Q&A with Ron Romero: Music landmarks to be inducted into inaugural Illinois Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Between the recent announcement of the Illinois Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inaugural class and next month's induction ceremony, Ron Romero, founder and president of the new Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66 in Joliet, Illinois, took time to provide some insight amidst the excitement and happy chaos of the moment. Thank you, Ron, and congratulations! Read (rock) on!
Sheryl: Was your vision for establishing the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66 created by a defining moment or developed gradually over time? Please tell me a little about the journey you've taken that's led up to this moment, a mere month away from your inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremony and anticipated summer/fall opening of the museum!
Ron: A little bit of both. There were many influences. I’ve always liked music museums and there are several across the US that I have been to, like the Cleveland Hall of Fame, and several museums in Nashville. In fact I really liked Nashville’s museums. The whole city works together to promote tourism and to encourage people to visit all the museums. The cross-promotion there works like a well-oiled machine. Another influence was an exhibit done by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. He had a great exhibit at the Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois.
In 2017, the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66 was incorporated as a 501(c)3 in Joliet, Illinois. Its mission is "to educate and also entertain guests as they explore the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum and learn about Illinois' music history through exhibits that are immersive, interactive informative, and entertaining." The museum's future home along the historic Route 66 corridor was unveiled in 2019 - a 1920s three-story building in a rising cultural area of downtown Juliet - with plans for the first floor to open in Summer/Fall 2020 and the second and third floors in 2021.
Among the features spanning the three floors of the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum will be a welcome center, gift shop, theater, Road to Rock streaming radio station, exhibit space with interactive displays and a performance venue.
Sheryl: Congratulations to all inductees in the Illinois Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2020! How do you think this inaugural group represents your organization's mission, Illinois' rock and roll legacy and the state's broader contributions to American popular music?
Ron: First, I’d like to say we have a lot of great bands and performers with Illinois ties. We had 4,000 visitors to the website for the hall of fame and 800 nominations that had to be whittled down to 21 musicians/bands and 10 non-performing nominations like radio stations and record companies, etc. The Charter Members of the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum voted for the final inductees. I love that there is a good mix of genres in the first class.
The Illinois Rock & Roll Museum Hall of Fame is set to induct its inaugural class Sunday, March 29, 2020, at the Renaissance Center Ballroom in Joliet, Illinois. Inductees include performers Chicago, Cheap Trick, Ides of March, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, The Buckinghams and REO Speedwagon as well as non-performers WLS Radio, Chess Records, the Thirsty Whale, disc jockey Larry Lujack and the Founder’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient disc jockey Dick Biondi.
Sheryl: When developing the criteria for hall of fame inductee eligibility, how was it decided to include places in non-performers categories (i.e., radio station, record store, recording studio, recording label, music store, ballroom/club), and why? What can you tell us about the three music heritage sites that will be inducted this year and others that were nominated but not selected?
Ron: I think it was important to include other categories besides musicians/bands. They helped to make many of the performers. For example, Chess Records recorded Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters, WLS radio put a lot of music on the airwaves. Each category played an important part to bringing that music to the people.
Chess Records is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2020 and will kick off the Chicago Blues Festival June 4th when Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation and Chicago Blues Revival host a Record Row walking tour and musical celebration at the historic Chess Records location. In 1997, Willie Dixon's widow Marie Dixon purchased the building to save it from a demolition effort that was being proposed, and it has since been home to Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation.
(Image: Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation Facebook page)
The recently endangered Prairie Farmer/WLS Studios building has been saved by a development project that will retain its historic integrity while incorporating it into new construction - a nine-story glass office building behind, beside and above it.
Concept: Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture
Inducting places into a Hall of Fame that honors rock and roll music was first enacted by the late John Senn, founder and longtime president of the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association in Arnolds Park, Iowa, established in 1997. I had the pleasure of working with John during my tenure as IRRMA's interim museum director in 2016-2017.
Sheryl: Are there plans for Illinois rock and roll landmarks to be a focus of future museum exhibits and other special programming? Beyond the vital advocacy they would receive from the hall of fame and museum, is there interest in your organization taking a more direct role in active historic preservation efforts to assist the architectural landscape of Illinois rock and roll history?
Ron: Absolutely. We strive to be the repository for anything music in Illinois and our programming will include education for up and coming musicians.
Sheryl: How may interested readers support the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66 and the many exciting initiatives you have planned to grow in 2020?
Ron: The support for the museum has been fantastic. We have over 22,000 social media followers and we now have about 500 Charter Members that support the museum. I think music lovers appreciate our efforts and we appreciate all of the help we get to bring the museum to fruition. Anyone interested in helping the museum can do so by becoming a Charter Member, donating to the museum, donating artifacts for exhibits, or making an introduction to a donor. Every effort helps to move us a step closer to our goal.
Visit the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum website to learn more about how you can get involved!