Excited children on bicycles weighed down with amps and equipment, en route to practice with their band. Jam sessions in garages, each note rebounding off old gardening equipment, hardware, and canned goods. Impromptu couch rehearsals in a hazy apartment, the air thick with smoke.
These have, for decades, been hallmarks of not just rock and roll culture, but of music as a whole. A ragtag band of musicians’ heads swimming with ideas. The camaraderie that can only come with a shared dream.
“I spent tons of time in the garage and in garage bands growing up,” recalls Eagles founder Don Felder. “It was the only place you could play and rehearse.”
These experiences grow progressively rarer as the years go on. The Internet has done great things for independent artists and musicians. It’s democratized the creative process, allowing anyone with a bit of luck and marketing savvy to reach a massive audience.
But in many ways, it’s also something of a death knell for rock and roll tradition. Hours spent on music and video editing in lieu of chord charts. An impersonal array of screens and software in lieu of in-person brainstorming.
“There’s something missing from modern music culture,” says Heart guitarist and vocalist Nancy Wilson. “It’s gradually becoming digitized, all run by a computer. It’s less hands-on, less human-powered.”
Jason Hanley, Vice President of Education and Visitor Engagement at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, aims to recapture the old magic. To provide young people with the sort of formative experience so many legends of rock and roll enjoyed. To that end, he’s created something known as The Garage.
“We wanted to find a way to show people what it’s like for a musician to come in and experience a garage rehearsal for the first time,” explains Hanley, who recently took several Rock and Roll Hall of Famers on a video tour of The Garage. “The whole idea of The Garage is that anyone can walk in, whether they’ve played an instrument before or not.”
Designed to resemble a real-world garage, The Garage features multiple learning stations for guitar, bass guitar, and drums. Each station has different sets of songs available to practice, arranged by skill level. More importantly, everyone who works in The Garage is a teaching musician, armed with the necessary skills to train up-and-coming musicians.
Those who graduate from the Garage have two options. First, they can hang out in the Acoustic Lounge, designed to resemble a cozy hang out and equipped with a huge selection of acoustic guitars. Alternatively, burgeoning musicians can enter the Jam Room for a live jam session.
Hanley and his colleagues have already seen their efforts bear fruit, sparking musical passion in a wide range of young artists.
“I recently got a call from the CEO of Gibson Guitars,” says Felder. “He told me about this guy playing the guitar solo from Hotel California spot on. He was eight. I didn’t even start playing until I was ten!”
Metallica’s Kirk Hammett couldn’t speak highly enough about the rewards of a career in music. “You find your tribe of people, and you just see where it leads you. Being in a band for me was like being in an adventure, and the instruments were driving the adventure along.You know the quote, ‘have guitar, will travel’.”
The Internet isn’t a bad thing. It’s made music accessible and available to more people than at any other time in history. At the same time, there’s a certain pure, powerful excitement that goes hand-in-hand with jamming out face to face.
And it’s an experience that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has captured perfectly.