store, the largest of the stores, housed the Texas Troubadour Theater (where the Midnite Jamboree was held) as well as a bronze statue of Ernest Tubb (with his legendary "thanks" on the back of his guitar) and the last Tubb tour bus, the "Green Hornet." Memorabilia from other country stars, all friends of Tubb's (who hardly ever met a stranger), was also located there.
Glenn Douglas Tubb, the singer/songwriter nephew of the man who founded the record store in 1947 because fans continually told ET they couldn't find his records (hillbilly records weren't en vogue then), says there's three things causing the problem. First, the easy accessibility to downloads. The Music Valley Drive store has scant traffic anymore because fewer and fewer people are going to the Opry (the one-time program that ran from 6:30 till midnight [central time] every Saturday night but is now less than two hours long), and those who do stop by the store are merely browsing, not buying. As I said last month in my "sick call" post, very few people will pay $16.98 for an album when they can download it off iTunes for $12.
Secondly, the lack of interest by modern singers. The last "new" singer I heard on the Midnite Jamboree was Teea Goans (and as a quick aside, you must hear this lady sing, as she is a wonderfully talented traditional artist). Most of the newer singers wouldn't go near that place because they would be expected to have some resemblance of "country music" in their sound (and knowing who Ernest Tubb and Jimmie Rodgers [Tubb's idol and the first recorded song traditionally played on the show] were is also a requirement).
Finally, the money has become too big an issue. The space on Music Valley Drive is rented, and when the store isn't getting more than 20 or 30 customers (many of whom don't buy anything because there's no non-country music there) a day, it's not economically feasible to stay open. Between paying the announcers, the employees to work until 2 AM, a sound and technical crew, and songwriter royalty fees to the publishers, plus owing money to WSM for the show, it cost an estimated $2,200-$2,500 per show...money that was simply not being recovered by product sales at the store before and after the show.
The unspoken fourth problem is the fact that Nashville has shut its doors to traditional country music, preferring modern music that sounds more like a Bon Jovi song than a Mel Tillis tune. The overwhelming majority of fans who listen to that are not interested in what country music sounds like (I would say "sounded," past tense, like; however, there are way too many neo-traditionalists out there who still sound country to say that real country music sounds are a thing of the past), and therefore they aren't going to the Texas Troubadour Theater to see someone like Stonewall Jackson or the Oak Ridge Boys on a Saturday night show, even if it's free.
One other thing must be said. If the apathy among modern country fans who come to Nashville with no interest in the traditions of country music and the rejected traditional fans who have been driven away from Nashville to Branson (and now, more likely, to the Smokies or to Austin, Texas) to find their real country music can combine to shut down a 77-year-old record store and its signature radio show (also 77 years old), can the 89-year-old Grand Ole Opry be kept on its life support system much longer?