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Can Johnny Cash amp up Nashville? City gets museum to music icon

February 15, 2012 |  8:36 am

Johnny CashHe was rediscovered by alternative rockers in the last years of his life, became the subject of a blockbuster biopic, and now the late country music icon Johnny Cash will have his own museum in downtown Nashville.

The plans for the 18,000-square-foot, private museum were unveiled Tuesday by members of the Cash family and Bill Miller, a longtime friend, fan and champion of the Man in Black, according to a report in the Nashville Tennessean.

"My father and mother [the late singer June Carter Cash] had a way through honesty and truth of spirit," said son John Carter Cash. "It's not about the glamour or about making it for Nashville. This is about spreading their spirit."

That spirit will certainly be welcome among Nashville's civic leaders, who have been working diligently in recent years to revitalize a once-moribund downtown, in great part by focusing on Nashville's historic role as America's country music capital. The Ryman Auditorium, once used for Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, was renovated in 1994. Seven years later saw the opening of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Like many a downtown revitalization tale, this one involves a group of more or less marginalized artists who blazed a trail and helped the business community recognize its rich trove of homegrown cultural capital. You can find a version of that argument at the website Savingcountrymusic.com, which credits punk-influenced, non-mainstream country musicians such as Joe Buck -- who typically looked backward to more rough-hewn country styles for inspiration -- for breathing life into the old haunts.

"The turnaround story for downtown Nashville doesn't involve acts of government," one of the blog's writers posted in September 2010. "Lower Broadway was revitalized by music, and specifically, the music that was the precursor to the music we listen to, and talk about on this site. Mainstream fans will sometimes put down this music as 'obscure' or irrelevant. Toby Keith and Tim McGraw didn't revitalize the most historic part of Nashville. It was a bunch of punk kids from all around the country, who moved to lower Broadway to walk the same streets Hank Williams walked."

Of course, if there is one country legend to bridge the gap between the wild-man-country-grungy and the conservative-country-slick, it is Cash, who continues to be revered by, and influential to, both camps.

His museum is set to open this summer, according to the Tennessean. Whether the punk kids will fork over the $13 admission remains to be seen.

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-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta

Credit: Late country music legend Johnny Cash is at his Hendersonville, Tenn., home in 1999. Credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press

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