If you’re wondering if Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is popular, note the line waiting to get in on a rainy Saturday morning in May. The CMHF&M set an all-time attendance record of 564, 777 visitors in 2012. If you’re wondering if it’s worth waiting in a similar line, the answer is without a doubt YES. If you’re wondering if a not-such-a-big fan of country music will enjoy CMHF&M, the answer is again YES. If you’re wondering if the folks in charge of this tidal wave of interest in country music are paying attention, they are. More than $70 million has already been banked for an expansion that will double CMHF&M’s size with completion scheduled for 2014.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the current facility opened in 2001 except that it’s already not-enough-space. In fact, it & its contents are 5 Compass attractions. However, its more than 200,000 recordings, 2 million artifacts, etc. have outgrown “the house that holds all the music” (Vince Gill’s spot on nickname) that’s opened 9 t0 5 daily (except for 3 holidays and a few winter days) at 222 5th Avenue South in downtown Nashville. The word for its architectural design is clever. Building details include 10 elements that speak directly to country music’s past. For example, its soaring roof arch resembles a 1950’s Cadillac fin.
What will all those people see when they finally get in? An elevator took Ruth & me to the 3rd floor for, appropriately, a fact-filled history of country music called SING ME BACK HOME. Even though I knew the basic story, I enjoyed the journey and learned. WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas, was the first station to broadcast a “barn dance” using country musicians in 1922. As I stood transfixed while watching a mid-1950s Nashville Hayride hosted by a dewy-eyed June Carter who introduced a trio of very young singers–Webb Pierce, Marty Robbins, and Carl Smith–Ruth came over and dragged me to see Webb Pierce’s customized 1962 Bonneville. Every teenage male in the place was calling it The Gun Car!!!!! I heard the word awesome a lot. Also on the 3rd level were listening booths, a gold record wall, some temporary exhibits like a crowded tribute to Patsy Cline that unfortunately closes June 10.
The 2nd floor exhibits began with “The Bakersfield Sound”, a comprehensive look at country music’s west coast branch. Beyond it were tributes to almost every recognizable name in country music–Dolly, the Georges (Jones & Strait), Reba, Brad, etc. I hunted in vain for my 2 favorite performers, Lucinda Williams and David Ball, the best unknown country singer in America. This level ended in a perfectly round Hall of Fame paying tribute to all CMA honorees. I time-travelled the highest accolade in country music from its first inductee, Hank Williams, to its most recent, Garth Brooks.
The first floor contained a theater, a restaurant, guest services, lots of construction activity, and a meeting spot for those who have an hour to tour RCA’s Studio B where Dolly recorded “I Will Always Love You” and Al Hirt played “Java” on his trumpet. We decided to save Studio B for our next visit because parking in downtown Nashville is far from easy.