In the 1960s, young musicians from across North America arrived in Los Angeles, drawn by the counterculture movement and the city’s rise as a recording center. Eager to move beyond rock & roll’s teeny-bopper fixation, the musicians turned to bluegrass, country, and folk music; inspired by these forms, they wrote original material, utilizing drums and electric instrumentation. By the 1970s, this hybrid of country, folk, and rock ranked with the most popular sounds in America.
Western Edge will examine the close-knit communities of Los Angeles-based singers, songwriters and musicians who, from the 1960s through the 1980s, embraced country music, frequented local nightclubs, and created and shaped the musical fusion known as “country-rock” – ultimately making an indelible and lasting impact on popular music.
The exhibit will survey the rise of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, Eagles, Emmylou Harris, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt and many others who found commercial success by merging rock & roll rhythms and attitude with country and bluegrass instrumentation and harmonies.
These trailblazers’ musical contributions were expanded upon by the next generation of Los Angeles roots music performers – the Blasters, Rosie Flores, Los Lobos, Lone Justice, Dwight Yoakam and more – who once again looked to traditional American music for inspiration. Blending hard-edged honky-tonk, Mexican folk music, rockabilly and punk rock, these artists – along with their county-rock predecessors – provided inspiration to future generations of country and Americana artists.
“A new hybrid sound grew from humble beginnings in a few small L.A. nightclubs and quickly emerged as one of the most popular musical styles across the world.”
The Western Edge exhibit traces the story of young musicians who, in the 1960s, gravitated to Los Angeles as a bastion of youth-driven counterculture and a rising recording center. New arrivals found a rich local music scene anchored by clubs such as the Ash Grove, which featured young bluegrass bands including the Dillards and the Kentucky Colonels alongside earlier generations of American roots music masters.
Also highlighted in the exhibit is the historical significance of the Troubadour in West Hollywood, which served as an important haven for like-minded artists. It provided a space for creators to collaborate with a healthy dose of competition, spurring one another to write better songs, craft tighter harmonies and master their instruments.
“A new hybrid sound grew from humble beginnings in a few small L.A. nightclubs and quickly emerged as one of the most popular musical styles across the world,” said Kyle Young, chief executive officer for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “Inspired by the likes of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, these artists and musicians also found community in their appreciation of traditional country, folk and bluegrass music. They built on this foundation, crafting songs of uncommon lyrical depth and layered musical richness – adding new textures to rock sounds that resulted in a completely original form of American music.”
The Museum’s curatorial and creative teams have conducted more than 40 hours of filmed interviews and collected an array of significant artifacts from central figures in the musical movement for display in Western Edge. The exhibit will feature stage wear, instruments, original song manuscripts and more. Interactive elements will illustrate the connections between artists that made up the musical communities explored in the exhibit, allowing access to audio recordings, performance clips, original interview footage and historic photographs.