Can we get a hallelujah?
All the standout tunes, trends and triumphs of last year are showcased in a new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit titled American Currents (The Music of 2016) — which opened Friday — and many of its subjects turned up at a preview event on Tuesday to see for themselves what they have accomplished.
What they saw in the hallowed Nashville museum is an amalgam that proves the diversity, strength and depth of the genre.
Superstars are on abundant display: There’s Jason Aldean’s ACM Award for Entertainer of the Year.
Nearby is pair of dazzling pink stiletto pumps adorned with a small holstered pistol – a fashion statement that only ACM Female Vocalist of the Year Miranda Lambert could pull off. Florida Georgia Line is well represented with the racing gear worn in the video for their 2016 chart-topper “May We All.”
Rising feminine forces also hold sway: Two flowing gowns that Kelsea Ballerini donned in her “Peter Pan” video pay homage to the Tennessee native’s banner year. The dress Morris wore when she performed “My Church” at the CMA Awards is also on view. A battered guitar featured in the display case of Margo Price testifies to country’s unbroken lineage: It was given to her by great-uncle Bobby Fischer, a songwriter whose work has been recorded by George Jones, Reba McEntire and Conway Twitty.
Several newbies on the scene are paired with icons to reflect country’s continuity amid the innovation. One display, for instance, draws a direct line between Tammy Wynette’s classic “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and RaeLynn’s child-of-divorce tearjerker “Love Triangle.” Another display highlights the California connections between twangers Jon Pardi and Buck Owens. Echoes of McEntire can be heard in the dexterous voice of Mickey Guyton, and the two women’s gowns stand side by side in yet another case.
Guyton, 33, was among the artists who gathered for the preview, and the pairing was a complete shock. “When I walked in, I didn’t expect me to be sitting next to Reba McEntire,” she said. “I had no clue. I was, like, holy…!” (She allowed those standing nearby to finish her thought.)
Seeing the display was especially emotional for Guyton, who recently lost her grandmother, the family member who introduced her to “all these amazing country artists.”
Brett Eldredge, whose chart-topping year earned an exhibit nod, also had a beloved grandparent on his mind as he took in the display. His grandfather was the first to introduce the museum to Eldredge when he was a boy.
“He was in a wheelchair at the time,” Eldredge, 30, recalled. “He’d just had surgery or something, and I pushed him through the whole Country Music Hall of Fame. There’s a picture of me jumping up and clicking my heels, like I was just loving it. … To walk through and share that experience with him and now having an actual exhibit in here, I’m wishing I could show this [to him] now.”
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Price also remembered another museum visit – though it was anything but momentous. Just three years ago, she was holding a cocktail tray at a gala event celebrating the museum’s expansion.
“I was standing right here, and I was serving drinks to everybody,” Price, 33, said as she answered reporters’ questions in the museum’s expansive lobby.
Back then, she said, she wouldn’t have allowed herself to dream of a museum-worthy career: “I’m a pessimist,” she said. “I don’t want to set any expectations too high.”
But after a year that exceeded her wildest dreams, Price declared her museum display “the cherry on top.”