Stuart Was Fitting Picker To Pick For 2nd Ryman Debut

This appeared in The Washington Post - 1994

To gauge the historic significance of Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, look through the eyes of singer-songwriter Marty Stuart as he leads an all-star cast through a one-hour tribute to the Carnegie Hall of the South in "The Roots of Country: Nashville Celebrates the Ryman" (Saturday night on CBS).

"The thing that struck me as the most interesting," Stuart said in a telephone interview, "is I looked down off the stage, and to my left there was Quincy Jones and Natasha Kinski. I saw Katey Sagal there. I saw Bill Monroe, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, The Mavericks. I saw Joe Diffie. I saw a lot of bluegrass musicians and new-country musicians and gospel singers.

"The Ryman is the mother church of country music. And what does a church house do? It opens its arms and welcomes all."

The newly renovated shrine, which housed the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974, was "pretty hip room" at the June 1 taping, Stuart said. "I was glad to see it get off on the note of not just housing friends of country music, but friends of all different kinds of American music, and all walks of life. From Quincy Jones to Bill Monroe is a pretty big span."

In between lie the talents of many artists who return to the red-bricked landmark for the television taping -- Earl Scruggs, Carl Perkins, Loretta Lynn, Chet Atkins and Johnny Cash. There also are appearances by contemporary country singers such as Clint Black, Suzy Bogguss, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Hal Ketchum, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Reba McEntire, Lee Roy Parnell, Pam Tillis and Steve Wariner.

The show also features historical concert footage and anecdotes from artists who have appeared at the Ryman, which began as a gospel tabernacle in the late 1800s.

"I started there when I was 13," recalled Stuart, 35. "I was in Lester Flatt's band, and it was just kind of home. I had a great start in country music. I got off a Greyhound bus one day and had a job with Lester Flatt the next week and played at the Ryman a week later.

"I went from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where I was trying to be in the high school band, study and get good grades to a real job with a national touring act and, all of sudden, my peers became Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Grandpa Jones, Bill Monroe, people like that.

"The Ryman was definitely a family thing for me. It was home -- the house of the Opry and my musical home up there" in Nashville.

Stuart, who serves as musical director for the Ryman special, is quick to give a tip of the cowboy hat to the artists who preceded him in the business. The sharp-dressing, rockabilly-tinged honky tonker tours in an updated version of Ernest Tubb's old bus and plays country-rock pioneer Clarence White's 1954 Telecaster, as well as Martin guitars formerly owned by Hank Williams Sr. and Lester Flatt.

"I'd give anything on this Earth if everybody could have been as fortunate as I was playing country music. It was truly studying at the feet of the masters," he said.

"To not share that and to not honor that would be a great disservice to me and the music I play too. I really feel that what I play is a futuristic kind of country music, but it definitely comes from that classic point, and it definitely comes from that traditional set of roots that I'm very proud of."

By Scott Moore

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