Visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum ranks alongside attending a Grand Ole Opry show at the Ryman on most country music fans’ bucket lists. The museum in Tennessee offers visitors a trip into country music’s past and present, featuring items you never expected to see up close.
Per its mission statement, the Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville “seeks to collect, preserve and interpret the evolving history and traditions of country music.” Each object and line of text tells a wider socio-cultural narrative about country music’s global influence. Everyone from curious onlookers to lifelong fans will find a new perspective here on both country music and popular culture.
Gram Parsons, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Stevens might not be Hall of Fame inductees just yet, but they represent the variety of country stars represented throughout the museum’s overall narrative. This story covers more than Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, while paying such obvious legends their just due. Modern artists like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton also get spotlighted in this one-of-a-kind museum.
Also, there are Hall of Fame attractions beyond what’s covered here, including Taylor Swift Education Center programming, live music at the CMA Theater, the historic RCA Studio B tour and Hatch Show Print tours. Further, some of these special exhibits are on display for a specified limited time.
From the earliest Americans’ influences to the impact of old-time gospel, the stage gets set for country music at this permanent exhibit. The genre’s many sonic and cultural twists and turns follow, from the earliest radio stars to reality show winners. Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music establishes this narrative, which gets backed up by the temporary exhibits’ focus on specific artists or time periods.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping object in the whole museum, aside from maybe Webb Pierce’s custom convertible, resides in the temporary exhibit on Hall of Fame member Loretta Lynn’s life and career. One of the final cases in the Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl exhibit (on display until Aug. 5, 2018) includes the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to her in 2013 by President Barack Obama.
Shania Twain’s incredible career is on display. Twain fans will know what video or awards show an outfit was from before reading the object labels. The museum hosts Shania Twain: Rock This Country through July 15, 2018.
The Hall of Fame does a masterful job weaving the musical Anderson family’s backstory into the expected narrative of Lynn Anderson: Keep Me in Mind. Plus, the incorporation of Anderson’s equestrian interests offers visitors a feel for her life away from the bright lights. The exhibit runs until June 24, 2018.
Long-running special exhibit Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats (on display until Feb. 18, 2018) shows how Bob Dylan brought a cosmopolitan vibe to Music City by recording there in the late ’60s. The exhibit also celebrates the session players, from Charlie Daniels to Jerry Reed, behind some of the era’s best country and rock hits.
Fans of historic cars need to see the three sweet rides permanently parked inside the main exhibit. One of Elvis Presley’s iconic custom Cadillacs represents his grandiose lifestyle. Across from it sits Webb Pierce’s flashy 1962 Pontiac Bonneville that Nudie Cohn bedazzled with silver dollars and equipped with pistol door handles. Finally, fans of the Smokey and the Bandit series get to see the second film’s Firebird up close and personal.
The American Currents exhibit (on display until Feb. 11, 2018) covers the music of country and Americana artists and songwriters shaping today’s sound. The likes of Margo Price and Jason Isbell contributed artifacts, which get equal billing with objects from Maren Morris and Florida Georgia Line. Those artists and their peers share the spotlight with the current generation’s heroes (John Prine) and songwriters (Lori McKenna, Shane McAnally).
The rotunda, with Hall of Famer’s plaques arranged like musical notes and a sign that reads “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, stands among the most surreal fan experiences in town.
There was a sobering downside to visiting the museum on the heels of two legends’ deaths. The plaques for Glen Campbell and Don Williams still didn’t list their dates of passing. On the flip side, both men’s spot in the rotunda guarantees that their memories live on for posterity.