It doesn’t matter whether you are a super fan of Country Music, a die-hard Rock and Roller, or claim some other genre of music as your “ride or die”, you can’t help but LOVE the Country Music Hall of Fame! If you hang out in any museum devoted to music long enough, you figure out pretty quickly that all styles of music have had crossover in the course of history. Musicians, who identify with one brand or genre of music, regularly cite a musical hero of another style of music as being an influence and source of inspiration in their current success. So with this in mind, it’s easy to see that there is something for everyone and every taste in the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is located in the heart of Nashville – down the street from the “mother church” of country music, the Ryman Auditorium, and just around the corner from the city’s famous Honky Tonk Row. The museum is an iconic tribute to the world of country music with its stunning architecture and windows resembling a keyboard when viewed from the Walk of Fame, just across the street.
There are three choices of admission to tour the museum …
- The Museum Experience – this gets you into the Hall of Fame museum and all of the exhibits in the museum portion of the building.
- Studio B Experience – this gets you a ride on a shuttle to the famous RCA Studio B, in the heart of Music Row, for a guided tour of this famous recording studio.
- The Hatch Experience – this gets you into the Hatch Show Print for a tour of this famous location as well as an opportunity to print a souvenir to take home.
My advice? DO ALL THREE! You get a break in price if you do all three and these are some of the best tours that I have ever experienced – and I go on a lot of tours! You will especially enjoy them if you are a true lover of art and music.
HALL OF FAME:
The Country Music Hall of Fame houses permanent, as well as changing exhibits that feature over 2 million artifacts consisting of recordings, musical instruments, costumes – many of which I remember them wearing – and more. Overall, the museum is a documentation of the evolution of country music while honoring the classic artists from our past and the current artists of today.
The exhibits change frequently so every visit offers something fresh and informative. The exhibits on display during our visit were …
- Outlaws and Armadillos: Country’s Roaring 70’s – This was the era that made me fall in love with country music! Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Bobbie Bare, and David Allan Coe – all “outlaws” who shook up the country music scene. The Nashville Sound didn’t jive with these artists and they headed to Austin, Texas where they created a new sound and brand of country music. This new “Outlaw” sound mixed hippy with redneck and a whole lot of cowboy! This era and these long-haired country boys are showcased in this new exhibit for the summer of 2018.
- Lynn Anderson: Keep Me in Mind
- Tim McGraw and Faith Hill: Mississippi Woman, Louisiana Man – This exhibit covers the individual paths of both artists up until they married and then highlights their success as a recording duo. Their Hollywood careers are featured, as well as costumes worn, and their most recent Soul2Soul concert series.
- Shania Twain: Rock This Country
- Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl – Another of our favorite exhibits documented the beginning of Lynn’s career from her early life in Butcher Holler’ up to her more recent collaboration with Jack White from the rock band, The White Stripes. A prime example of musical inspiration crossing not only lines of genres, but also those of generations.
The most hallowed area of the museum is the rotunda that prominently features plaques of all the inductees into the Hall of Fame. The words “Will the Circle be Unbroken”, a Christian hymn sung by many country stars, and made famous by singer Johnny Cash, encircle the room. The most recent inductees for 2018 are Dottie West for Veteran Era, Ricky Skaggs for Modern Era, and Johnny Gimble for Recording and Touring Musician – and will all be honored with a special ceremony later this year.
Another interesting display showcases new and current artists as well as educational and interactive exhibits. You can try your hand at writing lyrics, enter a booth to record your own song or learn to play chords on an oversized guitar.
RCA STUDIO B TOUR:
This tour meets in the lobby of the museum where you are greeted by a tour guide. You are then loaded on an air-conditioned shuttle that takes you to the famous RCA Studio B recording studio on Music Row – home to Nashville’s recording labels, radio stations, and recording studios. Studio B is Nashville’s oldest recording studio in the area – operating since 1957 and the birthplace to literally thousands of hits.
Upon arrival at the studio you are ushered into a foyer where you are surrounded with photos of the greats who recorded here. Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, Dolly Parton, the “King” himself – Elvis Presley, are just a few. Your tour guide then begins to regale you with story after story about these folks and the years when they were fixtures at the studio. Following his/her anecdote about a particular artist, you will then hear a snippet of one of their hits recorded here at the studio. It is remarkable how many hits started right here within these walls. AND, you’re encouraged to sing along!
