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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Museum Review: Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, Tenn.

This is the view that most pedestrians get of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as they enter the building.

Museum Review:
 Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum
 in Nashville, Tenn.

  It's common to meet cosmopolitan, sophisticated avant garde types all over the globe will say something like "I like every kind of music, except Country." Usually if pressed, they will qualify their answer by defining Country as "Top 40 Country" with exceptions for sub-genre's like Outlaw Country (Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard) or Country Roots music (the soundtrack for O Brother Were Art Thou and Bluegrass) or even Alt-Country (Wilco, Gram Parsons.)  I've come to the conclusion that such willful ignorance (of which I myself am guilty of as much as anyone) is wrong-headed.

  Country music, or Country and Western or Hillbilly- whatever you want to call it- is a uniquely American musical idiom both in terms of artistry, culture and commerce.   Country music should hold particular interest for anyone who is interested in "Indie culture" since it is the original independent music.  The existence of Nashville today is a testament to the intersection of a few major 20th century trends intersecting in a specific place to create a "third coast" for the popular music industry, and the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville masterfully relates that story.

 Word to the wise, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is NOT cheap- 25 bucks for a "regular" admission, more if you want an upgrade. It's not only "worth it" in terms of the value, but also because there are not a whole bunch of A-level tourist attractions in Nashville, so it's either this or.... You take the elevator up to the third floor and start with a typical museum type stroll through the roots/history of country music.  Almost every single item on display is a hit, and the use of sound is way above what you typically get in most museums. To me, the pre-history of Nashville is almost more interesting than Nashville itself, but I'd hardly expect the Country Music Hall of Fame to feel the same way.  The exhibits really get going in the rock/rockabilly era: Carl Perkins blue suede shoes, Elvis' gold Cadillac, etc.  It's clear that the official line from Country music is that 50s era rock is either part of or an outgrowth of Nashville country, which may be hard to square with anyone who knows anything about the actual history of rock and roll, but the viewer is inclined to forgive the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum its foibles in light of the majesty that it brings to bear on the subject.

  After ending with an exhibit heavy on the roll of television and radio in the rise of Nashville, the second floor is anchored by an excellent exhibit on The Bakersfield Sound, a Country scene that is most typically identified as being part of the "Outlaw Country" movement.  The main players are Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, and one of the revelations of the exhibit is that one woman, Bonnie Owens, married them both in succession.  I wasn't surprised to learn that many of the exhibits were supplied by Buck Owens' own Crystal Palace, a combination steak house/museum that is devoted to Buck Owens (who is the creator of the Bakersfield sound.)

  From there it's a hallway through to the present day, with various of waves of "neo-traditionalists" (which seems to be EVERY trend in Country music since the peak of Outlaw Country) competing with a risible Miranda Lambert exhibition (she's only 30 years old, the artifacts are "illustrated" by her tweets. Sample: OMG so happy to here today

  The book shop was actually a disappointing, I expected something more ambitious and instead it was strictly garden variety stuff.  More interesting is the Hatch Print shop that is down the hall of the lobby.  That is an interesting visit independent of the Hatch Prints displayed in the third floor hallway.

  There's not much going on in the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum neighborhood: It's literally sandwiched between the Bridgestone Arena (hockey) and a convention center.  The "Broadway" strip is a couple blocks away, but that is more of a night time destination.  While perhaps not a reason to come to Nashville by itself, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is a must if you are here for more than a night.

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