The Grand Ole Opry has withstood crisis before.
Through wartime, tornadoes, a flood and the Great Depression, it continues an unbreakable connection with country music fans in a world that strains to pull them apart.
And, for the second time in as many weeks, the Opry broadcasts live music for those needing an hour or two of escape.
Opry members Brad Paisley, Marty Stuart and Vince Gill perform from the Opry circle Saturday night without a live audience — the 4,916th consecutive Saturday broadcast for the Nashville institution.
To combat the novel coronavirus, Opry leadership decided last week to continue the program without a live crowd until at least April 4.
“The Opry somehow is an indelible old soul that keeps moving forward,” Stuart told The Tennessean.
Last week, an estimated 500,000 tuned in as Connie Smith, Jeannie Seely and Bill Anderson played to an empty Opry House.
Stepping into a room of vacant pews gives nod to the show’s formative days, said Stuart. Ninety-four years ago, broadcasters first aired the barn dance program from the National Life and Accident Insurance Co. building in downtown Nashville.
“The radio was the theater of the mind then,” Stuart said. “It was designed to be theater of the mind. (To) Inspire and entertain people.”
It goes “back to the blueprint” of country music and what the Opry was designed to be, he added.
“For my mind, it was for the working man and the woman who shouldered a lot of burden,” Stuart said, “who needed a place to be entertained and to get their minds off their troubles.”
He’ll perform acoustic and in a round (while practicing proper social distance) with Paisley and Gill. Stuart said he’s not sure yet what the show could bring, but it should “offer hope, offer encouragement and let our hearts fly.”
Fans can watch the show live at 7 p.m. on Circle, a new country music lifestyle network launched by Opry parent company, Ryman Hospitality, or for free via Circle All Access Facebook and YouTube pages. Catch the Opry radio broadcast via WSM 650 AM in Nashville or digitally at wsmonline.com.