Rock Exhibits

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Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
Full Access
Joined: 11/17/08
Posts: 303
08/10/2011 7:31 pm

By George Martin from South Park, CO., USA (Elvis's Guitars) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

With the dog days now upon us, some of you may be hitting the road, squeezing in last minute vacations, perhaps looking for a way to combat the ennui of a summer-weary child. I checked out some of the latest rock exhibits that are playing some of the hottest cities here in the US. What I found may inspire you music lovers to deviate some from your planned route, and will most certainly result in an enlightened and lively response to the perennial back-to-school essay, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation."

First up is Orlando, Florida, home of all things Disney, where The National Guitar Museum has rolled out its touring exhibition, "GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World." The exhibit, which opened in June at the Orlando Science Center, is a first-of-its-kind tour in celebration of the guitar—from the way it's made, to the way it's played.

The 5,000 square foot exhibition shows how the guitar became the world's most popular instrument. It is comprised of three elements: the evolution of the instrument, from it's crude predecessors dating back to 3000 BC, to the Fender Telecaster that introduced electric guitar sound beginning in 1949, to more modern high-tech instruments; the guitar's cultural impact; and the science of sound. The exhibit features historical artifacts, models, posters, video screens, interactive kiosks and sound stations. There are educational displays on everything from how vibrating strings create sound onto the electromagnetic properties of an electric guitar, to the environmental concerns about how the wood used to make guitars has disappeared through the destruction of rain forests. Also on display is an original Martin acoustic guitar circa 1835, which had been found behind a filing cabinet in the company office many years after it was made, and custom-made clear-view guitars and amplifiers that allow people to see the guts of the equipment. A highlight of the exhibit is the world’s largest guitar, which visitors are invited to play. Measuring 43.5 feet long by 16 feet wide and weighing 2,244 pounds, the piece was built by a school in Houston, Texas, and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Founded by HP Newquist, the award-winning author, documentary director, broadcast producer, and former Editor-in-Chief of Guitar Magazine, the National Guitar Museum's creative team also includes curators Pete Prown, founder of Guitar Shop Magazine and current contributing editor at Vintage Guitar, and Rich Maloof, founder of InTune Magazine. The Museum's advisory board consists of guitarists Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow), Steve Howe (Yes, Asia), classical guitarist extraordinaire Liona Boyd, US National Fingerstyle and Thumbpicking Champion Pat Kirtley, legendary bluesmen Johnny Winter and Joe Bonamassa, and the incomparable Steve Vai.

"The guitar is the most enduring icon in American history," says Newquist. "It has been around longer than baseball, basketball, soft drinks, and sports cars. It's hard to find anyone who hasn't been affected by the guitar, whether as players or just fans of all types of music. And while this may be apocryphal," Newquist adds, "it's a widely held belief that the two most recognizable man-made shapes on the planet are those of the Coca-Cola bottle and the electric guitar."

The Discovery Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut, played host to the exhibit earlier this year where it was fine-tuned before taking up residence in Orlando. "GUITAR: The Instrument That Rocked The World" runs through September 11, 2011, with additional venues expected to be added. Newquist says the traveling show will be on the road for five years and will touch down in 15 US cities. At the completion of the tour, the Museum will choose one US city as its permanent home.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, is also on the map this summer with its groundbreaking exhibit, "Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power." This provocative exhibit explores the evolution of women in rock—from when they first stepped out of the kitchen to sing the blues straight through to their current chart domination.

The interactive exhibition spotlights more than 70 artists and fills two entire floors of the museum with artifacts that include famous costumes (Cher's Native American-inspired outfit she wore while singing "Half Breed" on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour), vintage clothing (the leather vest Grace Slick wore onstage at Woodstock), instruments (Wanda Jackson's Martin D-18 acoustic guitar circa 1958), Madonna's iconic bustier from her controversial Blond Ambition tour as well as some of her handwritten lyrics, and even a pair of Patti Smith's boots, held together with duct tape, that are pure early punk. There are video and audio stations and a recording booth where visitors can film a short story or moment of inspiration related to women in rock.

"Women Who Rock" moves through the rock 'n' roll eras—from the 1920s foremothers (Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday), to the 50s pioneer singer/songwriter/musicians (Ruth Brown, Wanda Jackson, LaVern Baker, Brenda Lee), to the early '60s girl groups (the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes) and late '60s singer/songwriters (Carole King, Joni Mitchell), to '70s rockers (Joan Jett and the Runaways, Heart, Fleetwood Mac) and disco divas (Donna Summer), to '80s punk (Chrissie Hynde, Deborah Harry, Siouxsie Sioux), right up to the unapologetic, controversial performers of the '90s (Madonna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera)—weaving a fascinating narrative of how women changed popular music and came to rule the charts in what has been a traditionally male-dominated industry.

