Parties thrown by the Country Music Hall of Fame are always family-reunion affairs, but on Thursday (Sept. 29) our distant cousins showed up, too.
The cause for the celebration was the grand opening of a major new museum exhibit titled “Western Edge.” Donning their glad rags for the occasion were Jeff Hanna & Matraca Berg, John Jorgenson & Dixie Gamble, Phil “Mangler” Kaufman, Victoria Shaw, David Anderson, Chuck Mead, Spooner Oldham, Steve Fishell and Bruce Bouton.
Visiting from out of town (mainly California country cousins) were Rosie Flores, Chris Isaak, Herb Pedersen, John McEuen, Chris Hillman, exhibit curator Connie Pappas Hillman, Jimmy Fadden, Sean & Sara Watkins, The International Submarine Band’s Jon Corneal, Rodney Dillard, Richie Furay and Palomino nightclub country-rock star James Intveld.
The opening reception was packed. Hall of Fame chief Kyle Young was clearly delighted.
“I must say, I am disappointed in the turn-out,” he quipped. “Seriously, I am so happy to see so many people out tonight in this room.”
Young added, “This exhibit is a multi-layered story… There is a long established tradition of country music in Los Angeles. [“Western Edge”] brings us face-to-face with musical history.”
“Western Edge” was nearly three years in the making. The lavish, multi-room displays contain historic photos, artifacts, costumes, vintage instruments and video clips.
At the reception, the Watkins siblings thrilled the crowd with the Linda Ronstadt hit “Different Drum.” Ronstadt wrote the forward to the accompanying book, also called Western Edge. Her debut hit was written by the peerless country-rock stylist Michael Nesmith, one of whose costumes is enshrined in the exhibit.
Kyle introduced Hillman by dubbing him “the Linchpin of Country Rock,” due to his decades-spanning presence in The Scottsviille Squirrel Barkers, The Golden State Boys, the Gosdin Brothers, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, solo records, collaboration projects and The Desert Rose Band. Hillman took the stage with the Watkins duo to sing “Wheels,” which he cowrote with Gram Parsons.
Before turning the crowd loose to explore “Western Edge,” Young saluted the presenting sponsor, City National Bank, which is also an L.A.-to-Nashville import. He called out attendees Martha Henderson, Lori Badgett and Diane Pearson by name. We cheered wildly.
The exhibit salutes the California country scene, mainly between the 1960s and the 1990s. Three rhinestoned Nudie suits worn by The Flying Burrito Brothers on the cover of the iconic 1969 album The Gilded Palace of Sin are on display. So is an Eagles song manuscript, a documentary narrated by Dwight Yoakam, Rick Nelson’s Gibson guitar, a gabardine dress worn by Cindy Walker in the 1940s and a cowgirl outfit from Emmylou Harris are in it. So are artifacts relating to the careers of Los Lobos, The Blasters, X, Dave Alvin and other nouveau Calicountry folks. There is also an Amazon playlist to go with the exhibit (say, “Siri, play ‘Western Edge’”).
Enduring fabulons Frank Liddell, Jody Williams, David & Karen Conrad, David Ross, David Ewing, Woody Bomar, Scott B. Bomar, Barry Mazur, Katy K & Curtis Hawkins, Kent Oliver, Bill Denny, MaryAnn McCready, Gary Overton, John Allen, Debbie Linn, Rick Alter, Patrick Thomas, Bebe Evans and Charlie Monk schmoozed and gazed agog.
Western Edge book contributors Randy Lewis, Gene Autry biographer Holly George-Warren and Rhino Records Grammy winner James Austin were wowed by the displays. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame archivist Andy Leach was, too.
The festivities continue all weekend. The new exhibit officially opens this morning. Tonight, the Hall will host an all-star concert starring Hillman, Furay, Flores, Pedersen, the Watkins family and more. On Saturday, The Desert Rose Band will perform what is being billed as the last show of its career. Sunday’s events include a West Coast steel guitar summit and the screening of a Ronstadt documentary.
“This exhibit is fantastic!” exclaimed linchpin Hillman.