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Willie Nelson & Friends Museum
Travelling Back in Time with Elvis, Patsy, Hank & More

By Mamie Nash

Photography by ©Raeanne Rubenstein, 2013


At a time when young stars like Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, and Brad Paisley dominate the Country Music scene, bringing glitz and glam to the traditional 'good ole boy' sound, it’s easy to let the stars of the past slip away into the twilight of the mind, rarely dusted off and re-visited. Today, fast-paced lyrics and flashy music videos grab the spotlight, making it difficult to walk down that lonesome road to the time of the stars that were. Or is it?

How many people really stop and think about Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, or George Jones? Many more than you might think! That’s why The Willie Nelson and Friends Museum is dedicated to the memory of the people who brought country music to life. Full of artifacts donated by more than 30 country artists, the museum offers a walk back through time, successfully bringing the likes of Elvis Presley and Lefty Frizzell back to life.
George Jones and Frizzell
As you stroll around the display cases you can almost feel the artist’s presence, and are drawn to a simpler time, when only one, or possibly even two stations offered Country Music programming. Back then, families would gather around the radio together to listen to raw, real talent, untouched by technology, lighting, makeup, and soundboards.

Willie's Golf ClubsAbout half of the museum's artifacts once belonged to the museum’s namesake, Willie himself. From flashy outfits worn during tours, to a wall of gold and platinum records, to his personal golf clubs, Willie's personality pervades the museum, and immediately makes you feel at home.

“We're really trying to gain exposure, gain publicity. People love it, there's great reviews, and we're just trying to get people to come in to see it,” Mark Hughes explained. The museum is privately owned by Hughes and his wife Kay Hughes, who inherited it from Mark's parents, Frank and Jeanie Oakley, who started the business 34 years ago in Madison, TN. “Most of the artists in here were personal friends of theirs,” Hughes explained, “and over the years the items were just given to them as part of friendship. It's just evolved.”

Patsy Cline ringThe displays feature rare and personal mementos, such as a ticket to an Elvis Presley concert, scheduled for the night after he died in 1977, originally worth $15. Just a few cases away is a gold and black ring, inscribed with the initials HC, a 1962 gift from Patsy Cline to Hank Cochran, thanking him for writing the song “I Fall to Pieces,” and offering it to her to perform.

Patsy Cline’s daughter, Julie Fudge, who was also present at the reception explained, “A couple pieces here I helped to secure to be on display, like the ring, between family members. She added, “There's some pieces here that are hand-written pieces, and to me those are really special.”

A large portion of a wall in the museum is dedicated to photographs taken by the famous photographer Les Leverett, pictures which depicted the raw power of these stars, and the strong bonds of friendship between them.
Panel
Guests were also treated to a panel, consisting of Jimmy Fortune, David Frizzell, Jeannie Seely, and Jett Williams, daughter of the famous Hank Williams, all stars in their own right. They reminisced about the golden days of country, and told stories of times when friendships stretched throughout the music industry, and meetings at industry hang-out and thirst-quencher Tootsies Orchid Lounge downtown on Broadway, were the equivalent of the scheduled song-writing sessions of today.

Frizzell spoke of the difference between the music in the golden days and that of modern day. “It still amazes me when you look back at Hank and Lefty (Frizzell, David’s brother) and those old recordings, and they didn’t have Pro Tools back then. What you heard is what you get. How did they do it?  Today, we can cover up so much stuff that you don’t know what’s real anymore.”
Dotty West
This fact is hammered home when you see the museum, which holds many pieces of hand-written music, lyrics, and tour dates. No computer processor could ever truly capture the personality of an individual as well as a piece of work written in their own hand.

The stars also spoke of how excited they are to be included in the displays at the museum. “I feel absolutely honored and humbled to be able to be in the midst of all these people. I think that's what makes Country Music the family that it is,” Williams said.
Dolly Potter
Has the core message of Country Music changed since the old times? Not much, according to Williams. “This part of Country Music is the core that ties the old and new together, delivering messages that are as relatable to the youth now as they were in the days past.They’re still singing about beer, breaking up, and falling in love and I don't think anything's changed.”

Willie stuff left given to LeftyThe Statler Brothers’ Jimmy Fortune said, “I think Nashville's in good hands for the future. The kids coming into town are good kids. I think there's room for everybody, and I sure am happy to be writing with a lot if those kids.”

He added, “There’s not a better friend in the world than these people sitting up here with me today. Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this.”

And what are the artist's personal feelings about the museum? Overall, an overwhelming sense of pride. “I just can’t tell you how honored I am to be a part of this industry, and this museum,” said Jeannie Seely.

Williams concurred, “The importance of this museum is that it allows you to travel back in time. It’s one thing to hear someone on the radio, it's another thing to come here and actually see their physical possessions.”

Truth be told, the overall feeling of the evening was a sense of pride, and of  hope for the future. Proud of where they came from and of the work they've done, the artists now concentrate on looking forward, with not even a touch of bitterness that the old days are gone. And that’s because they profoundly believe that those days will always be remembered. “In today's market, the music has to change,” said Seely. “Nothing stays the same. It has to change, it has to evolve.”

“There's never anything wrong with the music. It's always been good to me, and I've always loved it!”  Frizzell concluded.
Elvis ticket
The Willie Nelson and Friends Museum is located at 2613 McGavock Pike, Nashville, TN 37214 right across the street from Opryland, another true heartbeat of America's Country Music. Whether you’re visiting for the first time, or you’ve seen it before, the newly refurbished museum offers something fresh and exciting for everyone. Plus, this wonderful collection, donated by the stars and their families, is rotated and added to regularly,

http://www.willienelsongeneralstore.com/

 

 

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 191 - September 2017
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