Country Music Hall of Fame books a ticket to Los Angeles in new country-rock exhibit

With a new exhibit, a Nashville institution pays tribute to another town known for turning out time-tested tunes: Los Angeles.

Last week, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum debuted "Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock," an expansive look into the influential movement of Southern California artists guided by country, bluegrass and folk influence. Hitmaking acts at the center of "Western Edge" include the Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, Eagles, Flying Burrito Brothers, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Poco, Dwight Yoakam and more.

The 5,000-square-foot "Western Edge" replaces long-running Texas country exhibit "Outlaws & Armadillos." It runs through May 2025.

"We've looked at other cities but never really focused on this particular story," said Michael Gray, a "Western Edge" co-curator and executive senior director of editorial and interpretation at the Country Music Hall of Fame, "what happened in Los Angeles with country-rock."

A quick look at some of the 100-plus artifacts on display:

  • A trio of Manuel Cuevas-designed Nudie suits worn by Flying Burrito Brothers on the cover of 1969 debut album "The Gilded Palace of Sin."

  • A custom Gibson J-200 guitar and custom Nudie outfit used by Emmylou Harris during her time on stage as a solo artist and with Gram Parsons in the 1970s.

  • A B-bender Fender Telecaster played by guitarist Bernie Leadon on Eagles hits "Take It Easy" and "Tequila Sunrise."

  • Extensive concert handbills and photographs from influential Los Angeles clubs the Troubadour and Ash Grove.

  • Images and artwork from inside formative years of Ronstadt, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and others.

  • Dave Alvin's Fender Mustang, scarred by beer bottles during the Blasters' time in 1980s clubs.

  • Hand-written lyrics to 1984 Los Lobos song "How Will The Wolf Survive?"

After cementing the idea for "Western Edge" in late 2019, co-curators Gray and Michael McCall conducted roughly 40 hours of interviews from 23 subjects to build a linear story. The exhibit focuses largely on taking visitors through music the late 1950s - such as bluegrass groups The Dillards and The Kentucky Colonels - to the Yoakam and the Desert Rose Band in the '80s.

And the country-rock legacy of longtime musician Chris Hillman stands at the metaphorical center of "Western Edge." His musical fingerprints span most of the exhibit, starting with Hillman's time in early 1960s bluegrass outfit Scottsville Squirrel Barkers to co-founding The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Desert Rose Band, among others.

"It's a merging of styles," Hillman told The Tennessean. "It was a vital part of the landscape, musically."

And what influence did many of these musicians share? A young love for country and bluegrass tradition, Gray said.

"Almost all these bands, they really started off as young people who loved bluegrass, folk or country," Gray said. "As rock 'n' roll hit - especially the Beatles and [Bob] Dylan influence - they became rock musicians, but they found ways to bring in those traditional elements. All of a sudden, banjos and fiddles and pedal steel guitars are around rock record sint he late '60s and early '70s.

This is some of the most poplar music in the world at the time, and it has all these country elements."

Discounts:6 ways to save on admission to Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame

Must see in Nashville:Family in for a visit? Here are the best places in and around Nashville to take them

McCall, a senior editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame, added: "None of them were trying to make country hits until Emmylou [Harris]. They were all making rock music, but they had a country influence to it. Our job is to look at country music history and show this is an important time for how country influenced rock 'n' roll."

Through floor-to-ceiling displays and interactive playlists, "Western Edge" curators show visitors how musicians in the Los Angeles country-rock scene intertwined with songwriting collaborations, supergroups and rotating band members. For example, members of the Eagles once backed Ronstadt; and before or after time in the Eagles, band members also logged time in Poco, Flying Burrito Brothers, Longbrach/Pennywhistle and Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band, to name a few.

At times, the scene felt like "a loving family," Hillman said.

"The musicians, of course, interacted with each other. Wrote songs with each other. Different groups performed with each other," Hillman said. "That also was a big factor in developing the music, that cross-interaction and playing."

And by the 1980s, a new genre began crossing paths with country-rock: Punk. Los Lobos shared stage time with groundbreaking British punk outfit The Clash and Yoakam cut his teeth in clubs played by Black Flag and The Ramones.

In some ways, these musicians went against the grain of slick production and big-budget marketing, McCall said.

"They took it back to the roots again and stripped it down," McCall said. "In the '80s, influenced by what was going on, they played it faster."

Today, country-rock rock may largely be recognized by a different name: Americana, a format Hillman and company laid the groundwork for decades before it became a catch-all phrase for roots, folk, soul and country-rock.

"Thank God for the term 'Americana,' in the sense that it swallowed up 'country-rock,'" Hillman said. "It's all Americana now. And it's roots-oriented, which is really nice. I hear some of these younger acoustic bands out there, and they're phenomenal. Phenomenal players and singers. It's all growing and growing and growing."

For more information on "Western Edge" opening and events, visit

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: New 'Western Edge' exhibit brings LA country-rock to Nashville