Inside the Country Music Hall of Fame's Massive Expansion

An exclusive walkthrough of the museum's 210,000 square feet of new space, featuring Taylor Swift's tour bus and squirrels shot by Hank Williams

country music hall of fame
Courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame
Country Music Hall of Fame
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It's pretty easy to get lost in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum these days: On Tuesday, the institution will more than double its size with a $100 million, 210,000-square-foot expansion that will be unveiled in a ceremony featuring performances by Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, Ricky Skaggs and Buddy Miller.

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The newly super-sized museum, now 350,000 square feet in downtown Nashville, a few blocks west of the Cumberland River, houses more than 2 million artifacts that help tell the century-old story of country music, and one thing the expansion should do is make that story more appealing to both children and fans of other genres. A walk through the new ACM and Fred & Dinah Gretsch Family galleries feels like being in a high-tech country music playground. Your first stop is at a virtual badge station, where you snap your picture for a digital profile that follows you through a series of interactive games and activities. Later, a replica of Taylor Swift's tour bus holds recording studios where you not only cut your own song but also mix it and design its CD cover. And just outside the bus is a 52-foot guitar that doubles as a slide.

While much of the new space caters to youth, the museum does an impressive job of bridging contemporary country music with that of earlier decades. One exhibit pairs young artists with their musical mentors, showing the similaries between Miranda Lambert and Merle Haggard, Jason Aldean and Gregg Allman and Brad Paisley and Buck Owens; and memorabilia runs the generational gamut, featuring everything from Lambert's pink Gibson guitar to Glen Campbell's bagpipes. Wardrobe displays, meanwhile, include the sequined top and short denim shorts Carrie Underwood wore for her Sunday Night Football theme song performance and Gram Parsons' Nudie suit featuring embroidered marijuana leaves and naked women. Ex-con-turned-country icon Merle Haggard's official pardon, signed by Ronald Reagan, is on display, as are Dolly Parton's handwritten lyrics to "Jolene." Kellie Pickler's Dancing With the Stars mirror ball trophy is on loan to the museum, as is a sculpture made by the late great Hank Williams, featuring taxidermied squirrels — which he shot himself — playing in a band.

Taylor Swift has a huge presence in the new space. In addition to her tour bus twin and several of her glamorous gowns, there is an entire education center named after the Red singer. Her $4 million donation to the Hall of Fame and Museum allowed for a 7,500-square foot section of the building that has already welcomed children from all over the country into its classrooms, where they take songwriting lessons and display their music-inspired art in a special children’s gallery.

In addition to the new wings and memorabilia, live music will now be an even bigger part of the museum, as the Country Music Association’s $10 million donation funded a new 800-seat theater. A sixth-floor event space will provide weddings and other special occasions with a view of the downtown Music City skyline.

The Hall of Fame’s older space, on the other hand, will need to make way for some new plaques soon, as the coveted institution will announce its 2014 inductees on April 22nd.

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