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Rock Hall’s $2 million exhibit allows interactive experience

In this Wednesday, June 26, 2019 photo, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CEO and president Greg Harris poses inside the museum's new Interactive Garage exhibit in Cleveland. The exhibit, which opened to the public on July 1, allows visitors to play actual instruments by themselves, alongside friends or strangers at the museum.
In this Wednesday, June 26, 2019 photo, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CEO and president Greg Harris poses inside the museum's new Interactive Garage exhibit in Cleveland. The exhibit, which opened to the public on July 1, allows visitors to play actual instruments by themselves, alongside friends or strangers at the museum. Troy L. Smith

Imagine standing inside rock and roll's hallowed ground with the guitar sounds of Deep Purple's "Smoke on The Water" blaring above your head.

Only it's not just Ritchie Blackmore playing it. It's you, learning his iconic riff in record time. That's the magic of the Interactive Garage, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's new interactive exhibit unlike anything the museum has ever put together.

The Interactive Garage, which opened to the public on Monday, allows visitors to play actual instruments by themselves, alongside friends or strangers at the museum. Trained professionals are available on screen and in person to assist as you learn Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" on guitar, Queen's "We Will Rock You" on drums or Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" on keyboard, among other classics.

"We're taking everything we've learned from our visitors and we're going beyond the conventional museum presentation and into a hands-on interactive experience," says Greg Harris, CEO and president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "It's another major step forward for our organization, which has always been great, but we just continue to evolve, grow, change and create a much more impactful visual experience."

The exhibit is broken up into four main parts. There is the guest room where players of any skill level can try top of the line guitars, keyboards, bass guitars and drums. Each song features guided instruction from one of the Rock Hall's educators via a recorded video. The Rock Hall has also hired and trained a new staff of "musician teachers" who will be on hand to help guests.

Visitors won't get to play actual artifacts (i.e. Jimi Hendrix's guitar or Geddy Lee's bass). But the guest room does feature top of the line keyboards, mixing boards, bass guitars, drums and electric guitars, from Gibson to Fender to Martin.

The Interactive Garage also features an acoustic lounge with soft leather seating, where visitors can hop on acoustic guitars and ukuleles for pop-up group jams. Then there's the jam room, which houses vintage gear and is set up as a rehearsal studio where guests can play together.

Rounding out the experience is a station where visitors can create their own custom merchandise inspired by some of your favorite bands or music periods like the British Invasion or rise of punk rock.

Harris says the Interactive Garage, which takes up the museum's entire second floor, cost $2 million. The project is part of the museum's multi-year, multi-million dollar transformation plan that's included the new Hall of Fame Floor and Power of Rock Experience in the Connor Theater, both on Level 3.

Standing inside the Interactive Garage, even unfinished (Cleveland.com was treated to a sneak peek even before the official media preview) is quite the experience. As a visitor, you simply walk up to a guitar station and scan your admission wristband.

Next, you grab a guitar pick, choose a guitar and plug in. After you select a song to play, one of the museum's educators appears on screen. From there you play along, via instruction, to one of the greatest songs in rock and roll history.

Above you there is a sound system that plays every noise you make on your instrument. Visitors can record the video of themselves playing and send it to their personal email account.

Just 10 feet from you in each direction, someone else is having the same experience, whether on acoustic guitar, bass, keyboard or inside one of two drum rooms. Scattered around you are iconic concert posters of everyone from Elvis and Nirvana to U2 and B.B. King. The wall leading into the guest room is covered with the image of rock band Wilco's own storied rehearsal space.

Inspiration for such an immersive exhibit came from various visitor surveys over the past several years. But motivation for the physical blueprint and logistics came from all over the country.

Harris and his team visited museums in Arizona, Colorado and Seattle that have experimented with audio experiences. Perhaps the best comparison is with the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle and its Sound Lab.

The exhibit features rooms for guitars, drums, keyboards, turntables, amps and more and is described as "Multimedia installations invite hands-on interaction so that visitors can explore the tools of rock 'n' roll through electric guitars, drums, samplers, mixing consoles, and more."

Yet, while exhibits like the Sound Lab make use of multimedia displays and instruction similar to that of video games like "Guitar Hero" or "Rock Band," the Rock Hall keeps things old school.

"We want these to feel the real instruments. So, these are real instruments," says Harris, who revealed Gibson, Fender and Sweetwater Guitars are among sponsors of the Interactive Garage. "We wanted to create the feel of where every band starts. That's in a garage or in a locker room or at the warehouse."

The Interactive Garage is likely to be one of, if not the most popular attraction at the Rock Hall upon opening. Thus, Harris says the museum has devised a system where visitors enter and exit over periods of time so the exhibit doesn't become too crowded.

The concept is based on lessons learned with the Power of Rock Experience in the Connor Theater, which incorporates timed viewings and a waiting area on a bridge. Harris says the Interactive Garage will likely evolve based on user experience, which was the inspiration for the exhibit in the first place.

"This augments our mission to engage, teach and inspire through the power of rock and roll," says Harris. "There's no better way to do that than by putting a guitar around your neck and strumming a power chord."

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