Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Kicks Off 'Play It Loud' Exhibit With All-Star Concert

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame launched its newest exhibit, "Play It Loud: The Instruments of Rock and Roll" the only way appropriate—with a concert headlined by some of the biggest names in classic rock and heavy metal.

Hall of Fame president and CEO Greg Harris called the opening "a chance for the rock and roll family to come together and celebrate." The show brought in Hall of Fame inductees Don Felder formerly of The Eagles, Nancy Wilson of Heart and Kirk Hammett and Rob Trujillo of Metallica, who rocked the exhibit Thursday night.

"Having been inducted in 1998, I love the people at the Rock Hall. I love the fact that they dedicate so much time and energy to it being authentic," Felder told Newsweek ahead of the show.

"Play It Loud" was devised to showcase the connections between musicians and audiences through their instruments, allowing fans to admire the tools that helped shape rock music over the past 80 years. Following its run at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over the summer, the exhibit is scheduled to remain in Cleveland until September 2020.

After the exhibit "blew the doors off" the Met, drawing in more than 600,000 visitors, Harris took pains to ensure the Hall of Fame experience would be unique. For starters, he's turned up the sound, situating the instruments in the context of the music they helped create.

"The Met really focused the visitor on the instrument as the art object, which was done amazingly well. We have a gallery that does that, but then on other floors, we connect these instruments with the context," he told Newsweek. "When you're seeing [Bruce] Springsteen's iconic Fender Esquire guitar that everyone knows, you're also seeing the photo spread from Born to Run where he's holding that guitar, and you're being connected to moments when he played that guitar."

Don Felder
Don Felder performs during the press preview for "Play It Loud: Instruments Of Rock & Roll" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 1, 2019 in New York City. Taylor Hill/Getty

Iconography is also key to the exhibit, according to Harris. "Our curators sketched it out to assemble the most iconic instruments from the most iconic artists and the most iconic songs in one place."

The white Gibson Double Neck Felder used to play lead guitar on the original recording the Eagles' hit "Hotel California" is one of the centerpieces of the collection, an honor Felder told Newsweek he did not take lightly. "To have my guitar hanging on the wall of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and actually playing in The Met was maybe the highest accolade and highest honor of my career," he told Newsweek. "I could hardly speak when I realized they were putting my guitar on display at The Met."

Felder pointed to fan's relationships to the instruments as part of what makes the exhibit so special. "I did a show at the Beacon Theatre with Steve Miller. The last song I play is 'Hotel California.' I finished playing 'Fast Lane,' and my guitar tech comes walking out, carrying that white doubleneck. The audience sees that guitar and they go 'Yeah!' They know what's coming. The curator for The Met was sitting in the audience, and he saw that and had a moment of epiphany that there's a correlation between the instrument and the audience and the song," he told Newsweek. "They not only know the song, but they recognize that guitar."

While many musicians were helpful in providing instruments, the Hall of Fame has accommodated musicians who had to pull an instrument from the exhibit for touring or recording duties. Harris noted that while many musicians offer replacements, the rotation has added to the overall experience: "I think it's a strong statement for our visitors to know that these aren't relics that are just historical objects. These are living, breathing pieces that still inspire and delight audiences."