By Bob Faw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/14/2005 6:29:55 PM ET 2005-10-14T22:29:55

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It's an American cornucopia: a little clowning, a little cornpone and a lot of celebration.

"It's pure magic," says Grand Ole Opry member Bill Anderson. "It's absolutely the most magical place in the world."

The Grand Ole Opry, America's longest-running radio show, has flourished for eight decades by showcasing country music legends like George Jones and Loretta Lynn.

The Opry mixes wholesome red, white and blue with newer, cutting-edge acts like Keith Urban or Robbie Fulks.

But that blending — of the then and now — hasn't always been smooth.

"It stung some of the older performers because it's kind of crowded them out in some ways," says Nashville Scene music critic Bill Friskics-Warren.

With all due respect to Minnie Pearl, this is not your father's Grand Ole Opry. It's changed. But the question is, has it changed enough?

Some artists complain there's still too much twang and that since its 1974 move to a shopping center complex, it's more tourist destination than concert hall.

"Your dad was the one who was going to the Opry, and the Opry didn't change," says Grant Alden with No Depression magazine. "And it really couldn't change because its commercial base was tour buses filled with retirees."

They are attracted by all that history — from the Wabash Cannonball to Elvis to President Nixon playing the piano. Why, center stage still contains some of the original wood where Hank Williams stood.

That's something that today's performers never forget.

"It's never my world up there," says country music artist Craig Morgan. "I always feel like that place belongs to someone else and I will always be a guest."

The Grand Ole Opry, then, is at a musical crossroads, where the past, always an anchor, can also become a millstone.

"The next generation is going to have to step up and the Opry is going to have to make room for them," says Alden.

So the mother church of country music, older — and younger — continues preaching to the converted, and tries to convert itself.

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