The Brothers Osborne are accustomed to being in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, but don’t think they’re cocky about it. Their frequent appearance is due to the fact that, before their music career took off, both spent several years working as servers for the museum’s restaurant and catering service.
But this week, John and T.J. Osborne got a whole different experience of what it means to be in this hallowed Nashville museum: Their accomplishments earned them a rightful place behind glass in “American Currents: The Music of 2017,” a year-in-review exhibit that officially opened Friday.
“We would roam the halls and dream of the day we’d have the chance of having something in the Hall of Fame, or hopefully one day being Hall of Famers,” T.J. Osborne, 33, said before a museum reception Tuesday night. “It made me tear up, walking in there and seeing ourselves in an exhibit.”
The Osbornes’ exhibit space features stage wear and a beloved custom guitar that John Osborne, 35, confesses he had trouble parting with temporarily. Their belongings join expansive displays that reflect the vibrancy and diversity of the genre during the past year.
Among the treasures, for instance, are artifacts that remind visitors of Chris Stapleton’s dominance in album sales and awards, Thomas Rhett’s breakout year and Garth Brooks’ reign in arena shows.
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Country-turned-pop superstar Taylor Swift earned a spot – with black-beaded stage wear – for her authorship of Little Big Town’s award-winning single “Better Man.” Jason Isbell’s banner year in the country subgenre of Americana is honored with the handwritten lyrics of his Grammy-winning song “If We Were Vampires.”
And a pair of boots, camouflage pants and black T-shirt draw attention to two of country’s biggest 2017 headlines. They belong to Sam Hunt, who recorded the year’s megahit, “Body Like a Back Road.” Chillingly, the display’s description notes the outfit was worn at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas on Sept. 30. It was the day before the horrific shooting that left 58 people dead and 527 injured.
Florida Georgia Line was honored for their groundbreaking year of stadium concerts and crossover hits. Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley showed up at the preview to check out the sparkling costumery they wore on the ABC-TV New Year’s Eve special.
Of course, Hubbard had more personal reasons to remember 2017: the birth of his daughter, Olivia Rose, on Dec. 23. “It’s been pretty life-changing, but it’s been amazing,” the 31-year-old artist said, noting his latest adventure in fatherhood was taking his daughter “for a skateboard ride” while his wife lunched with friends. (Actually, he was on the skateboard, and the baby was in a stroller.) After seeing a video of the stunt, his wife, Hayley, is “definitely questioning leaving her with me now,” Hubbard joked.
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Other exhibit high points include a case that pairs current stars with country legends, illustrating the continuity between past and present. Neo-traditionalist Kane Brown is teamed with Hall of Famer Randy Travis, and the two artists celebrated the pairing by walking the red carpet together on Tuesday.
Both are known for their deep, twangy voices — no coincidence, said Brown, who relied on Travis’ music to guide him after his voice changed as a teenager. “I would always try to sing high,” said the 24-year-old artist, “and Randy really helped with finding the baritone and trying to just run with that.”
Chris Young, who also attended the preview, was paired with Hall of Famer Marty Robbins, the country hero of Young’s beloved grandfather.
“Growing up, one of the reasons I knew I wanted to go to the Hall of Fame and walk around and look and see the history of it was because a lot of that history was taught to me by my family my grandfather,” Young, 32, said. “I would sit at his house, and he would play 45s and 78s of Marty Robbins all the time.”
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Another newcomer, Luke Combs, was paired with contemporary superstar Eric Church; both artists are North Carolinians who attended Appalachian State University.
As 28-year-old Combs took in the exhibit, “I just couldn’t stop smiling,” he told PEOPLE afterward. “I still can’t. … It was just crazy to get off the elevator and see one of my crusty old shirts in there. It was really cool — right next to Eric’s not crusty, very nice leather jacket.”
“American Currents: The Music of 2017” is open at the museum through January 2018.