A Deep Dive Inside The Innovative New Folk Americana Roots Hall Of Fame At The Wang Theatre

“All the artists have played that building. All the artists have had an experience in that building. All the artists would be drawn to the fact that their careers still exist in those buildings.”

This is CEO of the Boch Center, Joe Spaulding, talking about the inception of the brand new Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame (FARHOF) in Boston, Massachusetts. The Boch Center is home to the famed Wang Theatre, and across the street is The Shubert Theatre, also operated by Spaulding.

He discussed how the first steps taken once he assembled his Board of Directors was to embark on a quest to find the perfect building to house such an initiative.

The lobby of the Wang Theatre

He and his board first found a place that was: close to the Boch Center, near water but wasn’t the Boston Harbor or the Charles River, built by a famous architect, equip with ample parking, and once a performance space. It sounded pretty promising.

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Fast-forward to a few sold out solo Neil Young shows at the Wang Theatre.

“Boston is the folk music capital of North America,” Young now famously claimed. A bold statement indeed, but one Spaulding took to heart.

And when Spaulding spoke to Young during his time there, he mentioned the new endeavor and building hunting, to which Young roughly replied with, “I don’t want to go anywhere else but here, when I can look at this friggin’ place. Maybe you oughta consider doing it here.” 

Tom Scholz of the band Boston with famed Mighty Mouse Les Paul – part of Boston: A Music Town exhibit

And when Neil Young thinks it’s a good idea to put a Hall of Fame inside a pre-existing, living, breathing performing arts center, you know it’s worth its weight in gold.

After this sentiment and even exploring other cities, it was done: put the FARHOF smack dab in the Boch Center.

And so, a one-of-a-kind concept was born.

Today, with more than 50,000 square feet to work with, the still very fresh FARHOF offers six exhibits: Arlo Guthrie: Native SonCultural Heroes, Boston: A Music TownLife in Six StringsThe Wang Theatre: A Century of Great Music, and the David Bieber Archives.

The ethos behind it is not simply to honor the past, but also to celebrate the present, and nurture the future within the “folk/Americana/roots” spectrum, which really is all encompassing with its many offshoot genres.

Ernie Boch Jr. hologram talks about an Aerosmith guitar.

One of the most fascinating exhibits in the FARHOF is an AI hologram of Ernie Boch Jr., guitar collector extraordinaire and namesake of the Boch Center. Used as the guinea pig for this expensive endeavor, Boch sat down and answered over 250 questions regarding his stunning guitar collection, which surrounds the big hologram box in the room. You simply hold down a button, ask your question slowly, and see if he can give you an answer. A little spooky, a lot cool.

When asked if there were more holograms to come of perhaps living artists, Spaulding told us Van Morrison had expressed interest.

The Cultural Heroes exhibit

Morrison had recently played The Shubert Theatre with his 10-piece band and wanted to go across the street to see the FARHOF. Morrison had told Spaulding he wanted to come back to promote his new album and perform it at The Shubert, and maybe – just maybe – sit down and get turned into a hologram. While it’s a big expensive to-do, the Boch Center has everything needed in house to make these happen.

It’s very evident that this appears to be the future of the modern exhibit in many ways, especially as it pertains to music and pop culture.

But despite this top-tier technology and the flashy guitars (which is only a fraction of the FARHOF), along with the rest of these amazing artifacts and memorabilia, the main tie within all of this is to educate, inspire, and create positive change.

The future is bright for FARHOF, as they’ve just announced WasFest in June (spearheaded by Don Was), and have the wheels in motion for a new Legends exhibit, as well as a Bruce Springsteen exhibit later this year and into next.

Pete Seeger banjo and accessories

A Look At Exhibit Curation With Deana McCloud

Deana McCloud, co-founder of The Museum Collective and former Executive Director of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, was the pioneer behind the newest FARHOF exhibit, Arlo Guthrie: Native Son. She’s worked extensively within the Guthrie family archives for years, and has an inside knowledge few others have.

In talking about how she envisions and executes exhibit plans, she told us, “All of this is based on education. When we bring in students and the public, I think, ‘what do we need to teach them, and what’s the best process for doing that?’”

Her partner, Bob Santelli, who has a laundry list of his own accolades, was McCloud’s mentor, and now they tag team the Museum Collective, doing contract work for various music exhibits and museums around the world.

Old photos of Arlo and Woody Guthrie in the ‘Arlo Guthrie: Native Son’ exhibit

When asked the very first steps in putting together an exhibit like the Arlo Guthrie one, she told us, “You have to think about what the items are that are available.”

“It’s like the opposite of writing a book,” she continued. “In a book you write the text, and then you might add some illustrations. In curating an exhibit, you gotta have the visuals first. And then you create the story around it.”

For the Arlo exhibit, it’s imperative you go back to when he was simply a son, wishing for his dad Woody to be, well, a dad. Woody suffered from Huntington’s Disease, which caused him to be hospitalized much of Arlo’s life, and before that, he was on the road.

“We want to show Arlo as of course a performer, but we want to show him as a real person. As a son, a husband, a father, and a friend, and show him as a three dimensional character as opposed to this person on stage and that’s it.”

Drawings & writings of a young Arlo Guthrie to his dad Woody

McCloud’s goals are to personalize and humanize these exhibits, and she succeeds in doing so, showcasing a series of old letters and drawings done by a single-digit-aged Arlo. Things like the notes Arlo wrote his dad are key features in showing this real, raw side to everything, and sets the groundwork for who he became later on as a performer.

“There’s a misconception sometimes about who Woody and Arlo were as political beings. Woody’s thoughts weren’t political ideologies, it all narrowed down to one thing- take care of each other. It was a humanistic perspective. It doesn’t matter if your right wing, left wing, chicken wing, it’s all the same thing,” McCloud said quoting Woody.

For Arlo’s items in particular, McCloud explained it was something of a one stop shop when it came to commandeering the artifacts. His archives are in Stockbridge at the old church that was the home of Alice’s Restaurant the movie, so they had their pick of the litter for the project. 

Old newspaper clippings of Arlo Guthrie

She and Spaulding both spoke of the crucial nature of keeping things modern to appeal to younger audiences too, with QR codes, monitors, the AI hologram, etc. It’s imperative to meet the younger generation in their digital world if you want them truly interested. Everything needs to evolve to meet the standard of modern day, especially something that showcases historic artifacts.

She alluded to the upcoming Legends exhibit in the FARHOF, mentioning they need to find ways to demonstrate the influence these old timers had on contemporary artists. In talking about the upcoming Legends exhibit, McCloud mentioned displays of iconic instruments from Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Odetta, and other heavy hitters. This again is where the education part always ties back in, especially for the youth coming in. 

“The goal is always to inspire them, and to even help them find their voice. Whatever their voice is. Do that, and be proud of yourself,” she shared.

McCloud spoke glowingly about the whole top to bottom experience of the FARHOF, The Wang Theatre, and the whole mission moving forward.

“Coming and touring this space is a mind-blowing experience. Every time I walk in here and look at the stage, it’s like ‘Holy Cow.’ It’s the most beautiful venue I’ve ever been in.”

And this writer would have to agree.

The Wang Theatre

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