When Emmylou Harris picked Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium as the site to record a live album in 1991, it was strictly a pragmatic choice. She needed a facility in Nashville and, as she recalled in an interview last week, “There weren’t that many venues in town as there are now.”
That decision proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of the venerable building, one that opened a century earlier as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. For more than three decades, it served as the home of weekly Grand Ole Opry live performances and radio broadcasts.
In 1974, it was essentially abandoned.
That’s the year the Opry moved its base of operations outside the city to the sparkling new...