Last week, I had the opportunity to see a show at the Ryman Auditorium for the first time. I’ve heard Nashville natives proclaim the magic of the Ryman since before I even moved here, so the expectations were high. Previously the site of a late-1800s evangelism movement, many aspects of the building still emanate a religious ambience. The seating is composed of wooden pews packed close together that curve around the stage in two levels. Stained glass windows line the back wall, making it impossible to forget that the building was once a church.

The Ryman is now a renowned music venue across the globe, but it is especially treasured in Nashville. Artists love to play the iconic downtown stage where so many greats have performed before them, and even being a member of that audience feels different than attending other concerts—somehow sacred.

The show last week was The Band CAMINO—one of my favorite bands. Patrons of the sold-out concert filed through a health and safety checkpoint (negative COVID tests or vaccination cards required for entry) and a metal detector before entering the hallowed hall of the Ryman. My friend Katie and I snaked through possibly the longest merchandise line ever seen, before finding our way to our seats for the openers. We revelled in the forgotten joys of people-watching while waiting for the show to begin.

And then the lights went down, everyone screamed, and I couldn’t keep the smile from spreading across my face. I could feel the whole room charged with excitement as the floor shook with the beginning of a song we all knew. When the chorus came, everyone was singing along in unison.

Some of The Band CAMINO’s songs are explicit, and the juxtaposition of their show in that historically religious building was comically ironic. But, as ridiculous (and…therapeutic?) as it was to yell the lyrics “stop and smell the [bleeping] roses” in sync with a crowd of two thousand people in an old church building, there was something oddly reverent about that shared experience. As one of the lead singers said during the show, they were excited to experience music with us again—to be with people who are, and I quote, “on the same sh*t” (presumably, the music)—and to be in that space together.

The Ryman’s website describes it as a spiritual place, “originally built for people to experience something transformative together… a testament to all the ways a stage can connect people to one another.” Having experienced just one night at the Ryman, I can attest this is absolutely true. My concert ticket was fifty dollars, but the connectedness felt with strangers while scream-singing our favorite songs and seeing the band experience genuine joy over sharing their art with people who love it? Priceless.

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