Music Museums Help You Hit a High Note for Your Events
These Midwest museums celebrate the art of music and offer a unique guest experience.
By Paula Hendrickson | Pictured: National Blues Museum
Museums are not always the most inviting, exciting places to hold events. However, there are several in the Midwest dedicated to the art of music, that are open to groups, where you’re encouraged to “get down” or “kick up your heels” in celebration of this American art form.
If you want a memorable meeting, consider booking it at a music museum or venue like the National Blues Museum (St. Louis), the American Jazz Museum (Kansas City, Missouri), River Music Experience (Davenport, Iowa) or the ultimate destination for rock and roll fans, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland).
“The primary reason any corporate organization is going to choose us is because we’re a non-traditional space with built-in entertainment,” says Mike Detling, director of event sales and services for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
There’s also an intangible benefit to choosing a museum or non-profit facility: your rental fees are directed back into the organization, funding everything from education programs and community outreach to building improvements and acquisitions.
Whether it’s viewing Jimi Hendrix’s costumes, guitars and hand-written lyrics, learning how Delta blues musician Tommy Johnson’s legacy influenced generations of performers or admiring a sequined gown once worn by Ella Fitzgerald, each venue offers something unique.
“We’re not a hotel ballroom. We’re not a traditional music venue that may have a stage in one room and a private event space in another part of the building. No matter where you go, you have to pass artifacts that remind you of where you are,” Detling says.
Access to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame exhibits is included in rental fees for receptions and evening events, but is an optional add-on for daytime meetings; since meetings often last all day, this lets attendees tour the museum when they have more time.
“I think hosting an event at the National Blues Museum — or a music museum in general — gives your guests an experience they haven’t had before, with multiple entertainment features,” says Tori Fenemor of the National Blues Museum.
“Most of the events we host at the National Blues Museum have a reception in the main exhibit space, with cocktails and appetizers, then move to one of the venue spaces for dinner and additional entertainment,” Fenemor says. “The Legends Room, our most popular space, is where we host all of our concerts, and events held in there generally feature live music, where you get a more intimate experience than a large concert hall.
The Family Gallery is one of our temporary exhibit spaces, and is great for networking functions where live music isn’t necessarily the main focus.”
Because these non-traditional locations are focused on music, they have all the audio-visual equipment you’ll likely need.
“We offer full audio and visual amenities, [plus] in-house sound technicians, with a small staffing fee,” says Chrissy Boyer, events manager for River Music Experience.
The National Blues Museum — which hosts over 150 bands per year — can book live musical acts for you, with 100% of those costs going directly to the performers. “We’re advocates in our community for fair pay for musicians and artists, and don’t keep any funds allocated for live entertainment,” Fenemor says.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame offers educational programs and team building exercises, like timed scavenger hunts or forming teams into “bands” where each participant learns how each role, from manager to drummer, contributes to a band’s success.
Access to artifacts not regularly on display is another perk you can’t get just anywhere. “That’s a real VIP option,” Detling says. “Somebody from the curatorial team comes in and actually does a brief artifact presentation and answers questions.”
As part of Kansas City, Missouri’s, 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, the American Jazz Museum — a 72,000-square-foot facility that also encompasses the Horace M. Peterson III Visiting Center, Changing Gallery, The Blue Room jazz club and the Gem Theater — can accommodate large or small groups; combined, the facility holds up to 3,000 attendees.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s largest event to date had 3,000 guests, but most of its 230 private events per year range from 20 to 2,000 people. Although the National Blues Museum holds up to 800 people, Fenemor prefers groups in the 500-600 range.
River Music Experience — which has ceased operating as a museum and is now a non-profit focused on providing music education for the community — still has music memorabilia accessible to guests, and Boyer says the second floor can accommodate up to 500 guests.
Even with on-site event planners and coordinators, these venues collaborate closely with planners. “The client typically gives us a rundown of what’s needed,” Detling says. “We have a logistical oddity of a building here, so we want to be the expert in this situation and let them know what we can do, and we act as the on-site event planner.” Between the coordinator, Detling, and an in-house caterer, it’s turnkey service.
“Since we are experts within our space, we like to stay hands-on while planning the event to make sure you have the best experience possible,” Fenemor says. While the National Blues Museum doesn’t have preferred vendors for flowers or décor, she says its preferred caterer, Sugarfire, is known for barbecue but can do other cuisines. “We occasionally work with other caterers, but Sugarfire is our go to.”
As with any event, scheduling is key — especially with museums and music venues that need to work around their own exhibit openings, concerts and events. Most are able to accommodate corporate events planned a few weeks out, but it’s usually advisable to book early, especially for larger events.
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