Last week an employee of the Texas Musicians Museum told us the museum may not be long for this world because lack of traffic. But after talking with Tom Kreason and George Gimarc, two of its founders, and looking around at its expanded exhibit on a sunny Saturday morning, the opposite seems to be true.
Even more items are on display now than when the museum opened in summer of 2015. Some of the new items include a Polyphonic Spree robe, a George Strait tour jacket and a sweater that once belonged to Buddy Holly. The museum also unlocks many forgotten or untold stories about music that originated in Texas.
Among the newer pieces is also the very first recording made by a Texas-based artist, in 1912. On the track, a 36-year-old woman named Mary Carson sings "Oh, Dry Those Tears." The song was released on Thomas Edison's recording label, and is one of only 18 recordings put out by the company.
Coupled with a corner devoted to Michael Nesmith of the Monkees and photographic evidence that Stevie Ray Vaughn played in a band with respected character actor Stephen Tobolowsky, the collection of loaned items is vast and diverse. And there is a lot of stuff you wouldn't expect to see from artists you might not realize have Texas roots, like the children's entertainment staple Barney.
"This museum's got a sense of humor to it," Gimarc says, referring to the gold record on display and how Barney's TV show was a platform for future pop stars such as Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez.
People from all over the world have visited the museum. A large world map hangs right inside the lobby with pins placed to indicate the hometowns of their guests. So far, the longest trek anyone has made was from Russia.
One reason why the Texas Musicians Museum draws people from all over the world is that it celebrates all of Texas, not just one city or genre. Lubbock, Houston, Denton, Austin, Fort Worth and El Paso are all represented. The goal is to celebrate and preserve Texas' rich music history, wherever in the state it may be found.
"The Austin Chamber of Commerce has done an incredible job of branding that city with a reputation that it may or may have not earned," Gimarc says, pointing to Beyoncé Knowles (from Houston) and Buddy Holly (from Lubbock) as evidence that it's not all about Austin. "We're about Texas," Kreason says. "We're not about one city. We're trying to represent Texas at its best."
Before choosing to open the museum in the Dallas area, Kreason and Gimarc looked into having it based in either Austin or Houston.
As far as what keeps the lights on, the live music venue portion brings in most of its revenue. Other than open-to-the-public concerts, a number of weddings, formals and memorials have been held here. "They make community centers for athletes but there's really no place for the musicians," Kreason says. "We like to think we're the place for musicians."
Kreason and Gimarc have decided to change things up with the live acts they book. "We are trying to be a venue that's not just about one type of music," Kreason says. "We were having some acts that were drawing people, but we needed to diversify. We want to have alternative rock, some country."
They have different arrangements for booking on different nights. Denton-based acts now play on Thursdays and Fridays and are open to all of North Texas. "I wish we had the luxury of funds and we had people coming out to listen to anything and everything, [so we] could be an employment agency for musicians," Kreason says. "But we have to get the musicians and the bands that are drawing the people because we have to pay the bills here."
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The only thing stopping the museum is the size of the exhibition room. Plans are afoot to maximize space by rearranging and rotating pieces. Gimarc wants to do tributes to Deep Ellum, as well as fringe artists like Richard Miller — who made many records even though he was born without arms or legs — and Ray Bourbon, a very popular and prolific performer in the late 1940s who was a female impersonator and later jailed on a murder charge.
They love donations to their collection that tell a story, rather than just signed memorabilia. They encourage regulars to lend items for display, and Gimarc and Kreason are always on the lookout for additions either online or through estates.
"On a regular basis, we are literally saving stuff from dumpsters," Gimarc says. "We need other people who have similar passions about Texas music, even if it's just in one genre. If they want to put in some time and volunteer here one day a month, we need people like that." Kreason chimes in with a smile, "We have no opposition to filthy rich people."
The Texas Musicians Museum is located at 222 E. Irving Blvd. in Irving and online at texasmusiciansmuseum.com.