updated 09/29/2010 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 09/29/2010 AT 4:15 PM ET
The Grand Ole Opry House came full circle Tuesday night, reopening its doors for the first time since Nashville’s flood ravaged the country music institution five months ago.
“This is a metaphorical for all of Nashville,” Brad Paisley told reporters before the evening’s historic performance at the renovated theater, the home of the Opry since 1974. “The Opry and this city suffered a terrible tragedy … but the Opry rose and so has the city.”
At the start of the show, the curtain lifted to reveal Paisley and Little Jimmy Dickens – the Opry’s oldest member – standing on a dimly lit stage in the famous circle of oak preserved from the original Opry stage at the Ryman Auditorium. The circle was the only remnant saved and restored from the stage, which was submerged beneath four feet of water in the May flood.
Paisley and Dickens began a stirring version of the Opry’s signature song. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” as members of the Opry, including Trace Adkins, Martina McBride, Keith Urban and Marty Stuart walked on stage arm-in-arm, joining in.
“I have never had to fight back tears as hard as I did tonight,” Paisley told the sold-out crowd. Emotions ran high backstage as well, where artists mingled and broke out in impromptu jam sessions in newly renovated dressing rooms and the redecorated green room, which features an iron bar on the wall marking how far floodwaters rose.
Trace Adkins – who added to the night’s jubilant tone by sharing with “Hillbilly Bone” duet partner Blake Shelton the news that he was invited to join the Opry – was one of many artists who felt a personal loss when the Opry was flooded.
“I had people ask me if we had lost anything in the flood. I said, ‘Personally, no, it did not affect our home. But yes, we lost the Opry House, and that’s a loss that affects everyone,’ ” he told the crowd. It is good to be home tonight, I feel like we’ve all come home.”
Check out our Photo Special of the Opry’s grand reopening