A headline act in Music City

There’s seeing Nashville—and then there’s taking Nashville by storm with Jerry Zolten.

10390022_10152825535492086_8165040390046874029_nThis is a story of the latter experience. 

jjz photo 2012 (1) 2In late November, Research On the Road headed to Music City where Zolten—Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences and American Studies at Penn State Altoona, as well as a veteran music producer and historian—was scheduled to give two presentations I’d arranged as part of our traveling public engagement series.

The first, on November 21st, was a talk at the renowned Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. Hats off to the center’s director, Greg Reish, for hosting us at what turned out to be an enjoyable talk and lively exchange with the MTSU students and faculty who attended!

It had already been a big day by the time we got to Murfreesboro. Early that morning, Jerry was interviewed by none other than famed country music radio disc jockey Bill Cody, host of “Coffee, Country and Cody” on the most popular country station in the world (and home of the Grand Ole Opry broadcasts) WSM. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the show was broadcasting live that morning from The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Bill Cody and Jerry Zolten chatting live on-air from The Country Music Hall of Fame

The interview focused on promoting Jerry’s “Special Program” in the Hall of Fame’s beautiful Ford Theater the following day, a talk titled From Hillbilly to Rockabilly: The Country Roots of Rock & Roll. 

GenPubNashvilleROTR 2It’s worth mentioning that our event poster drew much praise for its Hatch Show Print inspired design. Credit goes to the talented Erin Wease, Penn State Visual Communications Specialist, who captured the Nashville vibe perfectly for us!

As the daughter of a retired typographer and graphic designer, I’ll digress for a moment, if I may:  Hatch Show Print is Music City’s fascinating historic letterpress shop founded in 1879.  Now located within the Hall of Fame itself, they’ve turned out some of this country’s most iconic images of county musicians and concerts, from handbills and posters to limited editions and art books.


Thanks to master printer and Hatch head honcho Jim Sherradan for the behind-the-scenes tour of the print shop. A real treat!

Jim Sherradan, left, with Jerry Zolten

We had been working closely with a bunch of terrific folks to make this event take shape;  as the day drew near the excitement was palpable. Heartfelt thanks go out to Nashville Penn Staters alumni chapter president Paul Anderson, vice president Lisa Fults and treasurer Megan Hershey for helping to turn out the Blue & White faithful—as well as some Penn State alums who had rarely before attended a Penn State event after graduating. We were especially happy to see them reconnect with Penn State at a Research On the Road event!

Jerry Zolten kicking off his talk at the Hall of Fame on November 22, 2014

It was really gratifying to see the theater at Ford Hall filling up with attendees in the minutes before the presentation.  We had at least 150 people in the hall. If you ever wondered if the ten-gallon hat was for real, I can assure you it is. Try not to sit behind one of those fellas if you want a good view!

I also need to give a shout out to the amazing staff at the Hall of Fame who helped this dream collaboration take shape.  A great big thank you goes out to Michael Gray, Ali Tonn, Abi Tapia, and many others!


Jerry’s a real pro as a public speaker and his passion for his subject is contagious. The hour-long presentation was a huge success by any measure. The crowd laughed, tapped their toes and even sang along with (and clapped for) the fabulous performance clips he shared.

That evening, we celebrated the event’s success over dinner with a mix of Hall of Fame staff, Nashville alumni chapter board members and local music producers.

During a Research On the Road trip packed with memorable moments, one more bears mentioning. Among his many career highlights, Jerry Zolten is credited with helping to  resurrect the career of the legendary Grammy-winning a cappella gospel quartet, the Fairfield Four, producing two CDs with them, Wreckin’ the House/Live at Mt. Hope (Dead Reckoning) and  Beautiful Stars (Lost Highway) with  their bass singer Isaac Freeman.

Though the original quartet members no longer perform, they passed the baton to four singers who, as the new Fairfield Four, are continuing the group’s legacy. They’ve recently recorded a concert called “Rock My Soul”  performing with  Lucinda Williams, Lee Ann Womack, Buddy Miller, Amos Lee and other luminaries, for a 2015 broadcast on PBS.

Thanks to Jerry’s close association with the group, we were able to stop by a recording studio on Music Row—the Nashville area that’s home to hundreds of music industry-related businesses— to listen in as they recorded tracks for their upcoming CD.  A very exciting and quintessentially Nashville experience indeed.

From the green mountains of Vermont to the honky-tonks of Nashville…what’s next for Research On the Road this semester? One more adventure. Watch this space for a recap after we take a bite of the Big Apple with three Penn State Visual Arts faculty members next week!

Leave a Reply