Thursday, January 9, 2020

Alaskan Pilgrimage to the Grand Ole Opry


The Scooter Brown Band includes two military combat veterans who celebrated their love of our country during the last Grand Ole Opry show of 2019 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN on December 28.  It was a great show.

Dad wrote a letter to my maternal grandmother, Alta Ticknor on May 4, 1963, to tell her about how we were doing in our new Alaska home. I discovered this letter many years later. From his temporary work station at Murphy Dome Air Force Station--a now closed General Surveillance Radar station located 20.4 miles west-northwest of Fairbanks, which serves today as part of the Alaska NORAD Region under the jurisdiction of the 611th Air Support Group, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.1--he wrote:
Donald is still his same strong-willed self.  If he ever overcame his independent nature he could be a straight “A” student.  But then he wouldn’t be Donnie.  He causes more trouble than either of the other two, but he gets a lot more done.  He is far too good looking for his own good and Ronaele is pestered by girls calling (in the sixth grade yet!) to talk to Don.  This does absolutely nothing for his school work, but he always seems to come through.  I sometimes think that he “cons” his teachers a bit, but I visit the school for conference quite often and try to make certain that they are keeping him on the straight and narrow as much as possible.  He seems to have an infinite capacity for learning new things.  He built a radio by himself, he knows the ”periodic table of elements” completely.  He can read and understand articles from “Scientific American” (magazine) or, if he chooses he can draw a nice picture or sing or whatever.  And yet, he made a poor grade on a simple thing like spelling because he simply “didn’t want to bother with it.”  He takes a lot of understanding but he is a wonderful boy.
Grandma Ticknor was an elementary school principal at an "Indian School" in New Mexico. She moved to San Diego, California with her career after we moved to Alaska.

Another way to describe my circumstance might be “lacks supervision but has curious nature.”

I was in 6th Grade at Denali Elementary School. My teacher there, Mr. Waldrop requested and received permission to issue corporal punishment, but never actually spanked me that year.

My new stepmother had only one way to assert control over me and that was to make me go to my room. There I spent a lot of time reading, raising tropical fish and listened to the radio. On a Hallicrafter Short Wave radio in my Anchorage bedroom I was able to listen to music from all over the world, but my favorite program was the Grand Ole Opry, broadcast live from Nashville, Tennessee.
Hank Williams Publicity Photo, 1951
Country music was programmed into my southern soul at birth, with Hiram “Hank Williams, who is regarded as one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th Century.2

Originally from Alabama, Williams was born with spina bifida occulta, a birth defect centered on the spinal column, which gave him lifelong pain. All life comes with certain pain and we all deal with our pain in different ways.

In September 1946 Williams auditioned for the Opry and was rejected. He and his wife Audry Williams were later able to get a deal with Sterling Records to produce six songs, including “Never Again” and “Honky Tonkin,” which were successful and gained the attention of MGM Records. The first song he recorded there was “Move It on Over.” The second was “I Saw the Light.”

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

I wandered so aimless life filled with sin
I wouldn't let my dear savior in
Then Jesus came like a stranger in the night
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I saw the light I saw the light
No more darkness no more night
Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Of course there were many country music performers I loved to listen to because they expressed my own hurt and hope for the future. Alcoholism had already impacted my life and it was to cause Williams to be kicked out of the Opry.

Just like a blind man I wandered along
Worries and fears I claimed for my own
Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I was a fool to wander and a-stray
Straight is the gate and narrow the way.
Now I have traded the wrong for the right
Praise the Lord I saw the light

I saw the light I saw the light
No more darkness no more night
Now I'm so happy no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord I saw the light

Hank Williams had died suddenly on New Years Day, 1953.

On the other end of the music spectrum I particularly liked The Beach Boys group formed in Hawthorne California in 1961. They had a fun-loving style and beginning as a garage band have been credited with becoming one of the most influential acts of the rock era.3

That was the range of my music taste.

And, while I listened to the Opry on the radio, I and never much watched it on television. Until now it was a “bucket list” item—going to Nashville and watching the Opry Live.

This year I did it. Using my reduced PFD I bought tickets from myself and my new wife Waneta to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, and take a rental car to Kentucky where her family still owns property, and back to Tennessee for the last Opry show of 2019. This year represents 60 years since Alaska became a state, and 60 years since her son Bill Borden was born December 26.

This is the time of year when the Opry is held in the Mother Church of Country Music, the historic Ryman Auditorium. We enjoyed a glorious evening Saturday, December 28.

The Mother Church of Country Music, Ryman Auditorium 

According to a story by William Price Fox in the February/March 1979 issue of American Heritage:

The Nashville winter of 1974 was the Grand Ole Opry’s last season at the Ryman Auditorium, its home for thirty-three years. The 150 singers, pickers, comics, and doggers, who must agree to make twenty-one appearances each year to become members of the Opry company, had agreed to play down any misgivings they might have about moving out to the new Opryland, and four- and five-color brochures urged: “Come Share the Wonder of OPRYLAND, U.S.A., where the best of country music blends with the strains of Bluegrass, Dixieland, Western, Rock and all of the other exciting sounds of music from this great wide country of ours.”

The old Ryman was a firetrap and this article references “King of Country Music” Roy Acuff saying he worried about the structure falling down. Final performances at the red brick, oak floored structure with hand-carved pews occurred March 9, 1974. In attendance on stage were Johnny Cash, Maybelle Carter, Hank Snow, June Carter Cash and fifty others singing the final number Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

Since then the Ryman has been refurbished and we had seats in the balcony. The crowd was warmed up by asking who came from where and a shouting match was generated between folks from Texas and California. Many states were mentioned, but Alaska was not.

As always the Opry is a variety of acts, one after another. We enjoyed it to the end.
Selfie with my new cowboy hat


2 "I Saw the Light: Hank Williams' Sixty Years of Influence on American Music"The New School. Retrieved September 8,2014– via YouTube.

3 Allmusic "The Beach Boys – Overview". John Bush. AllMusic. Retrieved July 12, 2008.

Alaskan Pilgrimage to the Grand Ole Opry (2020 © The Scooter Brown Band includes two military combat vete...