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A star-studded experience I’ll never forget

POSTED: July 12, 2009 1:00 a.m.

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I recently met two American legends: comedian Steve Martin and the Grand Ole Opry.

My husband Heath and I were planning to go to Nashville, Tenn., the weekend of our first wedding anniversary, but when we saw Martin would be performing a week later, we moved our trip so we could hear him play.

We've been fans of Martin since before we started dating — 13 years ago. We're such big fans that we've even listened to four discs' worth of his autobiography.

The afternoon before his performance, we were on a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry House.

Near the end of the tour, I asked if members of the press could come backstage between shows — there's a 7 p.m. and a 9:30 p.m. show each Saturday night.

We went back to where the tour started — the artist's entrance — to ask for a backstage pass.

Turns out it was too late, since more than 600 people had planned to come backstage to celebrate Martin's first performance there. I was about to give up when I saw Heath trying to get my attention.

Martin walked in with cool tortoise shell glasses, a shock of white hair and banjo in hand.

Heath later told me he was the first one to greet Martin as he came in the door.

I can't believe I even had the nerve to get his attention.

I squeaked out, "Mr. Martin, I'm so pleased to meet you," and he smiled and said, "Nice to meet you."

I asked him what it meant to him to be playing at the Opry. He said, "It's just very, very exciting."

And then he went down the hall, looking for his dressing room. I felt like I had just stepped into one of his skits on an episode of "Saturday Night Live."

Heath and I went outside, amazed at what just happened. It was absolutely perfect timing, and Martin was the same in person as we thought he'd be: reserved, thoughtful and incredibly cool.

At the show that night, Martin's hands danced along his five string banjo, and he took the mic for "Late for School," a song he wrote, filled with his genius, silly comedy.

He was joined for the performance by Vince Gill, Amy Grant and John McEuen of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

The red velvet curtains rose and fell on a different country legend every half hour. "Little" Jimmy Dickens, Marty Stuart and "Whispering" Bill Anderson each hosted segments.

Current country hit-maker Brad Paisley even made a surprise appearance.

Announcer Eddie Stubbs narrated it all, with such snappy flair it seemed as if he was plucked from the 1940s.

Audience members can go up to the stage to take photos, so I did. A lot.

I just couldn't believe I was resting my camera on the same stage where Minnie Pearl said "How-dee!" countless times, where Johnny Cash kicked the footlights out.

The Opry is filled with tradition, and it felt like I joined the family when I took a seat on one of its historic wooden pews.

If you get a chance, take your family to the Opry. You might not get to meet Steve Martin, but it's an experience you'll never forget.



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