Regardless of your particular favorite type of music, a serious part of the collective American musical consciousness exists within the Grand Ole Opry. Whether you’re an alt-rocker, a classic rocker, a student of hip-hop or a country music aficionado, one of the deepest tap roots of American music is firmly entrenched at the Opry.

On November 28, 1925, radio station WSM introduced a new show called the WSM Barn Dance with a performance by fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson. Because of a phenomenon called “skip,” powerful stations such as WSM could reach an enormous audience when the conditions were right at night time. This meant that music lovers from places as far afield as New York and Oklahoma and most points in between could gather around the radio on a Saturday night and listen to American music riding the AM radio waves from Nashville, TN.  

Powerful radio stations like WSM were the streaming services of the day and there can be no doubt that Nashville is known as Music City today because of the power and influence of WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. Over the years, getting invited to play the Opry has become a sign that an artist is ready to break out, but make no mistake that a less-than-stellar Opry performance can also spell doom. Either way, to play at the Opry is to become an extension of everything that has gone before, and that's why it's a big deal.

I'm spending a week with Rainey Qualley and her production and management team filming our next Masters of Sound video and getting an inside look at life leading up to the Grand Ole Opry. The video itself is being filmed and edited by the stellar crew from Nashville-based Gear Seven, and the studio and logistic support from the good folks at Zavitson Music Group and Cingle Records has made this a really fun project to be a part of.

At the end of the day, KEF is about the experience of great music with the finest reproduction possible, and getting an inside look at how things are done on Rainey’s team has so far been a great confirmation that our task as a company is still an important one.

Over the next few days I’ll chronicle the life of an artist and band as they prepare to take their art to the next level.


Day #1

I arrived from New Jersey in the afternoon and did a script and logistics read through with Russ and Denise Zavitson from the Zavitson Music Group over some barbeque (right? We are in Nashville).  After a nosh at one of Nashville’s many hip eateries (metal tables, slightly uncomfortable chairs, rough cement floors, outrageously good food), we headed over to Winners, a bar near Vanderbilt University for its weekly Whiskey Jam. If you like your crowds large and your music loud, you should go. Rainey and her band played three songs from her current EP Turn Down the Lights, including her current rising single Me and Johnny Cash. The other three bands I saw there were good, but there is nothing like listening to a tight band in a hot and crowded bar. The floor bounced but it didn’t collapse so I was pretty thankful for that, but it did take me fifteen minutes to squeeze through the crowd as I covered the 12 feet from where I watched the show to the exit. To me that’s always a good sign of a good club and a good show. And yes, I did leave right after Rainey’s set – look, I’m slightly advanced in age and desire to not be in loud tightly packed spaces, plus I was still on East Coast time, and it was like quarter to ten or something.

The sound at the show gave some consternation to Rainey’s production team, (no sound check, minimal engineering from the board and an overly stressed PA system), but live shows are what make bands and artists, so you take the concessions where you have to. The mix may not have been perfect and the mid-range was far too strident for anyone who has not yet gone deaf, but the energy and fun of the band way more than made up for the questionable sound. And seriously, when was the last time you caught a live act in any venue and honestly said the sound was not-offensive, let alone great?

Whiskey Jam on a Monday night before the crowd got there. 



Tomorrow: Day #2 – Filming Masters of Sound with Rainey Qualley

Jack Sharkey for KEF