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It’s Only Rock & Roll (But I Like It)

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is located in Cleveland, Ohio. As a music fan I’ve wanted to check this out for years, but I was rarely in Cleveland and when I was the HOF was inconveniently closed. It seems the HOF keeps banker’s hours, which is ironic given the lifestyles of the inductees. But there was hope: Wednesday’s they stay open until 9 PM, making it possible to visit for people who have day jobs!

I stayed in a hotel downtown and walked down to the HOF. Cold wind off the lake reminded me of where I was and I zipped the last inch of collar up. As you walk closer rock music is playing on stacks of speakers that serve as sculpture while doubling as a magnet for something more. As you get closer the glass pyramid of the HOF rises up before you out of a sea of concrete. Big, bold red letters beg, Long Live Rock and I know I’ve arrived.

Inside, you’re met by greeters who direct you down to the lowest level, the base of the pyramid, to purchase a ticket and dive right in. And suddenly you’re in it. The base is the foundation, and you see the blues and country artists who built rock & roll, but also the cities that played such a huge part in its spread and growth. Motown, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Liverpool… and yes, Cleveland. The museum is immersive, and you can spend a lot of time in each section or breeze through it. The experience is there for you if you want it.

If you’ve been to a Hard Rock Café you’ve experienced a bit of the HOF’s vibe. Music plays as you look at a guitar that John Lennon played, or Eric Clapton played… or Jimi Hendrix played. There are plenty of musical instruments on display and I found them interesting, but the magic was in the outfits they wore, and the videos of the artists explaining how they created a song or rif while you’re looking at the instrument they created it on right in front of you. If most artists were smaller than you’d expect, Jimi Hendrix was a big dude. His outfits indicate his size, and you know he must have been even more powerful live onstage than the old videos show.

As you climb the pyramid there are places to play instruments, places to reflect on the names of the inductees, and hidden surprises as you work your way up the pyramid. So what’s at the top? More rock & roll, more instruments and a surprising amount of elbow room. Sure, it was a Wednesday night in January, not a time you’d expect throngs of Rock & roll fans to pour into the Hall of Fame, but a lot more room to wander than I expected.

One thing that didn’t surprise me; the exit leads you right through the gift shop. But what a gift shop! It was sprawling, featuring the usual assortment of clothing, collectibles and shot glasses, and something more, an actual record store where you could buy vinyl records or compact disks. And that’s where it all began for me back as a kid, sifting through records, looking at the covers and wondering what magic was inside. That’s the rock and roll experience that started it for me, and the experience that capped off my visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

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