79. A Night at the Ryman with Mumford and Sons

Mumford and Sons singing "Little Lion Man"

As our time in Nashville is coming (too quickly) to an end, we knew we couldn’t leave without seeing a show in the Mother Church of Country Music, The Ryman Auditorium. The venue opened in 1890 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle – a revival hall. It’s hosted folks from the Helen Keller to Teddy Roosevelt to Will Rogers (an Oklahoman, BTW), and it was the first home of the Grand Ole Opry. The seating capacity is only 2,362, and the seats are all pews. It’s a beautiful, intimate venue with a rich history, so when Mumford and Sons announced a three night run at the Ryman, we knew we had to go. 

Neal and Joanna, two of our housemates (did you know we have housemates? we do), expressed interest as well, and so we sought out to get tickets. Since we knew all three shows would sell out, we set up camp on our dining room table the morning tickets went on sale with three computers and a few iDevices all pointed at TicketMaster. Neal and I both landed sets of four tickets while Joanna’s WiFi acted up, and we went with the better set of seats in the second row of the balcony for Tuesday, March 6. Not too shabby. We also learned the value of hitting refresh when trying to get tickets in such a situation. Greedy folks like us might get too many tickets, which end up going back into the pot after they expire a few minutes later.

The night of the show, we headed downtown and got dinner at the wonderful Jack’s BBQ. Seating inside was scarce, so we went out to the back patio, which happens to back up to an alley alongside the Ryman. Ever the big shot, Neal got a call during dinner and walked into the alley to answer it, and while talking, he noticed that the guys smoking near the Ryman’s side door looked an awful lot like the guys from Mumford and Sons. When he came back and told us, Courtney decided she too needed to ‘make a call’ and went to see for herself. Her results were inconclusive. Later, we heard tales of folks seeing them there and getting pictures and hugs. We missed out on hugs!

The Crew waiting for the show to start.

After dinner, about half an hour before the 7:30 showtime, we headed to our seats and confirmed that we did, indeed, have pretty dang good seats. The folks in front of us were kind enough to snap a photo, and the camera is more or less from our seats. I know. The show opened with performances by Gill Landry and Abigail Washburn, the latter of whom I really enjoyed.

Finally, at 9:30 the headliners graced the stage. They opened with “Lover’s Eyes,” a song from their new album. They played several new ones, and if those are any indication, Mumford’s next album will be as good as the last. Check out the full set list here. Next was “Roll Away your Stone.” After that, a few more new ones and a few favorites, including “Little Lion Man.” They put on an amazing show. The energy was great, they sounded amazing, and they seemed genuinely excited and nervous to be playing at the Ryman.

Halfway through the show, the band began to play “Thistle and Weeds,” but a few words in, Marcus (the lead singer) blanked, and they had to start over. They began again, but the same thing happened. He stepped back up to the mic and explained (to paraphrase), “I was standing here playing, and I kept thinking, ‘I’m playing an electric guitar at the Ryman Auditorium.’ And then I just lost it.” They scrapped the song, and he offered us the option to leave and get a refund or to stay on this train and see where it goes. We chose the latter. They came back strong with another new one, “Ghosts that We Knew.”

Later, Marcus ascended to the drumset, which was only used for a few songs (for most of the rest, the only percussion came from a bass drum operated by Marcus’s foot – his calves must be huge!), and they began to play Dust Bowl Dance, one of my favorites. A few bars in, he began coughing and they had to stop. They tried to start over, and another coughing fit stopped them. Finally, he ran off the stage and apparently threw up. The keyboardist improvised for a while, but after a minute or two, a roadie came out and whispered in his ear, and they took a five minute  intermission. For Wednesday’s show, Dust Bowl Dance was the last song before the encore, so the intermission was where it should have been, but we thought they were just taking a break because Marcus was sick.

"Sister" unplugged

After the intermission, they walked to the front of the stage and played “Sister” unplugged. This was the high point for me. I love the song, and seeing them singing on the front of the Ryman stage without amplification was amazing (here’s a video from Wednesday’s show). After that was another new one, “Where are You Now,” which was also excellent (apparently, all the good videos are from Wednesday). They closed with “The Cave,” and somehow, once again, Marcus blew the lyrics a few bars in. So, he told us he needed to know that we could carry on in case he messed up again, and the crowd sang the first verse, which was odd at first, but came off really well. He took over after the chorus, and they closed in grand fashion. The mess ups – which they attributed to nerves – threw off the flow and energy of the performance, so the end felt somewhat abrupt, but there’s no doubt that even when they get it wrong, Mumford and Sons puts on an amazing show. Our inaugural experience at the Ryman – hiccups, throw ups, and all – could not have been better.

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