The Glen Campbell Museum and Rhinestone Stage opened its doors to media and industry insiders earlier this month for a celebratory ribbon-cutting ceremony and performance from Campbell’s singer-songwriter daughter, Ashley Campbell. An intimate and well-stocked retrospective of a legend’s life work, the exhibit offers a reminder of Campbell’s whole career: A storied legacy that will offer a few surprises for even the most diligent fan.
Museum-goers will be reminded, for example, of Campbell’s impressive television and film career. After winning fans on the small screen with late-’60s appearances in The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and his own Glen Campbell’s Good Time Hour, the performer went on establish his movie chops in 1969 Western film True Grit, an experience that gained him a friendship with acting legend John Wayne.
A glassed-in panel in the exhibit remembers that time in Campbell’s career with personal keepsakes such as a commemorative Winchester MDL 94 John Wayne 32-40 rifle and an original True Grit theater poster.
Speaking of Campbell’s famous friendships, the museum features two gift lighters: One from his castmate inscribed with the message “Stolen from John Wayne,” another gold Dunhill with a 14k gold jacket, gifted from Dean Martin.
In her remarks on Thursday afternoon, the singer’s wife, Kim Campbell, reflected on her first date with the singer — a set-up for a James Taylor concert. Even back then, he was full of surprises.
“I said, ‘Well, Glen Campbell, I know he’s a singer, but I don’t know much about him,’” Kim remembered saying to the friend who’d arranged the date. “I didn’t know about him being in the Wrecking Crew, and performing on all these hit songs from the Mamas and the Papas, Elvis [Presley] and [Frank] Sinatra, also the Beach Boys?! Glen played on Pet Sounds, all their records, and sang.”
Indeed, for the many music nerds who frequent downtown Nashville, Campbell’s history as a session player is perhaps the most impressive part of his legacy. That’s well represented in the new exhibit, which has on display momentos such as the black, modified Teisco T-60 electric guitar that Campbell used while working on Presley’s Viva Las Vegas album.
The new museum will moonlight as a music venue, with the capacity to fold away part of the exhibit to make room for about 125-135 concertgoers in front of its Rhinestone Stage. On Thursday, Ashley Campbell broke in the new stage, performing a small selection of her dad’s catalogue as well as a couple original tunes with special meaning to his legacy.
In between songs, Ashley reflected on yet another way in which her dad surprised her growing up. Back then, she was cutting her teeth as a banjo player and bluegrass musician.
“I had no idea that he was such a master of bluegrass,” she laughed. “So I started having my bluegrass band friends come over, and he would join us in our jams, and of course my friends were, like [dropping their jaws in astonishment]. But it was so much fun. It was such a cool way of bonding with my dad.”
The items in the museum were, in large part, compiled by the artists’ family, who filled the exhibit with personal touches. There’s the love letter that Campbell wrote to Kim on their 25th anniversary, for example, and the $5 Sears Roebuck guitar that Campbell’s dad bought for him when he was four years old. There’s the crumpled up piece of hotel room stationary that was fished out of a trash can, because it has some of the original lyrics to the song that became “Wichita Lineman” Museum-goers will find artifacts that document the singer’s passion and skill for his golf game, and even worn-out acoustic guitars that helped Campbell and his musician children write priceless, iconic songs.
“As most of you know, Glen passed away from Alzheimer’s on August 8, 2017,” Kim said from the stage. “I was still grieving his loss when [I was approached] about the idea of doing a museum. Of course, I thought, ‘Wow, Glen would love that, and that would be such a great opportunity to share his life with millions of people coming to Nashville.’
“But as I began the process, going through all our memorabilia, and his records and his Grammy awards and his clothing, it was just breaking my heart, you know,” she continued. “I was just grieving even more deeply, missing him.”
Thanks in part to the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, which chronicles Campbell’s final tour as he battled Alzheimer’s, the singer’s experience brought significant awareness to the disease, leading up to his final days in Nashville facility Abe’s Garden. Now that a few years have passed since his death and the museum has opened, a portion of the proceeds of the exhibit will benefit Abe’s Garden. That money will also benefit Alzheimer’s research and treatment through the Kim and Glen Campbell Foundation.
“As I saw [the museum] come together so beautifully, it started to comfort me,” Kim continued. “Now it really is a joy to have this beautiful tribute to Glen. I think it’s gonna inspire a lot — and it already has, his life has inspired so many musicians…But I hope it continues to inspire many people, not only musically, but who may be facing things like Alzheimer’s.”
The Glen Campbell Museum and Rhinestone Stage is located in Nashville on the corner of Broadway and 2nd Ave. Ticket prices range from $15-$19 and are available on the museum’s website along with a new line of merchandise.