With only a few hours to spare in Nashville during my cousin’s wedding weekend, I headed to the Country Music Hall of Fame. This is a stop I highly recommend whether you’re a little bit country or pure rock and roll. My mother, my 11 year-old son, and one of my cousin’s offspring, a 13 year-old boy were with me on this 2 1/2 hour outing. Everyone was satisfied and boredom didn’t set in once.
Opened in Nashville in 1967, the Country Music Hall of Fame has had its new digs, an impressive expanse of cement, glass and stone, since 2001. Here are music treasures that span two centuries. Artifacts, photographs, sheet music, concert attire worn by music legends, recordings and video clips are arranged chronologically in interpretive displays that tell the history of country music including current pop culture icons.
I particularly enjoyed finding out more about performers I watched as a child such as Minnie Pearl whose loud “How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E!” was made famous at the Grand Ole’ Opry and on the television show Hee Haw. Her dress and an early photo of her wearing her iconic hat with its price tag is on display. Minnie Pearl’s public personna and private self were quite different. Although always trying to attract a fellar and sometimes slow on the uptake, Pearl (real name Sarah Colley Cannon) was married and a graduate of what is now Belmont University.
The history presented about each performer are also lessons of trials and triumphs and the American Dream. One that caught my attention was Merle Haggard whose childhood trials and bad choices helped land him in San Quentin as an adult. Seeing Johnny Cash perform during Haggard’s prison stint helped him turn his life around. Haggard’s sense of humor struck me while I watched him mimic other performers in one of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s film montages. He did a fine mocking of Johnny Cash with Johnny Cash walking into the frame to stand beside him as part of the act.
The film montages are film clips strung together which serves as a trip down memory lane as well as a lesson in the progression of country music and performances that trace how country music has become part of mainstream America.
Case in point, there’s a special exhibit dedicated to Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away Tour” that runs through November 10. While I visited, the special exhibit was Patsy Cline–one of my all time favorites, although, I did enjoy seeing the dress Carrie wore when she won American Idol.
A hallmark of a great tourist attraction in my book is where I learn something totally new and it adds to my sense of being a somewhat knowledgable person. “The Bakersfield Sound: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and California Country” exhibit that runs through December 31 did just that by adding an important detail to the history of the country music scene.
Perhaps you’re like me and assume country music hails mostly from the south, but during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, a large contengency of people in the south headed west to Bakersfield, California bringing their music with them. Buck Owens and Merle Haggard came out of this movement and California’s geography and culture influenced the music they produced.
Because we had limited time, we opted for General Admission which got us into the Country Music Hall of Fame only. If we had had more time, I would have opted for the Platinum Package which includes the Celebrity Audio Tour and the guided tour of Historic RCA Studio B where more than 35,000 songs were recorded including 150 of Elvis Presley’s.
Speaking of Elvis, if you do head to the Country Music Hall of Fame, check out Elvis’s gold piano and Cadillac. They are something else and worth the price of admission on their own. (Okay, toss in an outfit worn by Keith Urban and now we’re talking. Yes, I did sigh a bit with that one.)
The Country Music Hall of Fame’s gift shop has an impressive collection of country music CDs and souvenirs. We also got something to eat at the cafe located in the lobby.
If you go and you have AAA membership, use it. The membership saved me $4–$2 on my ticket and $2 on my son’s.
Normal ticket prices are: Adult $22.00; Youth (Ages 6-17); $14.00 Child (Ages 5 and under) FREE. Seniors, age 60+; military and college students also get a $2 discount.
Country Music Hall of Fame
222 5th Ave. South
Nashville, Tennessee 37203
During our visit to Nashville, we stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Nashville Downtown, hotel within walking distance to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I do recommend the DoubleTree if you’re looking for a hotel near Nashville’s busy nightlife but not too close. The walk from the Doubletree to the Country Music Hall of Fame crosses Broadway where many of the honky tonks, bars and clubs are located.
Relatives of mine did take horse drawn carriage rides which run $10 for a half hour. This is one way to get a taste of Broadway.
Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Travel Writers Association