Walking from the gates of the Ryman Auditorium (which hosted the Grande Ole Opry for a time) to the back door of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is, for country music fans, akin to a short but holy pilgrimage.
It’s hard to fathom just how many country music superstars have passed between the Ryman Auditorium and Tootsies over the years. Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Chet Atkins, and Hank Williams are just a few of the famous musicians to walk this alley. Nelson, in fact, immortalized the alley in a song line “seventeen steps to Tootsies and thirty-four back,” presumably alluding to having a few cocktails at the lounge and stagger out afterward.
According to legends, the alley between the venues actually became a venue itself. During the 1950s, two young boys would sing and play guitar to Opry stars passing by in hopes of catching their attention. Night after night they played the alley, honing their craft and hoping for a break.
That break came when Chet Atkins happened to pass by and offered the boys a chance to perform with him on stage at the Opry that night. They were only too happy to do so, and went on to achieve stardom of their own as the Everly Brothers.
If you pass through the alley, you can follow, literally, in the footsteps of country music legends. A set of footprints have been inlaid on the ground.