On February 5th, 2011 I made an unscheduled stop at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I was in the early stretch of my self-researched and personally curated Rock & Roll Field Trip From Hell which had brought me (of course) to Music City: Nashville, Tennessee. The previous day I had checked several things off of the list: a visit to Gruhn’s Guitars (the best used guitar shop in America), a set featuring some of Nashville’s hottest up-and-comers (or so we were told) at the Bluebird Cafe, and of course a whole lot of Honky-Tonkin’ (which is the Nashville-specific name for bar-hopping from one live music venue to another along Lower Broadway).
With a whole lot to squish into the schedule I had to skip a lot of things, and the Country Music Hall of Fame was supposed to be one of them. But over the course of the evening I had gotten word that the museum was going to be free when I woke up – one day only! – and I have a hard time resisting anything that is free. So with only one Nashville stop left on our itinerary (a visit to Hatch Show Print, the oldest poster shop in the US) before heading out of town towards Memphis, I squeezed in an all-too-brief run through of the Hall’s astounding collection.
The first thing to mention about the Country Music Hall of Fame is the building itself. Located right behind those Honky-Tonks on Lower Broadway, the finely architectured building features a facade of giant, arcing piano keys and was actually constructed in the shape of a massive bass clef (as viewed from above).
Though I didn’t give it the time it deserved, dashing through the collection was a rewarding experience all the same. They had some amazing artifacts in there, that’s for sure, including Elvis’ gold-plated Cadillac, layered with several coats of paint that had been blended with a mixture of ground-up diamonds and fish scales (to add sparkle). They also had his gold-plated grand piano. It astounds me to think how rich Colonel Tom Parker must have been, given that he personally skimmed 75% straight off of the top of all of Elvis’ earnings. For every dollar Elvis had to burn, the Colonel had at least three. Luckily he had a severe gambling habit, which probably saved him from having to order too many diamond-encrusted Cadillacs or gold-plated pianos.
There was a giant wall in there that held every Hatch Show Print print ever made, or some such nonsense. I mean, is that even possible? Hatch Show has been making gig posters for over a hundred years…I’m sure no single wall could hold the history of their work. Well, maybe in China.
The real treasures of the Museum were, of course, the instruments. They had some serious pieces of history in there, from Jimmy Rodger’s Martin guitar to Bill Monroe’s mandolin (which had been miraculously and meticulously reconstructed from mere slivers after the instrument was destroyed by a jilted lover armed with a fire poker). The gold record collection was simply massive, they had lots of Chet Atkins’ stuff, and oh, it just went on and on and on.
And within an hour or so I was back on the sidewalk, heading towards Hatch Show Print before leaving town to visit Graceland, Muscle Shoals studio, all three of Robert Johnson’s graves, the birthplace of Mississippi John Hurt, Sun Studios, The Crossroads, the Dockery Plantation, Rose Hill Cemetery, and oh, so much more.
Gosh, that was a fun trip.