By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - For six decades the stage supported the likes of Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, with the "hillbilly dust" sprinkled across its blonde oak planks adding to the legend of the Grand Ole Opry.
After one final show on Friday, however, the well-worn stage of Nashville's Ryman Auditorium is scheduled to be torn up, replaced by a newer, more durable surface.
"It's almost like a part of you is going to die," said Oak Ridge Boys' bass singer Richard Sterban, who along with rest of the country quartet will be part of the final Grand Ole Opry performance on the oak planks, which have supported 61 years of country music history.
Keith Urban and others will join them in the show.
The new stage of Ryman Auditorium - a 120-year-old historic former church tabernacle - will be Brazilian teak. Officials say it can support 120,000 pounds, three times the current stage's strength. Concrete and steel will be used to reinforce hickory support beams and joists, while new cross-beams also will be installed.
Sterban said the stage is showing wear and tear, and he thinks the Ryman Auditorium is doing the right thing by preparing for the future. He applauded plans that call for an 18-inch strip of the old oak planks to be installed at the front of the new stage.
"Any time any of us go to perform on that stage, we can still walk on part of the old stage and still touch history," he said. "That's a magical thing."
The Band Perry will break in the new stage with a show February 20.
Singer Emmylou Harris, who has spoken of the stage's "hillbilly dust," championed the Ryman Auditorium's rescue from disuse in the early 1990s, almost two decades after the Grand Ole Opry moved to a new home in the suburbs of Nashville.
The Ryman was restored and re-opened in 1994, where it has hosted concerts by such performers as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello and Tony Bennett. The Opry also returns to the Ryman from the suburbs during the winter months.
(Reporting By Tim Ghianni; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Paul Thomasch)