rock hall continues its evolution as a serious-minded cultural institution

These days, it sure feels like the heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland.
In April, the city will play host to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for the second time since 2009 -- and the third time ever -- thanks to a deal that brings the event to Cleveland every three years. Eleven rock-and-roll luminaries, including the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Guns ‘N Roses, will be honored at the ceremony at the Public Auditorium.
Tickets to the April 14 event sold out in minutes, but Clevelanders and out-of-town visitors can still enjoy a week’s worth of related festivities that the Rock Hall has planned, starting April 7, including two free concerts.
Meanwhile, the Rock Hall also is raising the curtain on two multi-million dollar initiatives that are bound to amp up even more this city’s appeal to fans of rock-and-roll.  
First is the Rock Hall’s recently completed $7 million-plus renovation of its museum. It’s the first major renovation of the museum since the Rock Hall opened here in 1995.
The Rock Hall is a huge draw for the city, with about half a million visitors each year -- ninety percent of whom are from outside Cleveland. Its economic impact has been estimated at more than $100 million annually.
Chief curator Jim Henke says a major goal of the renovation was to tell the story of rock and roll more chronologically.
"You’re walking through the history of rock and roll and the way that it evolved," he explains.
The tour now starts with a 12-minute movie in the revamped Mystery Train Theater, after which visitors head into the museum’s roots exhibit. Then it’s on to Elvis, the 1950s and onward. 
"We have a lot more artifacts in our collection to tell the story this way," notes Henke.
Working mostly at night, staffers installed new lighting and casework for every exhibit. Many also got more extensive updates, including the museum’s Beatles exhibit. Thanks in no small part to the Rock Hall’s strong ties to the estates of three of the Fab Four, Henke says, the exhibit now is likely the most comprehensive in the world. 
"I don’t think there is anything anywhere else that is as definitive as ours in terms of the range of artifacts." Some new highlights: Paul McCartney’s hand-written arrangement for "Birthday" and a black wool coat John Lennon wore in "Help!"
There are a handful of brand new permanent exhibits. too. These include the heavy-metal themed “Bang Your Head” and two others that celebrate music of the Midwest – "Cleveland Rocks!" and "Kick out the Jams" -- which complete the walk through the museum’s main Ahmet Ertegun Exhibit Hall (named for the legendary Atlantic records co-founder and former Rock Hall chairman).
Technology was overhauled throughout the 150,000-square-foot building. Visitors will enjoy upgraded audio and video technology, plus state-of-the-art interactive kiosks, where visitors can jam to music and learn more about artists. Some kiosks are improved versions of longtime favorites, such as the popular "One Hit Wonders" and "Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll," with more than 1,000 songs to explore. (By the way, there’s also an app for that.)
There are new ones, too, including "On the Air," where visitors can check out the deejays who helped introduce millions of listeners to rock and roll and "Early Influences," with music from more than 30 formative artists.
The Hall of Fame, where the signatures of inductees are etched in glass, also got a facelift. It’s now painted red and entered by way of a 50-foot red carpet, so visitors can’t miss it.
But that's not all the Rock Hall has focused on recently. Last month, the Rock Hall’s new Library and Archives unofficially opened its doors two miles across town in the new Center for Creative Arts building on the campus of Cuyahoga Community College. The official dedication will be April 9.
The Rock Hall contributed $12 million toward the $35 million price tag for the Center for Creative Arts; the library and archives is housed in about a third of the 75,000-square-foot building.  
The opening is chart-topping news for scholars of rock and roll, as well as folks who just want to learn more about their favorite bands.
"Nothing like this has existed in terms of both amassing a library collection of books, periodicals, recordings, that kind of thing, as well as the archival side of things," says director Andy Leach.
Indeed, the library boasts thousands of books (including 200 on the Beatles alone) and magazines, everything from Music Tech to Rolling Stone. There are hundreds of audio and video recordings, sheet music, songbooks, dissertations… And it’s all available to the public in the library’s reading room. Just bring a photo I.D. to get a free library card.

The archives, which is available by appointment only, is a rich repository of rare material from decades of rock-and-roll history. There are more than 200 collections of papers, from performers to producers and everyone in between -- journalists, fan clubs, artist managers, deejays, tour organizers… -- like producer Jerry Wexler, the English rock band Genesis, and Cleveland’s own Alan Freed (the disc jockey who, along with Record Rendezvous owner Leo Mintz, is credited with coining the term "rock and roll").
It’s a goldmine for scholars, who until now have not had access to an archive devoted to rock and roll.
"When you start pulling things out of boxes, you realize they tell a story about that person or time that have never been told because nobody has gotten to use these materials until now," notes Leach. "This is going to open up a whole world of information that has never been out there before."
The Rock Hall has been collecting the material since its earliest days, but much of it has been in storage until now.
There are lots of "wow" items, too, like Jimi Hendrix’s hand-written lyrics for "Purple Haze" or set lists hand-penned by Elvis. To date, about 5,500 items have been cataloged, with tens of thousands more to come. The catalog is available online.
At the end of the day, say Rock Hall executives, the library and archives and museum renovation are just the next step on the Rock Hall’s evolution as a serious-minded cultural institution.
"We want to bring rock and roll music into the same space that more traditional art forms occupy," explains VP of marketing Todd Mesek.
And what better place for that than Cleveland?
"Cleveland has always been a rock-and-roll capital, from the first rock concert to WMMS to our legacy of breaking national acts," notes Mesek. "The museum renovations and the library and archives take that history and build upon it with a serious economic development investment."
Rock on, Cleveland.

Photos Bob Perkoski
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