The next stop on the tour is the sacred recording studio itself – where all the MAGIC took place! It is here that you’ll learn about the incredible acoustics in the room. You’ll hear how an echo chamber was installed in the upper corner of the room to create that wonderful echo-y reverberation that is so reminiscent of the music from the late 1950’s and 60’s. And plenty of music is played so that you can experience the creamy, rich sounds for yourself.
Your guide amuses you with plenty of stories too. You learn how Elvis – who switched from Sun Studios in Memphis to RCA in 1955 – loved recording here. He called the Steinway piano at the studio his very favorite and even tried to purchase it to take to his home at Graceland. You learn how his insomnia and nocturnal habits had him spending many a night in this room and how he recorded “Are You Lonesome Tonight” in the dark to set the mood, subsequently creating a subtle, but VERY discernible “clunk” at the end of the song when he hit his head on the microphone. Listen for it the next time you hear this song or take a listen right HERE!
This same Steinway piano was used by studio musicians – most notably Floyd Cramer. He recorded his hit (and my favorite – I love the plunky sound) “Last Date” on this piano (Check it out HERE – you’ll know it when you hear it). He was a heavy smoker and an ash tray is in plain view, sitting atop the piano, in many photos of him throughout the tour. You will hear how many years later, when they took the piano apart for refurbishment, an entire canister was filled with the cigarette butts found in the piano. And, while not on display (YUCK), the Hall of Fame museum STILL has them! They keep everything.
Probably my favorite story is how a young and flustered Dolly Parton, while trying to park along the street next to the studio, ran over the curb, the sidewalk and directly into the side of the building. When teased about her mishap, she quipped in true Dolly-style, “That was my first HIT at RCA Records!” Can’t you just hear her saying that? This is also where Dolly and partner, Porter Wagoner, recorded many of their famous duets and on a sadder note, where she shared with him her desire to part ways and try to make it on her own with a song that she wrote just for him … “I Will Always Love You”.
As you can probably tell, I LOVED this tour. And there are plenty more interesting and entertaining tidbits to hear, so be sure to add this option to your next visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
HATCH SHOW PRINT:
This last tour option to your Hall of Fame ticket is to the famous Hatch Show Print. This is one of America’s oldest working letterpress print and design shops. Dating back to 1879, it was founded by the Hatch brothers who began by printing posters for religious events, the traveling circus and vaudeville acts. They were genius with type size and font, creating wood block type as tall as 40 inches high per letter for large billboard ads. This original large type is still available for orders today.
As their success flourished they began creating posters and handbills for rock and roll concerts (Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, for example) as well as advertisements for upcoming events of all sorts. Think concert posters and handbills stapled to telephone poles – these were all products of Hatch Show Print.
Today the print shop is still going strong and your tour takes you into the working shop, itself, where you have the opportunity to witness the designers and printers in action. You will hear about many of the print jobs performed in the past and about orders received today. You learn how the type is set up backwards (because the print creates a mirror image) and how the ink is brayered on and then rolled through the platen to create the finished product. I really, really want to work here. They have an internship program too, I just might do this!
Finally you are led to an actual workroom where you learn even more about the art of letterpress. You learn about the 3-color process still used today and how the shop produces no new type – all orders are created with the original type dating back to the early 1900’s. This creates their unique weathered and worn look. Next you get to create a poster yourself to take home as a souvenir.
The Hall of Fame has owned the Hatch Show Print since 1992. It fits nicely with the overall theme of musical artistry in light of its role as a means of promotion in the early days of the musicians who recorded at Studio B, as well as those featured in the Hall of Fame itself.
There are three restaurants to choose from – 222 A Southern Eatery (sit down), Bajo Sexto (fast food tacos, nachos and more), and the Red Onion (fast sandwiches & salads) – so, you don’t even have to leave to eat. And the PERFECT souvenir can be found at one of their three shops whether you’re looking for something locally made, a T-shirt, or merchandise featuring one of the museum’s current exhibits, the Hatch Show Print, or Studio B.
Be sure to block out an entire day at the Hall of Fame – there is truly that much to see and do. Hope you can fit in a visit to this amazing museum very soon! Contact Info: 222 5th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37203 / 615 416-2001 / www.countrymusichalloffame.org
Have you visited the Country Music Hall of Fame? What did you love about this great museum? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments below …