Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum launched a three-year campaign Thursday (July 28) to raise $75 million to expand its present facilities by 210,000 square feet, a move that will more than double the space available for archival, educational, performance, meeting and recreational activities.
Hall of Fame chairman Steve Turner outlined the contours of the plan to a crowd of around 200 civic and music industry figures at the Hall's Ford Theater. Beside the formal announcements, there were performances by Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson and fiddler Buddy Spicher.
The campaign is dubbed "Working on a Building: Country Music Lives Here" and takes the first part of its title from the song first recorded by the Carter Family in 1934 and made famous by Bill Monroe via his 1954 recording.
Ricky Skaggs and his band opened the proceedings by performing "Working on a Building." While the song is about erecting a monument to God, Skaggs said that there is "something spiritual" about the Hall of Fame's mission that makes the hymn a fitting theme.
Kyle Young, the Hall of Fame's director, disclosed that $56.8 million has already been committed from various sources toward the total goal. Of that amount, Turner and his wife have pledged $6.5 million.
The new space will be housed in an exterior "shell" to be constructed between the Hall of Fame and the in-progress Omni Hotel. The Omni will provide the shell, while the Hall will build the interior.
Among the features planned for the addition are an 800-seat theater, a children's gallery, a recording studio, classrooms, retail space (including Hatch Show Print), exhibit gallery and archival storage space.
Young told CMT.com the new addition will also call for the hiring of around 25 additional staff members. The current staff numbers about 70.
Skaggs, Turner, Young and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean all tipped their hats, figuratively speaking, to Bill Ford, chairman of the Ford Motor Company, who attended the announcement to accept his role as honorary co-chairman (with Kris Kristofferson) of the fund drive.
Skaggs mentioned in passing that he drives a Lincoln, while Dean noted, "I have for 12 years driven a Ford Mustang." The only dissonant note in all this automotive genuflecting came near the end of the event when Jackson sang his 1993 hit, "Chattahoochee," which, as fans will recall, prominently mentions "my old Chevy."
"This isn't just a marketing campaign for Ford," Ford said when it came his turn to address the crowd. "It's part of our heritage."
He noted that his great-grandfather, company founder Henry Ford, was an enthusiastic and active supporter of traditional country music and musicians, particularly fiddlers.
The elder Ford organized fiddle contests, including a national one (which his great-grandson likened to an early edition of American Idol), founded a record company to make the music available and even donated Model Ts to some of the early touring musicians.
Singer Lynn Anderson presented Ford a plaque in recognition of his contributions to country music.
Following Ford's remarks, Young called legendary fiddler Buddy Spicher and his band to the stage.
"This was one of President [Franklin] Roosevelt's favorite fiddle tunes," Spicher told Ford, "and I imagine your grandfather [sic] liked it, too." Then he played the rousing "Soldier's Joy."
Jackson was on tap to close the event. But it took him a minute or so to come to the stage after his name was announced, a delay that prompted someone in the audience to shout, "He's been around George Jones too long," a reference to Jones' one-time reputation as a no-show.
Jackson said his first song was one he had co-written with Hank Williams Sr., explaining that he and several other artists had been asked to provide additional lyrics or music to embryonic lyrics Williams had written in a notebook discovered after his death.
Calling the song "sparse but cool," he sang "You've Been Lonesome Too." With Paul Franklin's weeping steel guitar and Andy Leftwich's buttery-smooth fiddle backing him, Jackson succeeded in achieving that late 1940s-early 1950s sound Williams made so distinctive.
Jackson's recording of "You've Been Lonesome Too" will appear on the forthcoming album The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, which is set for release Oct. 4 on Egyptian Records/CMF Records/Columbia Records.
Jackson closed the show with "Chattahoochee."
The addition to the museum is tentatively set to be open in early 2014.
Find out more about events at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.