The Underwhelming Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is situated on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. It is a place that recognizes and records the history of the most popular and most influential artists, producers, and other noteworthy figures who contributed major influence on the development of rock and roll. It was established on April 20, 1983 by the founder and chairman of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun.

On a recent highly anticipated visit I was in short underwhelmed.  Honestly I don’t know what I was expecting exactly, but given the huge iconic status Rock and Roll has in world-wide culture it felt like it should be bigger than life.  The memorabilia is pretty amazing, they have quite a collection of albums, clothing, and much more.  And you can walk through and see it all in a series of dark winding rooms.  It’s kind of cool that out front they have one of Johnny Cash’s touring buses.

If you are in Cleveland its worth a visit if you’re a fan of rock and roll but primarily it feels like you’re going to walk through an overstuffed museum.  There is a store which I was hoping would have a wider range of styles of clothing for different ages and types of people.  The interactive displays that walk through historical timelines and events for artists and bands does provide great detail.

Hopefully at some point a new vision will be caste for the hall of fame that incorporates more multi-media, more immersive experiences.  How about rooms where you can pick clips of your favorite bands concerts and have a up front stage experience?  The hall of fame needs to be come into the 21st century.

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Choosing Cleveland and Building the Hall

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation leaders were very impressed with Cleveland’s rock roots when they visited the city in July 1985. However, rather than choosing Cleveland right away, what they did was they held a national competition to pick the location for the Rock Hall instead.

In 1986, Civic leaders in Cleveland guaranteed $65 million in public money to fund the construction and there was also a petition drive that was signed by six hundred thousand fans favoring Cleveland over Memphis. With that, Cleveland ranked first in a poll made by USA Today asking where the Hall of Fame should be located.

The Hall of Fame Foundation chose Cleveland as the permanent home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as its museum on May 5, 1986. There were some who were disappointed that it ended up in Cleveland such as Sam Phillips from Sun Studios and many others. Cleveland may also have been chosen as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s site because it was able to offer the best financial package.

After Cleveland was chosen, the next thing they’ve discussed was where in Cleveland should the hall be located. The foundation’s board considered the Cuyahoga River but the ultimate location they picked was along East Ninth Street in downtown Cleveland. That was by the Lake Erie, east of Cleveland Stadium. There was one point in the planning phase that they proposed locating the Rock Hall in the then-vacant May Company Building when a financing gap existed but they finally decided to commission architect I.M. Pei to design a new building.

Dr. Larry R. Thompson, the initial CEO, facilitated I.M. Pei in designing the site. They came up with the idea of a tower with a glass pyramid protruding from it. Initially, the museum tower was planned to stand 200 feet high but it was cut to 162 feet because it is near Burke Lakefront Airport. The building has a base with approximately 150,000 square feet.

On June 7, 1993, the groundbreaking ceremony took place and some of the guests who appeared are Chuck Berry, Sam Phillips, Sam Moore, Sam and Dave, Pete Townshend, and Carl Gardner. On September 1, 1995, the museum was dedicated before a crowd of more than 10,000. Then the following night, there was an all-star concert held at the stadium which featured Aretha Franklin, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, and many more.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Layout

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has seven levels. On the lower level, the Ahmet M. Ertegun Exhibition Hall is located which is the museum’s main gallery. It features exhibits about the roots of rock and roll and as well as the cities that have had a major impact on rock and roll.

The first floor of the hall which is the entrance level features a café and a stage used for different performances and events all year round. On the second floor, there are interactive kiosks featuring programs on one-hit wonders as well as the songs that shaped rock and roll. On the third floor is the Hall of Fame section where films about rock and roll are shown.

The fourth floor of the building features the Foster Theater where special events and programs are held. And the top two levels of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame contains large, temporary exhibits. Some of the exhibits featured here were about hip-hop, Elvis Presley, U2, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, and more.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Exhibits and Programs

There were lots of temporary exhibits featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1997. There exhibits range in size from major ones that fill the top two floors of the museum to small ones that are often placed in the main exhibition hall on the lower floor.

The very first major exhibit of the museum opened on May 10, 1997 and it was called “I Want to Take You Higher: The Psychedelic Era, 1965 – 1969”. Some of the artists included in the exhibit were John Lennon, John Sebastian, Janis Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane, and Eric Clapton. It also included artifacts relation to the Monterey International Pop Festival and Woodstock.

Aside from major exhibits, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also curates lots of smaller temporary exhibits. Through the years, majority of these exhibits focused on topics like the Vans Warped Tour, Austin City Limits, Paul Simon, the Concert for Bangladesh, and more. Aside from that, it also exhibits photography and artwork related to rock and roll. Some of the photographers whose wore has been featured are Tommy Edwards, Lynn Goldsmith, George Kalinsky, and Robert Alford.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also produces many public programs like concerts, film screenings, interviews, lectures, and other events that help in telling the story of rock and roll. Since 1996, the hall of fame began to celebrate Black History Month by hosting concerts, film screenings, and lectures illustrating the important role of African-Americans in the history of rock and roll.