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Sports, music merge in Rock Hall exhibition

in Rock Hall exhibition

The NFL draft may be second only to the Super Bowl among football fans, perhaps because all 32 teams get to “play” and have a chance at a big win.

With all eyes on Cleveland as host of this year’s draft, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is making sure there is some halftime entertainment to go along with this weekend’s action.

On display through September is “The Biggest Show on Turf: 55 Years of Halftime Shows,” a celebration of the iconic performances at football’s biggest event.

Greg Harris, president and CEO of the Rock Hall, said board members knew they wanted to do something in conjunction with the NFL draft, and the curators soon came up with the idea of focusing on the Super Bowl halftime shows.

“We all agreed, it was dead on,” Harris said. “You’ve had Springsteen play it, U2 play it, Gaga, Petty, the Stones. You couldn’t go wrong.”

But the draft already was delayed once. COVID-19 forced cancellation of the 2020 event in Las Vegas, and there was no guarantee the draft and all of the surrounding festivities would be possible this spring. Nwaka Onwusa, vice president and chief curator, said the hall waited as long as possible, but it ultimately had to make a choice and hope for the best.

“That was the call we had to make,” she said. “We wanted to do this. It’s such a dope musical story that had to be celebrated … We wanted to tell that story regardless. I’m glad we got to do it, and that we got to do it with the draft coming to Cleveland makes it even more better.”

Since 1993, when Michael Jackson was the halftime entertainment, about 20 Rock Hall inductees have participated in the Super Bowl extravaganza as well as several major artists who aren’t eligible for induction yet.

“We didn’t want to go the obvious route and just highlight those performances,” Onwusa said. “Let’s go behind the scenes and the unique moments that go into this 12-and-a-half-minute phenomenon. It’s really just an exciting celebration of the collision of two culture shifting moments, music and sports coming together to inspire us, bring hope and keep us entertained.”

She worked with those who designed the elaborate stages that to be rolled out and ready at the end of the second quarter and included set designs, lighting plans and other documentation that complements the artifacts from the performances.

The centerpiece of the show is the suit Prince wore for his rain-soaked 2007 set, generally considered the best Super Bowl show of all time. Katy Perry’s 2015 performance is represented by several items, from her beach-ball-inspired outfit to the “Left Shark” costume worn by one of the show’s dancers. There’s clothing worn by Lady Gaga and Stevie Wonder and leather Super Bowl jackets given to Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson after their appearances.

However, the most memorable leather jacket is the one worn by U2’s Bono in 2002. During the first Super Bowl after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., while the name of the those killed scrolled past on a scrim above the stage, Bono pulled open that jacket at the end of “Where the Streets Have No Name” to reveal an American flag.

“The artist stuff all came directly from the artists themselves,” Harris said. “Bono’s jacket that was on the cover of Time magazine? He’s the lender of that jacket.”

Onwusa also drew on the archives of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, which provided everything from footballs autographed by Aerosmith to 30 of the standees of fans that filled the empty seats at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium due to the limited capacity allowed due to COVID-19 protocols.

“Thankfully, the NFL is the NFL, and their archive is amazing,” she said.

The Rock Hall also included a few items from its permanent collection that aren’t Super Bowl-related but fit the theme, such as the red football helmet lead singer Roger Daltrey wore on the cover of The Who’s “Odds & Sods” album and the University of Texas football jersey that Joe Walsh wore during The Eagles’ tour in support of its 1979 album “The Long Run.”

One unique twist in creating the exhibition is there was a Super Bowl halftime show happening after the concept was planned, so that meant greater access to items from this year’s show featuring The Weeknd that might not have been available otherwise.

That doesn’t mean Onwusa got advance access to the halftime show. Like everyone else, she was watching the game Sunday night and then started working to secure items first thing Monday morning. The haul includes red jackets and choir robes worn by those performing in the halftime show as well as the outfit and guitar used by H.E.R. for her rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

The biggest piece in the exhibition is the mirrored, lighted maze that The Weeknd used in the performance. It’s sure to be a popular background for selfies all summer long at the Rock Hall.

“I definitely wanted The Weeknd (in the exhibition),” Onwusa said. “It was such a unique year, even having this performance during COVID. That was a Super Bowl unlike any other.”

If you go …

WHAT: “The Biggest Show on Turf: 55 Years of Halftime Shows”

WHEN: Through September. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with extended hours on Saturdays and select weekends

WHERE: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, 1100 Rock & Roll Blvd., Cleveland

HOW MUCH: $28 adults, $25 for college students and first responders / military, $18 children ages 6 to 12 and free for children ages 5 and younger. Timed entry tickets must be purchased in advance at tickets.rockhall.com

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