Tom Kreason, the executive director and curator of the Texas Musicians Museum, was giving a walk-through preview of the museum when his cellphone rang. He picked up, telling a caller named Charles that he’d have to call back.
“That was Bob Wills’ grandson,” Kreason said. “Charles and his family and his brother have their grandfather’s fiddle from 1939, which we’ll be putting on display.”
At the time Kreason said this, it was Wednesday morning, three days before the museum’s official opening in its new location in downtown Irving. Some memorabilia was hanging or behind cases, but much of it still lay on the floor or in small piles. Gold records from numerous Texas musicians leaned against one wall; a John Denver stand-up poster was lying flat, the former Fort Worth resident’s head poking out from underneath some other artifacts; a huge Barry White jacket was still on a hanger.
But Kreason said it would all be up in time for a private party on Thursday night, and definitely in time for the museum’s opening day on Saturday. A question naturally arose: Why Irving, and not, say, Dallas or Austin? There was more than one answer, and the replies were both simple and complicated.
“We love Austin,” Kreason said. “But their idea of Texas music is Austin City Limits. They don’t think about Buddy Holly, they don’t think about Selena, they don’t think about Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, they don’t think about all these great artists. And if you were to actually study even the Texas Music Office’s own statistics, Dallas actually has more live-music venues by a 10 percent margin over Austin.”
Regardless of whether you agree with Kreason’s assessment of Austin’s view on Texas music, one thing’s clear: He’s thought a lot about it, considering the scope of the state, from El Paso’s Bobby Fuller Four to Port Arthur’s Janis Joplin, from the folk-poppiness of Denver to the aggro metal of Pantera.
Waltzing across North Texas
It’s not Kreason’s first stab at the museum. “It actually started in 2004,” he said. “We opened our first location in Hillsboro in 2007. ... Just north of Hillsboro was a development called Carl’s Corner. It was going to be kind of a Branson, of Texas music, and we were hopefully going to be in a museum there.”
Kreason, who had worked on Dallas-area shows beginning in the early ’80s and whose background includes Hard Rock Cafe Dallas, used the connections he’d made to start a music-memorabilia business; he even helped out at Memphis’ storied Sun Studios in 1996, and provided artifacts for the Red Hot and Blue barbecue chain. That’s when he started to lean his collection toward Texas music and later on opening a museum.
“We bought up property down there in Hillsboro and figured that we’d just use that temporarily,” he said. “It was a Victorian cottage. We had about 1,500 square feet, nothing really big. We figured we’d just use that while we waited and move into a bigger building. Unfortunately, no one anticipated that there would be some issues regarding the infrastructure, sewer systems, things like that, and that whole thing kind of dissolved.”
A move to Waxahachie only lasted a few months, ending when the partnership that owned the building splintered and went into bankruptcy. “So we were sitting there, wondering what the heck to do,” Kreason said. “While we were waiting for the bank to take over, that’s when we talked to the city of Irving.”
Irving representatives, working toward a redevelopment of the city’s downtown, thought the museum would be a perfect catalyst. “We came out and found this facility,” Kreason said, “and said, ‘This has really got all the parts we need to make this work.’ ”
Party on the patio
A crosswalk on Irving Boulevard links a free parking lot to the museum; as you hit the museum side, the crosswalk’s black-and-white stripes turn into a keyboard motif. To the left is the museum; to the right is a large music garden where there’ll be performances. The music garden will hold 600 people comfortably, and Kreason says it might accommodate as many as 800.
Kreason says the museum plans to start slowly with the live music, beginning with small acts then moving on to slightly larger shows. Beer and wine will be available, and a catering company that has worked with stars at Gexa Energy Pavilion will provide food.
The museum won’t offer guided tours in the beginning, but Kreason says that he’d eventually like to hire actors to do tours dressed as Texas musicians. But he’s discovered that visitors do their own share of the storytelling.
“They want to say, ‘My dad did this,’ or ‘He knew this guy,’ ” Kreason says. “We toured a lot of museums and came back to Sun Studios, where it’s so much more personal.”
The museum’s prize piece, he says, is a parlor guitar from 1865 that was played by bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson.
“It was in a guitar show in Dallas,” Kreason says. “It was a gentleman [whose grandfather or great-grandfather] had a shop, and he was selling a bunch of instruments that had been in the guy’s store forever. The guy really didn’t know who [Jefferson] was. and I said, ‘May I ask about the guitar? It’s a cool relic to put up inside the museum.’ ”
The man’s ancestor had repaired the guitar, which had a broken neck, but Jefferson never came in to pick it up. The shop owner held on to it for years. Once he acquired the guitar, Kreason did research and found that the story checked out.
Another item has to do with Buddy Holly, from his pre-stardom days when he still spelled his last name “Holley.”
“We’ve got a sixth-grade annual,” Kreason says. “He signed it, but it’s on a page titled ‘autographs.' So it’s his sixth-grade autograph. So historically speaking, we literally have the very first official autograph of Buddy Holly’s.”
The Texas Musicians Museum will hold a BIG Opening celebration on Saturday, July 25, featuring two sessions of live music in the adjacent Texas Music Garden. An all-day pass is $45. Information: www.TexasMusiciansMuseum.com. Phone: 972-865-9579.
Regular hours, which will start Aug. 1, will be noon-5 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Admission: $10-$17; free for children under 10 accompanied by a parent or guardian. The museum is at 222 E. Irving Blvd. in downtown Irving.