Road trip to Tune Town 

IN MID-MAY, after a weekend of meetings in a Macon conference center, I followed through on the oft postponed visit to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, in search of a cultural antidote for hours spent in generic meeting space and meals at the Waffle House.

It’s always nice to spot a familiar face when traveling—especially when it’s Ben Tucker’s warm smile. A photograph of Savannah’s legendary jazz bassist beaming down from the wall was the first item I saw on display, just inside and on the left of the entrance to “Tune Town,” the Music Hall of Fame’s exhibit space occupying the bulk of their 43,000 square foot facility.

Tune Town depicts Main Street USA, but with a decidedly musical flavor. Savannah travelers with a little of the homesick blues will find a stroll down this avenue to be just the cure they’re seeking. Tucker’s picture was the first of many Savannah-area musical references scattered throughout the museum.

The first storefront of Tune Town, the Jazz and Swing Club, is a clapboard-sided “building” with cast iron second story balconies. A peek into one of the club’s “windows” reveals a black-and-white image of the late Johnny Mercer, peering out from behind a 1940’s era recording mic. His gaze looks just beyond a dress dummy wearing the late Emma Kelly’s well-known performance gown, a red sequined long sleeve number with a brocaded-and-beaded stole sewn onto the shoulders.

My next stop in Tune Town took me through the red vinyl quilted doors of the Rhythm and Blues Review, a speakeasy that showcases the likes of Ray Charles and James Brown. Listening stations arranged throughout the museum provide earphones to play CD’s while checking out memorabilia of the featured artist.

Another listening station gave me the chance to surf through Usher’s 2004 Grammy-winning CD Confessions—only recognizing the one-word hit “Yeah!” among the CD’s tracks.

If the Georgia Music Hall of Fame ever needs a new title, its board might consider “The Museum of Sparkly Clothing” as a legitimate alternative. In the speakeasy’s window overlooking the Tune Town street, James Brown’s wide shouldered, red sequined suit glowed, stopping traffic better than any street sign.

Across the “street” in the Vintage Vinyl record store, the displays of the Allman Brothers, REM, Widespread Panic and a host of critically acclaimed Athens 80’s bands are nearly overcome by the fashion glitz of the B-52’s, especially Cindy Wilson’s yellow fringe “Shimmy” dress and Kate Pierson’s auburn beehive wig and red sequined hotpants outfit.

A quiet rest on the church pews of the Gospel Chapel was ideal for watching a brief documentary on the Georgia’s contributions to hymn writing and singing—starting with Savannah’s John Wesley, and highlighting Thomas A.Dorsey, who wrote over 1000 hymns.

But not even the Gospel Chapel is spared from the glittery fashion show. In the church narthex a tribute to gospel icon Dottie Peeples is mostly taken up by a stunning royal blue beaded full length gown enhanced with a feathery pattern in silver sequins from the hem across the sleeves and bodice.

Fringe and more beads are everywhere in the Skillet Licker Café, home to the Country and Western displays. Bill Anderson’s red western-style jacket with silk paisley lining was a fine compliment to two nearby gold records belonging to Brenda Lee.

With time growing short, I hurried past the Gretsch guitar display, poked my head into a theater for a glimpse of a film featuring scenes of Savannah’s River Street and the Macintosh County Shouters, and looped through the children’s exhibit (strangely empty on a Sunday and slightly overwhelming with its full-on Disney sponsorship).

I reserved some quality time for Otis Redding: I’ve Got Dreams to Remember, a temporary exhibit through September 10. The show, which won the “Museum Exhibition of the Year” award from the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries, includes memorabilia from Redding’s family and video footage of Redding’s television and Monterey Jazz Festival performances.

Like an encore at any concert, the museum gift shop offered some of the best of everything, including a knowledgeable and engaging clerk, who turned out to be Executive Director Lisa Love, filling in for an unexpected staff shortage.

Half an hour later, armed with a handful of Georgia products--CD’s by Redding, REM and Guadalcanal Diary, and an icy Coca Cola in a bottle--I turned the Subaru east onto I-16, turned up the volume, and headed for home, already looking forward to my next rest stop in Tune Town on a future road trip.

Otis Redding: I’ve Got Dreams to Remember

When: Through September 10Where: Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Macon, GeorgiaInfo: www.georgiamusic.org

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Robin Wright Gunn

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