Ghosts and Heroes

You don’t think it’s going to be as big a deal as it turns out to be. I wasn’t raised on the Grand Ole Opry – in the suburbs of New York City it was as unknown as grits or turnip greens. But I did fall in love with country music as a teenager, thanks to Gram Parsons and other interlopers from the hippie country-rock era, and I fell hard. I bought every Merle Haggard and George Jones record I could find in Boulder, Colorado, where my mother and I moved when I was 13. I studied Dolly Parton’s songs, the catch in Tammy Wynette’s voice, the deep soulful sob of Patsy Cline. Emmylou Harris was the gateway drug – she made it hip to be a country singer. And country music wasn’t that far from the folk music I grew up listening to and loving. It was musically simple, but not simplistic. It was about the stories. It was about everyman, and everywoman. Their fears, their failings, their sins, their joy, their sorrow.

After moving to Nashville 25 years ago this August, I made my solo debut at the Grand Ole Opry last night. I didn’t think it would hit me so hard. I didn’t expect to be so nervous backstage, talking to Buck and Sharon White just before I walked into the spotlight. But you stand on that sacred circle of wood where Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline and so many, many others have stood, and you can’t help but feel the eyes of all of those legends on you. Ghosts and heroes. And the thing that saves you, just like it did them, is a song. You grab on to the lyric, the melody – the story – and you sing it. Last night I sang one about a middle-aged woman who’s worried that her willful daughter will follow in her own ill-advised footsteps. And then I sang another one about a man and a woman who have somehow drifted so far apart that they’re complete strangers to one another. Country songs. Folk songs. Just songs. It was a night I won’t forget, and it was a very big deal.


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  1. Listening to you on that stage was just amazing. I was so excited for you! Then touched by the song and the moment in equal measure.

    I do plan on seeing you there in person on one of your future visits to that stage with ghosts and heroes.


  2. Great blog – congratulations on finally making your debut at the Grand ol’ Opry! It’s one of the places that I want to go one day. Last time I was in Nashville I got to stand on the stage of the Ryman, but Opryland was still being dried out after the floods.

  3. Amazing lyrics, amazing voice…Congrats on singing there….I agree with tincanman2010.
    Cousin Harriet

  4. Well Done, Gretchen. I’ll try to join in with you there one day (like you tried to get me to duet with you at The Stables recently – I was a bit slow, so Barry did it instead). Loved your show there and WW&S last year.

  5. Musicians are a bit like gunslingers – the intelligent ones know there’ll be a cocky young buck trying to prove themselves or there may be a remarkably wise troubadour with that one last great song or tour in ’em. It’s a humility borne from the deep vein of touring/performing//living. Great blog – would have loved to have been there. And what a great phrase -‘Emmylou Harris was the gateway drug….’ – I’ll be using that one – Steve Rawson, Dublin, Ireland

  6. ‘Ghosts and heroes..’ G, that sent shivers up my spine…only you could come up with that…Even standing it that room I had the sense of it’s history and who had been in that room, so to stand on that circle and sing…I have no doubt you are the most stunning lyricist to ever grace that stage and your ghosts and heroes were smiling!
    Incidentally, when we did the Sage backstage tour, we were allowed up onto the Stage of Hall 2 to join the leader of the tour in singing a Christmas song…that gave me chills, knowing I was standing, singing, (albeit very badly) where you and countless others have stood, singing the songs that have blown me away. Ghosts and heroes?!
    H x

  7. Thats inspirational Gretchen, and yes a very big deal to play at the Oprey, how much fun it would be… I hope to be there one day just to see it, let alone sing on its stage LOL 🙂

  8. Sorry I didn’t find this blog sooner. Your music touches me in so many ways. I’ll forever be a fan. Thanks for sharing your gift with us.

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