[NASHVILLE] We began the next day at the Country Music Hall of Fame. As the fellow in the visitors' center said, you could spend two hours or an entire day. The way I usually visit museums, you could spend two days and not see it all. But we had two hours, so we steamrolled our way through.
At the top floor, where one begins, we were greeted by an education center to which Taylor Swift had donated $4 million. Inside is her famous band leader outfit from her Fearless Tour. Those are some killer shoes. I covet.
I'm impressed by the exhibits from the early years. A banjo approximately 150 years old made from hand-split white oak and groundhog hide. An old copy of the sheet music for "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," which I think I learned to play sometime during my six years of piano lessons. A display from the Coon Creek Girls. Does it get more (respectfully) hillbilly than that?! A steel-bodied guitar that positively gleamed.
Country music stars get good names and good glitz. I want a name like "Moonshine Kate." What should it be? Sparkling Jules? Whiskey J? Help me out here! I'm also digging the suit with musical notes on it and the decoupage typewriter. Who says things have to be ordinary?
Webb Pierce's Silver Dollar Convertible stops most everyone in their tracks. His name in chrome on the trunk; chrome rifles mounted on the sides and rear end; a horse head on the gas cap; even horseshoes on the gas and brake pedals. And true to the name, a dash emblazoned with silver dollars. Why not?
Elvis Presley's Solid Gold Cadillac is less conspicuous but no less extravagant. Painted with 40 coats of a translucent mixture of crushed diamonds and fish scales, it has 24-karat gold highlights and the latest technology: a record player with automatic changer and gold-plated TV.
There's the Whomper and the Log and Bill Monroe's Gibson F-5, which was reconstructed from 150 slivers of wood after intruders smashed the guitar to bits. Guitars are family members here.
The Country Music Hall of Fame is home to the set of Hee-Haw, a fixture of my childhood. My grandma used to help care for me and my two sisters when my mom worked at the hospital and my dad worked late. And nary an evening passed without my grandpa tuning in to Hee-Haw (or yelling at us if we got in the way of the TV or made too much noise.
You know, when they're on stage, performers' clothing looks pretty normal. For the setting and all. But in a museum, the ridiculous of most costumes achieves new stiletto heights. Why not wear a white suit with flowers that look like giant lip prints embroidered on each butt cheek and naked ladies embroidered on the collar? Hey--we can do better than that. Let's stitch some weed onto the front of that. Yeah, man. That's smokin'. In fact, let's add some flames up the side of the legs.
Our last stop was the rotunda with plaques for each person entered into the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was lofty, sunny and quiet, in a cemetery kind of way. And in fact they have the dates of birth and death on the plaques for those who've gone to that great hoedown in the sky. I wonder whether the entertainers whose plaques are yet awaiting their date of death are a little creeped out by that expectant empty space.
The RCA Studio B Tour requires admission first to the Country Music Hall of Fame, and a bus departs from there on a limited schedule to take visitors across town to East Nashville, an increasingly gentrified area of the city. As it was the place where Elvis recorded more than 260 songs, it was a must-see on our list. We shared a really fast sandwich from the lobby of the hall of fame and boarded the small tour bus.
We immediately discovered an unexpected side benefit: We could be lazy tourists for an hour. Our guide narrated the trip over briskly and humorously, while we sat like cows on the way to market. We were herded all the way through the studio to keep the one-hour pace, even while we soaked up the atmosphere and learned about the legends who had made their music and their mark there. I've never been so happy to feel like a cow.
We learned such interesting stories as the fact that Dolly Parton first wrote "I Will Always Love You" for her boss at the time, Porter Wagoner, when she decided to go off on her own. While it didn't make him feel any better about the loss of his burgeoning star, it did become a huge hit, particularly when Whitney Houston recorded it for "The Bodyguard" in 1992. Dolly did all right for herself with that one.
Studio B has a bit of a haunted feel to it, though not in a scary things coming out of the wall with goo dripping from their fangs way. It felt more like the echoes of the music made there. The stories and Elvis's mood lighting added to the atmosphere. When I sat at Elvis's piano, I expected him to tell me to get out of his seat at any moment.
Our herd plodded back to the tour bus, regaled with more stories and history the entire way. I might have absorbed more from that one-hour tour than two hours of wandering the hall of fame.
But it was time for another stop at the heart of our trip: Project 615. We said hello to Phil Vasser on a street sign as we returned to our car.