NASHVILLE — The new Country Music Hall of Fame tells a story, its director says, and the ceremony Thursday morning to open the $37 million, 130,000-square-foot museum will tell a story too.
"We're going to tell the story of country music and the story of this project through stories and songs," hall director Kyle Young said of the program preceding the public ribbon cutting. The celebrity-filled grand opening begins at 9 a.m. in front of the museum and will be broadcast live by radio station WSM and the ABC Radio Network.
Led by Othar Turner's Fife and Drum Band, an African-American troupe from North Mississippi, hall of fame members George Jones, Kitty Wells, Charley Pride, Brenda Lee, Little Jimmy Dickens, Earl Scruggs, Roy Horton, E.W. "Bud" Wendell and Jo Walker-Meador will ride in limousines from the old museum on Music Row to the new building downtown. Together they will carry into the museum the last artifact to be installed, Mother Maybelle Carter's Gibson L-5 guitar, on which she plucked the country classic "Wildwood Flower."
Members of the Grand Ole Opry will make up another ceremonial procession. A jumbotron screen will monitor a motorcade taking Opry members who joined after 1974 from the Grand Ole Opry House to the Ryman Auditorium, where they will meet up with the Opry's pre-1974 inductees. The Opry moved from the Ryman to the suburban Grand Ole Opry House in 1974.
Led by a color guard, the Opry stars will walk a few blocks south to the new museum. They will carry a vintage WSM microphone from Roy Acuff's collection into its new home. Around 20 Opry members will participate, including Ralph Stanley, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Brad Paisley, Porter Wagoner and Bill Anderson.
The Opry members' procession and presentation of the WSM microphone are meant to underline the role played by the famous station in Nashville's development as a music center, Young said. WSM-AM began broadcasting the Opry in 1925; the influential live country music program is the longest-running radio show in America.
"Mother Maybelle's guitar and the WSM microphone are artifacts that you need to tell the story," Young said. "We tried to select iconic items that speak volumes about the history of the music."
MCA Nashville president Tony Brown will emcee a 70-minute ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. George Jones and Vestal Goodman (of gospel group the Happy Goodman Family) will sing "Amazing Grace." The opening hymn, Young pointed out, is meant to express gospel's strong and lasting influence on country music, just as Turner's fife-and-drum ensemble shows that country music's roots are cross-cultural.
Banjo legend Scruggs will play his instrumental bluegrass classic "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Kathy Mattea, who worked as a hall of fame tour guide before stardom, and Vince Gill, Marty Stuart and Emmylou Harris, members of the hall's Board of Officers and Trustees, also will perform.
"They are people who have led the charge for us," Young said of the performers. "Like the museum itself, plans for the ceremony have come together organically. Once we started talking about who we are and what we do [as an institution], it became apparent what we wanted for the ceremony. We've gotten exactly what we wanted."
A flag procession by Fort Campbell, Kentucky, soldiers will be followed by the pledge of allegiance, led by Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence, and the national anthem, sung by Scat Springs.
Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, MCA Records Nashville Chairman Bruce Hinton (chairman of the hall of fame's Board of Trustees) and former hall of fame director Bill Ivey, now chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will speak. Wendell, Young and Diana Johnson, deputy director of museum services, also will make formal remarks.
Wells and Pride will close the ceremony by cutting the ribbon to open the new museum.
Museum officials have decided that the opening should have a solemnity in keeping with its historical significance. There are parallels, they say, to the character of a church service.
"It is a reverent time," Young said. "Marty Stuart refers to [the music and tradition] in religious terms all of the time. It was incumbent upon us to come up with a ceremony that is as dignified as our mission. It is about celebrating, but celebrating with dignity and reverence and honor."
Admission on opening day, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, will be free to the public. Timed admission tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 8 a.m. at a tented box office across from the museum.
As part of an opening weekend celebration, Thursday through Sunday, the hall of fame will host performances by BR5-49, Hot Club of Cowtown, Paul Burch & the WPA Ballclub, Alison Brown, the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble and others. Special programming also includes a variety of music-related demonstrations ranging from Cajun dancing to songwriter showcases.