Play on, players: The Rock Hall's new Garage exhibit attracts MLB All-Stars and would-be rock stars

During the recent MLB All-Star week, Los Angeles Angels player Mike Trout and the Indians’ own Francisco Lindor played hooky from the dugout to rock out at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s brand-new Garage exhibit—an interactive space in which visitors can play instruments and form their own jam band.


Just a week later, the members of Blue Coupe (a supergroup featuring members of the Alice Cooper Band and Blue Oyster Cult) staged a surprise jam inside the Garage for Alice Cooper Fan Appreciation Day on July 12.


Of course, the interactive Garage exhibit isn’t just for celebrities. It’s for everyone—and that’s kind of the point. “Even if you’ve never picked up a guitar or sat behind a drum set, we’ll have you rocking in about five minutes,” promises Mandy Smith, the Rock Hall’s director of education.


Since its opening on July 1, the Garage has delivered on that promise with 12 dedicated instrument stations (including guitars, drums, and keyboards) and instructional videos taught by Rock Hall educators. (So far, Smith says the most popular station has been the drums.) Beginner selections include Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and Tupac’s “California Love,” while intermediate picks include Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”


Another popular element is the jam space, in which visitors (and the occasional visiting Hall of Famer) can rock out alongside Rock Hall employees. Would-be bands can film and share their performances, and Smith says the space is also a big draw for spectators making their way through the museum.


Other features include the opportunity to design a band logo and corresponding merch, as well as a collection of Rock Hall artifacts on display—including Smith’s personal favorite, a pair of cymbals from Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward. “What I really love about these cymbals is that you can see how Black Sabbath created the heavy metal genre just by playing really hard,” says Smith. “One of the cymbals has a humongous crack in it.”


Smith says the new second-floor space is indicative of the larger experiential trend happening in the museum world. “In the museum community, play spaces have gotten really big,” explains Smith. “It's one thing to see a bunch of guitars on the wall, but once you put your fingers on the frets and strum, it makes the artifacts come more to life by having that experience. It makes the rest of the museum come alive.”


She adds that the Garage will play a large part in serving the 50,000+ students who come through the Rock Hall yearly for programs including Toddler Rock and Rockin’ the Schools. “One thing I really appreciate is I feel like it makes the museum more family-and kid friendly than ever before,” says Smith. “People under 18 coming into that space don’t want to leave.”

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. Along with her work at FreshWater, she is the editor-of-chief of Edible Cleveland and a contributing editor for Destination Cleveland. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes for Creative Groove, Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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