The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is one of Nashville’s many renowned institutions. Though I visited the hallowed hall when I first came to Nashville five years ago, a recent visit from my family (including two brothers who were first time visitors to Music City themselves) prompted a second trip to the updated facility, in addition to the fascinating Studio B tour.
A feature that is immediately recognizable is the hall’s grandiose nature that offers memorabilia of the highest regard. The museum consumes three floors worth of country music history, with each exhibit displaying various eras of the genre. When stepping off the elevator on the second floor, just two of the items that meet the eye include the beautiful gown Taylor Swift donned in her “Love Story” music video, accompanied by the dress worn by Carrie Underwood the night she was crowned the fourth “American Idol” and a video of her tearfully singing “Inside Your Heaven.”
But a personal favorite and a particularly interesting display comes in the form of the Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City exhibit, dedicated to the amazing careers and collaborations of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. A reel of video clips from “The Johnny Cash Show” showcase performances of the Man in Black with everyone from Dylan to Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell. Dylan’s Martin guitar and harmonica are just two of the instruments on display. In spite of my love of country music, I had no idea the amount of collaborations between the two legends and the effect Dylan had on the genre.
Another legend that one may be surprised to see inside the CMHOF is that of Paul McCartney, whose track sheets and tape box for the masters of “Junior’s Farm” and “Sally G” that the former Beatles member recorded in Nashville in 1974 have found a home in the museum. There’s also an amazing photograph of the British legend with a shining Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner at the Grand Ole Opry. And modern day country has just as much a prominent place in the museum as the legends that came before them. Chris Stapleton, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Janson and many more all have artifacts on display that showcase their presence in the genre, including the dress Ballerini wore at the 2015 CMA Awards and the guitar that Chris Janson used to write nearly every song he’s written, just to name a few. Blake Shelton has an expansive display himself, taking up an entire wall full of awards and photos of the singer during his mullet days and even the comical unicorn costume he wore when hosting the 2016 Kids Choice Awards. A similar display can be found on the third floor surrounding the long-time career of Dierks Bentley.
After gaining an extensive collection of knowledge at the museum, take a true step back in time in both Nashville and country music’s history with the Studio B tour. What’s so interesting about this tour is not just the history itself, but the way the history is presented to you. Our spirited tour guide told us a brief portion of the history of the studio on our bus ride there, including how it was Elvis Presley’s primary recording studio where he laid down many of his hits. Upon arriving at the studio, visitors are met with the crisp sounds of amazing tunes recorded at this historic spot, including “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton, Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin,’” to modern day artists like Carrie Underwood and Martina McBride.
But the real heart of the tour is in the famed studio itself, which looks almost exactly as it did when Elvis, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and countless more brought their music to life inside these hallowed walls. The most thrilling experience is when the tour guide tells the captivating story behind the recording process of Elvis’ rendition of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” in which we learned that Elvis was more of a night owl who preferred to record in the middle of the night. In order to get the atmosphere just right to record the song, he requested the lights be turned out so the studio be almost completely dark, as he soulfully crooned the emotional song, completing it in one take. The tour guide then dimmed the lights as a group of enthralled individuals listened to the song in the same studio and environment as the legend recorded it in 1960. It’s the type of experience that never gets old no matter how many times you do it, as there is nothing quite like hearing some of country music’s best echoing throughout the walls of this sacred space.