Sure, there were speeches, but the songs that threaded through them were eternal and evergreen as Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrated a recently-opened addition Tuesday afternoon (April 15) that more than doubled the institution’s original size.
Well over 600 people — from casual passersby to musical legends — wedged into the museum’s sixth-floor event space for the celebration.
As they jockeyed for seats or wall space, the guests could survey an impressive sweep of the city’s skyline through the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the building’s Demonbreun Street entrance.
Helping set the mood as the audience assembled were the records being played over the room’s sound system, a collage of milestones and memories that included Waylon Jennings’ “Nashville Rebel,” The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” Buck Owens’s “Together Again,” Loretta Lynn’s “One’s on the Way” and “You’re Lookin’ at Country” and Merle Haggard’s “Someone Told My Story in a Song.’
The new construction, a 210,000-square-foot expansion which links the Hall to the Omni Hotel, includes not only large event spaces for dinners and meetings but also the Taylor Swift Education Center, Hatch Show Prints and new and expanded gift shops.
“This is another blessed day when music has brought us together,” museum director Kyle Young said as he welcomed the crowd.
Among the dignitaries seated onstage were Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Steve Turner, board chairman of the Hall of Fame and Museum and the prime mover behind the facility’s expansion program.
Skaggs was the first musical soloist. Backed by guitarist and harmony singer Paul Brewster, he sang “Working on a Building,” a song made famous by Bill Monroe and later used as the theme for the Hall’s building campaign.
“I came here 40 years ago, and none of that stuff was back there,” said Gill, gesturing toward the crush of new downtown buildings arrayed behind him.
He said the nature of the celebration caused him to search for just the right song.
“This is a songwriters’ town,” he said. “Always has been, always will be.”
That being the case, he explained, he chose a song written by Nashville’s first major music publisher, Fred Rose.
The song was “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which Gill crooned tenderly with the backing of Buddy Miller and his band.
Womack said she had a songwriter in mind, as well — Cindy Walker, who, like her, Womack pointed out, was from East Texas. With that, Womack, also backed by the Miller ensemble, sang “You Don’t Know Me.”
(Eddy Arnold was Walker’s co-writer on the song, although he acknowledged that his only contribution to the classic was giving Walker the story idea.)
Rose, Walker and Arnold are all members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as is Gill.
With a vocal assist from the McCrary Sisters, Miller wrapped up the musical portion of the event with a rousing romp through Buck Owens’ “Love’s Gonna Live Here.” The crowd clapped along.
Owens, too, is a Hall of Famer.
“This speaks to who we are as a state,” Haslam told the celebrants. “In Tennessee, we make things.” He alluded specifically to making cars and whiskey but noted that music is what the state makes best.
He told of being on a trade mission to Japan and meeting with the American ambassador to that nation. Learning that Haslam was from Tennessee, the ambassador insisted on taking him and his wife to a country music bar located in the middle of “quiet and pristine” Tokyo.
“We walk in, and it’s bedlam,” Haslam recalled. “I’ve never been so famous as I was in that bar.”
Dean focused less on the cultural aspects of the expanded Hall than on its economic impact. He described it as “a new phase in the growth of our hospitality and entertainment sector,” one that placed Nashville “at an advantage against competitive cities.”