Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum - Nashville, Part III

 The Main Entrance

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, located in downtown Nashville, impresses with its size, the high quality of its exhibits, its regular programs of lectures and performances, and its organization, which is easy to navigate, clear to understand, and immense in its scope. It's truly a national treasure for any fan of country music in all its guises. In the vast lobby of the Museum we met our guide, Shannon Turner, a friend as well as a former Museum guide before her writing career really took off and Michael Gray, the Museum's Senior Editor, whose work involves curation and history. Much in the structure of the Museum is subtly designed to reflect music in an architectural fashion. The building, when viewed from the air, is shaped like a G-clef. Terrazzo on the lobby's floor looks like black and white piano keys. The musical images are everywhere. While waiting for Shannon to appear, we spent a little time in the newly enlarged Museum store. Divided into two rooms, one side of the hallway holds recordings and books, while the other contains clothing and artifacts.

Museum Stores

Shannon Turner & Michael Gray
Ticket Booth and Main Lobby

Admission prices seemed a bit steep to us at first, until we compared the Country Music Hall of Fame to other similar national special purpose collections. We found them right in line with the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY and the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. The museum is large and provides a comprehensive view of the development of Country Music from its earliest recognizable emergence as a genre through its current state as a major competitor to other huge popular forms of music. The Hall of Fame also serves as curator for a huge collection of country music memorabilia and sponsors a fascinating series of museum programs and school programs. More generally, The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum's web site provides a treasure trove of information about and with country music throughout its history. It's truly worthy of study.

The Exhibit Halls

The exhibit halls of The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum are well laid out. Visitors can stroll fairly quickly through them, concentrating on the memorabilia donated by favorite stars, or they can work through the museum with much greater deliberation, reading placards, drilling down on eras or individual country artists. Scholars and specialists, of course, have access to much larger archives providing access to the museums huge collections.

 The Taylor Swift Education Center

Taylor Swift donated $1,000,000 to build the Taylor Swift Education Center, a space which provides activities of interest to young people.  The center has classroom space, a hands-on instrument room and ongoing education opportunities.

 In the Exhibit Hall

In our visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, I concentrated more on looking at ways the pioneers of bluegrass music are covered. Nevertheless, like many bluegrass fans, I have my favorite country music artists. Also, I noted repeatedly the way in which there has been constant crossover between country and bluegrass, always remembering that the people now recognized as bluegrass pioneers saw themselves as simply country musicians forging their own styles to be able to stand out in country music and earn a living. Here are pictures of some of favorite exhibits at the museum.

 The Stanley Brother's Tools

Shannon Turner & Irene Look at Webb Pierce's Cadillac

The Mother of Country & Bluegrass Music

The Father of Bluegrass Music 

The One and Only

Wall of Gold & Platinum Records

The Bakersfield Sound

A special exhibit, recently extended for another year, shows the western musicians who made the Bakersfield Sound developed in California during the late fifties and was made popular largely by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, but influenced country music heavily for more than a generation. Strongly driven by the western movement of farmers forced off their high plains farms in Oklahoma and other states during the dust bowl period of the depression, these artists emerged from the agricultural area surrounding Bakersfield and vied for prominence in country music with Nashville.

Waylon Jennings

John Hartford's Banjo

Keith Whitley's Motorcycle

Ricky Skaggs

Garth Brooks & Vince Gill

Brought Bluegrass Music Back to Life

Some People Prefer to Deny Her
Inventive, Youthful Style 

The Hall of Fame

 Deford Bailey was a longtime member of the Grand Ole Opry, one of the few black performers to perform regularly there. The rarity of minorities in country and bluegrass music, two genres strongly influenced by African American music, remains a blot on the history and current direction of both genres. Bailey was active from 1921 - 1941 when WSM fired him, supposedly because of copyright disputes with BMI-ASCAP. Although he lived until 1982, his career was effectively ended. While active, he frequently played with Bill Monroe.

The Hall of Fame is an impressive space, appropriate for meditating upon the contributions of its inductees, many of whom are still active.

Stairwell Up to New Hall of Fame Auditorium

From archival footage of the earliest country performers playing what is called "old-time" today to the present day new country stars who are, perhaps, more toned down rock and rollers than they are  country, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum gives visitors an impressive and thoughtful trip through the world of commercial country as it has moved from being an expression of largely rural musical enjoyment played by plain folks on the back porch to a highly professionalized and produced musical experience for the masses.  A visit to the museum can be satisfactory for only a couple of hours or can take a day or more for connoisseurs who wish to study deeply. Scholars and writers can apply to view the archives at even deeper levels. A visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a must for people who love the music.

Downtown Nashville from Museum Front

Bridgestone Arena Across the Street

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Our thanks to the museum for making this visit possible and gratitude to country and bluegrass writer Shannon Wayne Turner for serving as out guide. It was a wonderful day.