Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ‘pause’ of Music Masters is a mistake: Chuck Yarborough

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame can give all kinds of reasons for putting its Annual Music Masters series on hold.

We’re too busy. We’re hosting the induction ceremony in 2018. We’ve incorporated a lot of that into our regular programming. We’re expanding into other, international markets.

With all due respect, in the immortal words of Rush’s Alex Lifeson in his acceptance speech when the band was inducted into the Rock Hall in 2014: Blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, it’s a lot of work to stage the event – six months or so of planning, according to a story announcing the hiatus on and in The Plain Dealer earlier this week. Big, fat, hairy deal.

For 20 years, the Music Masters has been a central part of the Rock Hall’s offerings. For 19 of those years – last year was not that exceptional — it’s been probably the BEST of its live offerings.

Yes, you did see the word “best.”

In my opinion, it tops – by Terminal Tower proportions – the induction ceremonies themselves. A choice between having those here and having the Music Masters wouldn’t BE a choice, were it up to me.

In the story, Rock Hall President and CEO Greg Harris said he wouldn’t use the word “canceling” when it comes to the event. But the fact of the matter is that once something is taken away, it does not come back.

Rock Hall puts Annual Music Masters on hold.

I have covered the past five Music Masters; they changed it from American Music Masters to Annual Music Masters in 2013, when the Rolling Stones were honored.

I’ve covered the same number of induction ceremonies in person, and been involved in coverage as an editor or reporter with all of them since I arrived in Cleveland in 1990 (the first year was 1986, just FYI).

The two or three songs each inductee gets to do are exciting journeys into past glory, and sometimes are thrilling and sometimes humorous examples of what was. Case in point was Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins emulating Rush, or Lorde and Joan Jett subbing for the late Kurt Cobain when Nirvana was inducted.

Those were Moments, with a capital M. But there just aren’t enough of them, which is why little usually is lost in the editing when HBO cuts the show to air a month or so later.

But the Music Masters has until last year always been an entire night of Moments, with a capital M.

Watching Rosie Flores duckwalk during when Chuck Berry was honored, hearing Berry himself launch into “Johnny B. Goode,” getting a hug from Smokey Robinson two years ago after an in-person interview, those were great times.

Nothing, though, will ever top Graham Nash forcing a microphone on a reluctant Don Everly during the “Bye Bye Love” finale in 2014 and hearing him once more offer his sweet voice on the chorus. If there was a dry eye in Playhouse Square’s State Theatre, I didn’t see it. Couldn’t really, through my own tears.

Granted, last year’s homage to the late Johnny Cash was, in a word, disappointing. No Highwaymen representation meant no Kris Kristofferson, no Jessi Colter (Waylon Jennings’ widow), no Willie Nelson.

No Marty Stuart, who played guitar for Cash as a newbie and in an interview to preview his own show practically begged to be a part of the celebration for the man to whom he felt he owed so much. Oh, and who happened to have been his ex-father-in-law: Now married to singer Connie Smith, he was wed to Cash’s daughter, Cindy.

In an interview a couple of years ago when the Rock Hall was celebrating its 20th anniversary, Harris talked about how the digital and social media age meant the museum model had to adapt or get left behind.

Internally, he and his staff have been able to do that. The Rock Hall is a go-to destination that’s brought millions of visitors and billions of dollars to Cleveland, thanks both to new exhibits like the inductees display and enhanced use of video and interactive media.

For that, you have to give Harris and his team and his vision a great deal of credit, and I do. It’s impossible to visit the Rock Hall and not enjoy yourself and learn something new, which honestly is a focus of any museum, regardless of subject.

But the doxology of rock ‘n’ roll is, was and ever shall be live music. And giving thanks to those who created it in a special live music program.

Maybe something called Annual Music Masters?

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