If you’ve ever been moved to sing, dance or cry by the work of Texas musicians (Bob Wills, Leadbelly, Waylon and Willie, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Freddy King, Mike Nesmith, Tanya Tucker and the list goes on and on), then this is a must-read. It’s about some grassroots fans who are trying to honor and preserve the legacy of Texas musicians while battling government efforts to shut them down…and how you can help the good guys win in the end.
It all started when a group of Texas record and memorabilia collectors pooled their life’s work to create a Texas Musicians’ Museum. It was a totally grassroots, volunteer effort, housed in various places until a few years ago, when they struck what they thought was a permanent deal with the Dallas suburb of Irving. They would be provided with a rent-free building in hopes that their museum would help revitalize the old downtown area.
Well, the organizers worked like dogs, putting in their own time and money, and built a beautiful museum that was hailed as a community treasure. It combined exhibits featuring gold records, original instruments, stage costumes and more with performance areas where current Texas musicians of all genres regularly played.
But staying open was a constant battle. Well-funded corporate music promoters are pushing for the state legislature to create a taxpayer-funded music museum with lucrative concert contracts. Twice, the grassroots museum folk traveled to the Capitol to argue that Texas already had a great musicians museum that didn’t need taxpayer funding. They won the vote, but it made them some powerful enemies.
Last week, they learned how ruthless their opponents were. Out of the blue, the city sent the museum a letter ordering them to vacate their building for non-payment of rent and giving them all of one day to clear everything out before the locks were changed. Volunteers rushed to the museum and worked around the clock, expressing heartbreak as three years’ worth of carefully curated exhibits of priceless Texas music memorabilia had to be hurriedly dismantled, boxed up and carted to moving vans and a warehouse.
The city claimed they were evicted for nonpayment of rent, but the museum folks say they received no warning, plus the lease was rent-free as long as they sponsored concerts, which they did (three were scheduled within the next 10 days.) There are rumors that some in city government coveted the building to rent to someone else or were pressured by corporate music interests hostile to the citizen museum. Two calls to city hall to get their side of the story went unreturned.
Luckily, several other cities realize what a jewel the museum is and have offered to help find a new location. But in the meantime, irreplaceable artifacts of Texas music history are piled in boxes in a warehouse, and the legal costs and storage bills are piling up fast on the volunteer music lovers who can’t pass the cost on to the taxpayers.
At the link is more info and a video showing some of the incredible treasures that had to be torn down in one day. If you’ve ever bopped to the Big Bopper, or driven all night to ZZ Top or boot-scooted to Asleep at the Wheel, or enjoyed the music of dozens of iconic Texas artists of every genre, now would be a great time to say “Thanks for the memories” by tossing even just a few bucks in the pot to keep those musicians’ legacies alive and to help out your fellow music lovers and volunteers who got blindsided by the heavy hand of government. As they say in Texas, I’d shore ‘preciate it.