Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock
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Who could have predicted that banjos and steel guitars would kindle a revolution in rock & roll? Or that L.A. rockers would introduce legions of new fans to country music?
Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock traces communities of visionary singers, songwriters, and musicians who set about reinvigorating the sounds of pop and rock by infusing elements of country, bluegrass, and folk music. Fostered in local nightclubs and late-night jam sessions, the resulting musical fusion, “country-rock,” made a lasting impact on popular music.
The exhibit surveys 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, in the 1960s and ’70s, found commercial success with new sounds that merged rock & roll rhythms and attitude with country and bluegrass instrumentation and harmonies. As they flourished, so did the Los Angeles-based recording industry.
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 country-rock predecessors—provided inspiration to future generations of country and Americana artists.
Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock is presented by City National Bank.
“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 in America.”
Youth-driven, creative communities—formed in renowned L.A. clubs such as the Ash Grove and the Troubadour and the enclaves of Laurel Canyon and Topanga Canyon—found connection through a love of the stirring harmonies, instrumental virtuosity, and the honest storytelling of country music. The scene encouraged collaboration, with a healthy dose of competition. The artists and musicians spurred one another to write better lyrics, craft tighter harmonies, and master their instruments. By the 1970s, the polished, melodic, narrative-driven songs topped the radio charts, and acts such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Linda Ronstadt, and the Eagles were destined for superstardom.
As country-rock reached its zenith in the late ’70s, the emerging L.A. punk-rock scene spurned slick production in favor of a raw, rebellious, do-it-yourself approach. Punk clubs provided common ground for a new generation of rock musicians whose revved-up music channeled the grit and vitality of older American roots styles in a potent blend that prefigured the creation of the Americana genre.
“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 in America,” said Kyle Young, chief executive officer for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “Western Edge examines times of boundary crossing and great creativity, when musicians were inspired by, but not limited by, a love of tradition.”
To tell this sweeping, multi-layered story, museum’s curatorial and creative teams researched the history for three years, conducted more than forty hours of filmed interviews, and collected an array of significant, rarely seen artifacts for display, including stage wear, instruments, vintage posters, original song manuscripts, and more.
Western Edge will be housed in a newly designed 5,000-square-foot gallery space. An introductory film narrated by Grammy-winning artist Dwight Yoakam will be presented inside the gallery. Via audio recordings, performance clips, original interview footage, and historical photographs, interactive stations will allow visitors to explore the connections between the artists and musicians who formed these vibrant musical communities.
Western Edge Playlist
In anticipation of the opening, the official Western Edge Playlist is now available on Amazon Music. The Western Edge Playlist on Amazon Music features songs compiled in collaboration with the exhibit’s curators and follows the Western Edge exhibit’s narrative across three decades of music.
The playlist is organized into three eras, representing the breadth and depth of the music. Songs from a variety of artists are included, from country-rock pioneers the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Dillards, International Submarine Band, Taj Mahal and more, to artists who took the sound to new heights commercially, including Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Michael Nesmith & the First National Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young, among others.
The playlist is rounded out by the next wave of roots-inspired L.A. artists, including the Blasters, Desert Rose Band, the Knitters, Lone Justice, Los Lobos, Maria McKee, Rank and File, Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam, and more.