I hate country music. As a Nashville native, it’s my duty. Somebody has to keep the balance around here.
So you can imagine my surprise when, during my recent trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, I found myself in tears.
The kids and I started our visit with the Nashville Public Library’s String City production. It was an excellent precursor to touring the museum, since I — hating country music — had neglected their education in this area. The kids enjoyed the show, which alternated between straight-forward songs and hilarious skits. I, however, found myself entranced as memories of my childhood came flooding back.
I grew up in the shadow of the WSM tower, watching The Mandrell Sisters with my parents and listening to the Oak Ridge Boys as we ran errands. That was “real country,” my parents would tell you, not the pop music of today. And, of course, there was Dolly.
Dolly was right there in the puppet show, too, singing “Coat of Many Colors” and “I Will Always Love You” with a costume change at the end. And right then, as puppet Dolly brought all the intensity and beauty to the song, I burst into tears. At a children’s puppet show.
My boys, who were not particularly surprised to see their mom doing something weird, were eager to get on through the museum. They had things to see. Namely, Elvis’s Gold Cadillac, featuring 24K gold details and a TV in the backseat.
We picked up a scavenger hunt in the Taylor Swift Education Center. My little guy loved matching the memorabilia to the artist, and it helped him stay engaged. My oldest, however, wanted to breeze through the museum and get straight to the Hall of Fame.
What started with a plan to quickly tour the museum turned into a four-hour trip as my boys discovered interactive touchscreens with details on costumes and listening booths with clips from hit songs. The kids were fascinated by the old gramophones and guitars as well as Webb Pierce’s gun-festooned car, while I loved seeing displays from the artists I had watched as a child. As our time grew short, we ended up racing through the second floor to the Hall of Fame Rotunda, assuring ourselves that we would return for another visit soon.
So here’s the cool part about visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame — for families in Davidson County, and students in the surrounding area, the CMHOF is now FREE thanks to the Community Counts program. Students 18 and under can receive free admission when they bring proof of residence such as a library card, report card, or school t-shirt. Adults can check out a passport offering free museum admission for up to two adults at any Nashville Public Library branch; the number of passports is limited, so I recommend calling ahead to see if any passports are available. Additionally, families in Davidson and surrounding counties who receive SNAP benefits are eligible for $5 family memberships to the museum.
Things to Know:
- Plan parking ahead of time. I’m still not used to Nashville’s It City status and figured I could park in a nearby lot for $15 or $20, tops. Imagine my surprise in finding I had to pay $30 when we left. A little planning would have saved me a lot of money.
- Pack a lunch. Since we stayed at the museum longer than I anticipated, we were all hungry and grumpy after only seeing half of the exhibits. We grabbed food at the museum’s way-overpriced snack bar, spending about $40 for lunch. Since museum tickets are good for re-entry all day, next time I’ll pack a picnic lunch and take a midday break in Walk of Fame park across the street. There also are two sit-down restaurants at the museum, but I would recommend them for kid-free outings.
- Study up. If your family isn’t familiar with country music, a little prep work will make the visit more meaningful. Try to catch the String City puppet show or create a playlist of some of the featured artists.
- If you have Taylor Swift fans in your family, yes, the sparkly silver guitar is there as well as some lovely dresses.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum reminded me of my heritage as a native Nashvillian, but their inclusive Community Counts program makes me proud to live in Music City today. Visit this Nashville treasure, and spread the word about the affordable programs that make the museum open to all Nashville families.