A geodesic pyramid rises above the banks of Lake Erie. Designed by the only recently deceased great I.M. Pei, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio is a sight to behold. In stark contrast to the tall vertical corporate rectangles surrounding, the structure itself embodies the rebellion that rock and roll embraces. The building resembles the design of the Louvre, also designed by Pei. Fittingly, as the Louvre is a home to the historical icons of visual art, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a home for the legends of rock. Visiting in June,  the rainbow flag was hoisted high in the plaza to celebrate Pride Month. Setup was beginning for the last stop of the Vans Warped Tour and the energy was palpable even in the heat of the morning. Gift shopping and lunch comprise the second level where visitors enter the building. Open cafeteria style seating with abundant natural lighting compliment a fancy selection of food. Menu items ranged from local favorites like Italian sausage sandwiches to vegan selections featuring hummus and kale. Visitors can stop to eat early or quickly dip down into the beginning of the exhibits via escalator. The building’s shape dictates the exhibit space so the first level is the largest exhibit floor featuring a permanent exhibit called Cities and Sounds. Taking us through a bit of American history, we learn about regional styles of music and how different they were from one another.
Memorabilia from musicians representing Chicago, Seattle, Detroit, LA, and New York City was grouped together with notes about their time periods and how they influenced one another. The single largest exhibit space was dedicated to The Beatles and included countless handwritten notes for lyrics and music as well as clothing and instruments. Multimedia experiences were everywhere you turned. Isolettes with touch screens invited your party into a personal listening experience. Selecting by song title, decade, genre or artist you could pull up and listen to any song imaginable. I tried some pretty obscure titles and was unable to stymie this machine. While the song played the screen displayed bits of trivia about its history including what inspired it or where it was written or who Jenny really is in the 867-5309 song. American Bandstand plays on a 30 minute loop in a 100 seat theater. Not only is this a nice place to rest your feet about half way through the museum, it’s a trip down memory lane. Artists featured on Bandstand were young, enthusiastic and still hopeful of making it big in the music world.

Joan Jett’s jacket in ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’

Seeing some of the greats in their career’s infancy puts in perspective their years of hard work. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll. TheBandstand video experience made me smile hard. Jonathan Demme directs the signature multi-media presentation, The Power of Rock Experience in a theater with stadium style seating. A twelve-minute compilation of iconic concert footage from greats like Stevie Wonder, Metallica and Joan Jett leaves you feeling inspired with Prince’s rendition of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Following that experience guests are invited to step into another kiosk and interact with a video of either Smokey Robinson, Alice Cooper or Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. In that isolated environment guests can select from a number of questions about the individual, their inspirations and their music and the video that plays in response is of the artist answering the questions. It gives a one-on-one interview feel that visitors can then share on social media.

Many of the musicians have climbed the Stairway to Heaven. Seeing memorabilia from Billie Holiday or Cat Stevens gave a sense of exhilaration quickly followed by a rush of sadness that they are no longer here. This happened over and over again throughout the Hall as I realized that you truly don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. This museum, however, is dedicated to remembering the individuals and their art. It is how we keep them alive. Most of the exhibits are costumes and instruments. Hand written documents, commercial merchandise, and large scale set pieces round out the rest. The giant fist holding the scales of justice from Metallica’s And Justice For All tour is every bit as large as you would expect. The smallest exhibit space was the 5th level which is sponsored by MTV. In it we learn about music videos and how they changed over time from videos of a band into cinematic storytelling. Clips of several music videos play on a loop and costumes worn in these videos are on display.

Cindy Laupers red gypsy dress from ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’

Guests can see the actual article of clothing featured in the videos from Kid Rock’s bro shirt worn in Ba Wit Da Ba, Cindy Lauper’s red gypsy dress from Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, a green shirt and tie seen in Outkast’s Hey-Ya, and Bob Marley’s iconic red, gold and green tam worn in Is this Love. Disabled accessibility is on-point. Ramps and elevators are everywhere and there is plenty of space for scooters to navigate the sole exception being the gift shop where aisles are tight. Restrooms are spacious and well maintained. Visitors with sensory issues may find the barrage of music everywhere to be overstimulating although there is an effort made through creative sound design to try to keep the different sound zones separated. At the conclusion of the visit, guests are invited to nominate a favorite artist or group for induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We took the time to nominate family favorite, Steel Pulse and wish them the best of luck in their quest to be inducted.Online ticketing is available although we purchased in person on the day of our visit. General admission is $26 and there are various discounts available for groups, first responders and veterans, senior citizens and youth. Parking though is problematic as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does not have a guest parking lot. Meters are limited in number and operate by coin only no credit cards and they max out at 3 hours. Three hours may be sufficient time to view the museum and gift shop but not if you want to immerse yourself in the various kiosk multimedia experiences. A parking structure adjacent to the nearby science museum is recommended. Should you find yourself in Cleveland, it’s a great way to spend half a day.

Elvis Presley’s suit worn in 1968

Article & Photographs by: Sara Culver Provencio