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L.A. and Nashville – different worlds united by country music
By Tom Adkinson
March 17, 2023

country music hall of fame
The entrance to “Western Edge” recognizes giants of country-rock: Chris Hillman, Gram Parsons, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dwight Yoakam. Image by Tom Adkinson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The roots of country music are a tangled ball, and a major exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum stretches out one of those strands to draw a straight line between Nashville and Los Angeles. That connection brought what became known as country-rock music to American pop culture.

byrds grand ole opry
The Byrds formed in 1964 with members’ roots in folk music. A 1968 visit to the Grand Ole Opry was one stop on their way to rock stardom. Image by Tom Adkinson

A 6,000-square-foot exhibition spotlights landmark musical acts – the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Emmylou Harris, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, Linda Ronstadt, Rosie Flores and many more – and shows how folk, bluegrass and country music were huge influences on the Los Angeles rock music scene of the 1960s and into the 1980s.

“The country influence on pop culture is broader than people realize,” said Michael McCall, one of the museum staffers involved in three years of research that led to “Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock.”

The exhibition will be open until May 2025 and is reason enough for a special trip to Nashville. It’s logical to devote a full day to the museum, with special emphasis on “Western Edge.” Museum ticketing allows you to come and go, meaning you can dive into the “Western Edge” in the morning, leave for lunch, enjoy some Lower Broadway honky tonk music and return for the rest of the museum.

Dwight Yoakam narrates a six-minute introductory video about “Western Edge,” and that leads to three 15-minute films featuring in-depth interviews with numerous country-rock legends.

johnny cash - linda ronstadt
Johnny Cash’s summer series on ABC-TV in 1969 included this duet with Linda Ronstadt. Their selection: The Carter Family’s “I Will Never Marry.” Image by Tom Adkinson

“These artists weren’t trying to play country music. (Instead), they were looking to bring a country influence into rock music,” McCall said, pointing to the steel guitars, banjos, fiddles and tight country harmonies that wove their way into the music of the Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, Poco and many others.

Part of “Western Edge” focuses on two Los Angeles clubs that were key to the evolution of country-rock.

Ash Grove was where many rockers of the future got to hear traditional country music and blues music mainstays such as Bill Monroe, Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, while the Troubadour was where budding artists honed their skills, formed bands, separated, reunited and started their marches to stardom.

country music hall of fame nudie suits
Three Nudie suits from the Flying Burrito Brothers’ first album are an exhibition hit. Image by Tom Adkinson

One of the flashiest pieces of “Western Edge” is a display of three knockout Nudie suits, the colorful, themed and heavily embroidered stage costumes from designer Nudie Cohn. The Flying Burrito Brothers commissioned the suits for their 1969 debut album “The Gilded Palace of Sin.”

Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s black velvet suit has dinosaurs, Gram Parsons’ suit is wild with marijuana leaves, poppies, pills and pinup girls, and Chris Hillman’s suit has peacocks, seahorses, the Greek god Poseidon and a shining sun. The fate of Chris Ethridge’s white suit with red roses is unknown, McCall said, but Elton John once owned it.

country music hall of game guests
Two museum guests indulge in exploration and memories of country-rock’s heyday at this interactive display. Image by Tom Adkinson

Other highlights include mural-sized photos of great country-rock acts. Two stand out.

Perhaps the most illuminating to the Nashville-Los Angeles pipeline is a black-and-white image of the Byrds performing at the Grand Ole Opry, the bastion of traditional country music, in 1968. Another is an image of Earl Scruggs and Mother Maybelle Carter at Nashville’s Woodland Sound Studios recording part of the blockbuster “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” album with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Both scenes are not of worlds colliding, but of worlds uniting.

Trip-planning resources:,, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is included in the third edition of the book, which is available at

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