How high’s the water, mama? Five feet high and risin’.
How high’s the water, papa? Five feet high and risin’.
The rails are washed out north of town
We gotta head for higher ground.
- Johnny Cash
The Cumberland River has flooded Nashville, and at least 20 lives are lost. Among the damaged buildings are homes, schools, YMCA branches, and libraries. The city’s music roots were not spared. Soundstage Nashville (the world’s largest rehearsal studio and storage center for touring sets and equipment) and the Gibson Guitar factory are under water, as is part of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Flood waters came within twelve inches of swamping Symphony Hall. And, the circle. Do you know about the circle?
On the center of the flooded Grand Ole Opry floor lies a six-foot circle of oak floorboards brought from the hallowed stage of the historic Ryman Auditorium. The circle is a scuffed, well-worn spot considered to be the epicenter of country music. Hank Williams stood here, as did Patsy Cline and Johnny and June. When talented new artists take the Opry stage, they consider it the highest honor to sing within this sacred space.
The Opry sits on the grounds of Gaylord’s Opryland, and ten feet of flood waters washed through the centerpiece hotel, conference center, theater, and surrounding attractions. The complex, one of the area’s largest employers and tourist draws, will be closed up to three months. Lobby chairs and restaurant equipment can be replaced. The circle cannot.
A circle of wood is not a house. And, it’s certainly not a life. Its loss, however, is a metaphor for the damage the Nashville area sustained this week. The national news media has largely ignored the flooding in Tennessee and Kentucky, but President Obama declared several counties disaster areas, and FEMA is setting up shop as the waters recede. The Red Cross is on the scene, and Second Harvest and Goodwill are prepared to assist victims.
Nashville will need more than money to rebuild, but it’s a town blessed with a lot of creativity and heart. As you may have noticed through all the posts here, it’s a bit like my second home, and I treasure every opportunity to photograph its inspiring landscape and people. True to form, the close-knit community of artists, musicians, residents, restaurant owners, and shopkeepers are taking rescue and recovery into their own hands. A particularly effective Facebook group connects victims, donors, and volunteers in real time without the hassle of red tape.
Like Middle Tennessee surrounding it, the Opry is resilient. Though the proverbial circle has been broken, its live broadcast continues to air this week after being relocated across town. There will be changes, but the show goes on.
Marquee stars have already pledged to stage fundraising concerts benefiting relief efforts, and there’s plenty you can do to help as well. Follow this link to see an updated list of needs in the area, and watch and share this YouTube videoto see compelling images of the area under water, set to the haunting voice of Johnny Cash.
“How high’s the water, mama?” Thankfully, it’s finally coming down.