CLEVELAND, Ohio – For two decades the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Annual Music Master Series has paid homage to some of music’s greatest legends, often, in astonishing ways. But not this year.
The Rock Hall has revealed that it will forego the 2017 Music Masters in order to retool the event, keeping it fresh and relevant in the future.
“We’re examining everything,” says Rock Hall CEO and president Greg Harris about the museum’s ongoing strategy. “I wouldn’t say we’re cancelling Music Masters. That’s a strong word.
“We’re pressing pause after 20 years of and evaluating how to create that same impact – connecting yesterday and today – while doing it in a way that can reach the strongest audience possible.”
As part of the Music Masters, the Rock Hall selected pioneering musician to be honored with a series of lectures, exhibits, educational programs and other special events. The series culminated with a tribute concert featuring a variety of big name guests.
Music Masters kicked off in 1996 by honoring Woody Guthrie. The event was headlined by Bruce Springsteen. In subsequent years, the series would honor artists like Aretha Franklin, Robert Johnson, Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Janis Joplin and Chuck Berry.
Over the years, the Music Masters featured epic performances from the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Robert Plant, Dr. John, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris and many more. It quickly became one of the Rock Hall’s premier events, second only to the annual Induction Ceremony.
Last October, the Rock Hall honored Johnny Cash at the 21st Annual Music Masters. The event featured a week’s worth of festivities, including an evening with the country legend’s eldest daughter Rosanne Cash.
As recently as last year, Harris expressed interest growing the event. For instance, the 2016 festivities included, for the first time, a “Johnny Cash Day” on the Saturday following the tribute concert.
However, that changed when Harris and his team took a look at its 2017 schedule last winter. Harris admits Music Masters requires heavy lifting, including at least six months of planning to secure top-notch talent.
The planning proved especially challenging this year with the Rock Hall hosting a record number of events inside and outside of the museum, opening a new theater and restaurant, and planning for the 2018 Induction Ceremony to be held at Public Auditorium in April.
“We have to think about how this event coexists with the inductions now being here every other year,” says Harris. “How can we deliver something that’s great for our audience and not rush it. So we figured we’d press pause.”
The Rock Hall would not reveal specific ticket sales or revenue figures for the Music Masters. But the museum maintains the decision to cancel this year’s event was not financially motivated.
“It makes money and it’s developed a wonderful network of donors that are interested in supporting the museum,” said Todd Mesek, vice president of marketing and communications for the Rock Hall. “This was a hard [decision]. Music Masters is a beloved program. But we have to make sure it’s configured in a way that it gets the most exposure.”
Mesek suggested the Music Masters could morph into a different kind of event. One idea, that is by no means finalized, involves the concept of bringing the sounds of a musically rich city like Nashville, Austin or New Orleans to Cleveland.
Meanwhile, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has a loaded schedule over the next several months leading into the 2018 Inductions. It marks the first Cleveland ceremony since the Rock Hall announced it would be held here every other year.
The Rock Hall will also open a “short-term” exhibit in Tokyo on Sept. 23. The project will set the stage for a permanent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Japan that will open in 2020.
Harris say the museum’s overall strategy and schedule of events is reflective of the mission the Music Masters helped shape over the past 21 years.
“Some of the very reasons why we did Music Masters through are so important they’re now part of our everyday DNA,” Harris admits. “Things like getting people in front of great live music, putting together a mixture of older and younger artists and connecting generations.”