Okay, so you didn’t get to Nashville last week for the CMA’s annual Country Music Festival – does that mean Music City isn’t a good destination for a Texan this summer?
Actually, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum debuted a new exhibit in late May that is guaranteed to bring out your Lone Star swagger: ‘Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ‘70s’ is an exploration of an era of intense cultural exchange between Nashville and Austin, when country music’s Outlaw movement was on the rise. This major new exhibition is slated to be open for three years, but ‘Outlaws & Armadillos’ – as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum itself – is reason enough to book a trip now.
‘Outlaws & Armadillos’ spotlights the rollicking revolution that took place when country stars like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Jessi Colter, David Allan Coe, Jerry Jeff Walker and Bobby Bare chafed at the smooth, safe music that was coming from Nashville’s famed Music Row. At the same time, Austin was on the rise as a thriving music center, where a wide range of musical styles found a home – and an audience – in that supportive, arty environment. The result was Texas-based artists joining forces with eclectic, prolific songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver and Guy Clark – as well as a virtual circus of Austin’s own brand of creative weirdness – to wrest creative control from stuffy Nashville record companies, making music that was poetic, hard-charging and uncompromised. Music that actually changed country music itself.
The colorful, comprehensive exhibit – as big and exuberant as this iconic music period deserves – is filled with music stations, rare video clips and interviews (more than any other previous exhibits, in fact), and never-before-seen artifacts. You’ll spy items such as the still where storyteller Tom T. Hall and the “bootleg preacher” Will D. Campbell made whiskey, the Randall knife that once belonged to Guy Clark’s father, the paintings of Susanna Clark, the outfit worn by Joe Ely when he worked at a circus, the remarkable photography of Leonard Kamsler and Marshall Fallwell Jr., the Gibson guitar played by Cowboy Jack Clement, the Armadillo art of Jim Franklin – and even Willie Nelson’s blue Adidas tennis shoes.
Visit the section of the museum’s website devoted to ‘Outlaws & Armadillos’ for a taste of this extensive, creative exhibit – there’s a delightful collection of videos featuring interviews with such Texas favorites as Kinky Friedman and Joe Ely and taped panel discussions about the exhibit and its artists.
And while you’re in Nashville enjoying the ‘Outlaws & Armadillos’ exhibit, build in time to tour the rest of the museum as well. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, and for the last three years in a row has had more than a million visitors a year, making it one of the ten most-visited history museums in the U.S.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a huge country music fan, the exhibits, films, music clips and carefully crafted information throughout the museum will fascinate you, showing that this very “of the common people” music is woven through the very fabric of our nation’s history. Even if you’re not a fan of Buck Owens, Patsy Cline or even Garth Brooks, you’ll gain a whole new respect for the genre itself. The museum is located in the heart of downtown Music City, so you can stroll to any number of Nashville’s famed honky-tonks after your visit!
‘Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ‘70s’ is a well-crafted salute to two of this country’s most unique, talent-dense music regions – Nashville and Austin – and the performers, songwriters and music people that brought the regions together, elevating them both.
Cover image illustration by Danny Garrett