The Birthplace of Country Music Museum (BCMM) opened in August 2014 to tell the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings, explore how evolving sound technology shaped their success, and highlight how this rich musical heritage lives on in today’s music. The Bristol Sessions – the first recordings of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, along with other early country artists – set the stage for the later commercial country music industry.
When the content team planned the permanent exhibits, they kept different target audiences in mind: community visitors, patrons interested in music and history, and tourists. Staff worked to make the content engaging and integrated diverse interpretive strategies that allow visitors to access the content in different ways. The panels, written in an accessible and engaging voice, provide different levels of information – from in-depth narratives to shorter “features” such as “Did You Know?” and “Memorable Moments in Time,” which bring stories related to this music history to life. Striking images and a variety of artifacts expand visitors’ understanding of the story. However, the audiovisual elements (interactives, soundscapes, short films, and theater experiences)have really enabled BCCM to develop interesting experiences to engage all of our visitors.
A new exhibit component – WBCM, a working radio station that began broadcasting in August 2015 – has led to even greater impact. The station, set within the permanent exhibits, becomes part of the visitor experience; it can also be listened to locally and worldwide via streaming and an app. WBCM is helping the museum to reach new audiences, form new community partnerships, and create a strong voice that advocates for the museum as a resource and leader in our regional history. As at most museums, people bring their own knowledge and experiences to their visit to BCCM. Patrons may have personal experiences listening to the music in the exhibits, or personal connections with some of the musicians, places and stories featured, and this has proved integral to visitors’ positive reactions to the museum, especially for many locals. By connecting local visitors with this story, BCCM has helped cultivate a greater understanding of, appreciation of, and pride in their own history; at the same time, visitors from further afield are forming positive associations and feelings of kinship with the Bristol area and story through the voices heard at the museum.