"Women Who Rock" runs through February 26, 2012.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also just opened the world's most comprehensive collection of Beatles memorabilia as part of the first redesign in the facility's 15-year history. Improvements include several new vibrant exhibit spaces, state-of-the-art interactive technology and lighting, improved traffic flow, and a host of new artifacts from the Fab Four, including a striped suit worn by Harrison on a 1966 tour, Ringo’s red jacket from the “Strawberry Fields Forever” video, John Lennon's black wool coat worn in Help!, and Paul McCartney's handwritten arrangement for "Birthday."

The exhibit also features John Lennon's Gibson J-160E acoustic guitar on which he recorded "Norwegian Wood" and "Give Peace a Chance"; George Harrison's Rickenbacker 425 electric guitar which he purchased in 1963 on his first visit to the States; Ringo Starr's drumhead from the band's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964; and a page from Stuart Sutcliffe's sketch pad showing his and Lennon's illustrations of one another.

Of the newly expanded Beatles exhibit, Jim Henke, the Museum's Vice President of Exhibitions, says that, “For many years now, we have been fortunate to have a great relationship with Yoko Ono, which enabled us to have many John Lennon artifacts. This time around, we were able to work with Ringo Starr and with George Harrison’s estate, so they are well-represented in the exhibit. We also worked with some collectors who had other key Beatles pieces, and before we knew it, we had an absolutely incredible collection.”

If you happen to be traveling in the Pacific Northwest, be sure to drop by that mecca of grunge, Seattle, Washington. The city is celebrating its musical heritage this summer with the exhibition, "Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses." Playing Seattle's Experience Music Project, the exhibit focuses on their hometown boys with an impressive array of rare photos, artifacts, and interactive features all set to an eerie soundtrack that is an aural collage evoking images of misty forests and brewing storms meant to embody the spirit of the region.

On display is the iconic green sweater worn by late singer Kurt Cobain in the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video, as well as the band's Video Music Award for Best Alternative Music Video with the song title engraved "Smells Like Team Spirit." You'll also get to see the hastily drawn-up recording contract with Sub Pop Records promising the group $600 for their first album and a then pricey $12,000 for their second. And what would a Nirvana exhibit be without trashed guitars. There are a variety of them here from pivotal points in the band's career—among them the first guitar Cobain ever totaled, a cheap Univox which was splintered at the end of a Halloween gig at a dorm party at Evergreen Community College. There's also Cobain's black Fender Stratocaster, destroyed in the studio during the recording of "Endless, Nameless" from the classic Nirvana album Nevermind.

The 225-piece Nirvana show, which runs through spring 2013 and may then tour the country, relies heavily on videotaped interviews with the musicians, producers, artists and scene makers who influenced the band. Giant touch-pad video kiosks feature dozens of vintage posters, fanzines and artwork chronicling punk scenes from Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York that helped set the groundwork for Nirvana. There are also a series of iPod listening stations loaded with a selection of influential bands such as R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, Fugazi and Sonic Youth. A booth in the back invites visitors to record their own memories or tributes to the band, which are then integrated into a moving wall of voices projected outside the booth.

There are a lot of early curios featured in the Nirvana collection including the "Fecal Matter" demo recorded by Kurt before he formed Nirvana, as well as the "Organized Confusion" demo he cut in 1982, along with the four-track machine he recorded the songs on and the bass he played on the tape. There's a letter dated April 1986 from Buzz Osborne (leader of the Melvins, one of Cobain's early musical icons) to Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic concerning a demo Kurt and the Melvins' drummer Dale Crover recorded at Cobain's aunt's house that Osborne dubbed "killer." He signs off by writing, "I think he [Cobain] could have some kind of future in music if he keeps at it." You'll also find the first Nirvana demo tape recorded by famed grunge producer Jack Endino in January 1988 for $152.44. It features songs including later Bleach tracks such as "Floyd the Barber" and "Paper Cuts." The tape, which consisted of an odd 9-1/2 tracks, ran out in the middle of the session for "Pen Cap Chew," and band members were so broke they couldn't afford to buy another reel. According to Novoselic, Kurt worked nights as a janitor, cleaning toilets to pay for that recording.

"Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses" also features some of the more humorous moments in the band's history, including a classic note from the group's label, DGC, wondering if Cobain wanted him to airbrush out the penis on the child who was photographed for the cover of Nevermind. "If anyone has a problem with his d**k we can remove it," scrawled DGC art director Robert Fisher, which sits next to a photo-booth image of the band just before they got kicked out of their own record-release party for Nevermind for starting a food fight.

The trip ends with a copy of a ticket from Nirvana's final show in Munich, Germany, on March 1, 1994, and the set list from the MTV Unplugged shoot in November 1993, which aired just four months before Cobain's suicide in April 1994.

For further information on any of these exhibits, please visit the websites,, and
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