In 2016, Jake Owen released “If He Ain’t Going to Love You,” something a little different from what the Florida artist usually releases. Slightly different in its funkiness, the bass-heavy track also features melodic backing vocals provided by the singular singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton. The two musicians may or may not have talked about the merits of living in the 30A area, but Stapleton ended up purchasing a home on Inlet Beach and had a 30A sticker prominently displayed on the top of his old guitar case, which is now being showcased in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
The Kentucky musician is being profiled with a comprehensive exhibit aptly titled Chris Stapleton: Since 1978, a comprehensive look at his impact through about 200 artifacts on display from his storied career that involves behind-the-scenes song-writing and rousing performances like his incredible cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s 1970 classic, “Whipping Post.”
According to Angela Zimmer, a writer-editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, they collaborate with the artist and their team to acquire unique items that aid in telling their story. Additionally, they have a vast collection of donated artifacts at their disposal.
“Sometimes, we have specific artifacts in mind – for example, in Chris’s exhibit, we knew we wanted the Polaroids Becky Fluke took on the road trip during which Chris started writing ‘Traveller,’ which they were able to provide,” Zimmer explained. “Other times, we ask for items more generally. For example, ‘items that help illustrate your childhood’ or ‘stagewear.’”
Zimmer explained that they specifically requested important instruments from Stapleton’s career, and the guitar case with the 30A sticker was one he provided for the exhibit.
“The case itself is unique and interesting – I really enjoy looking at the stickers,” added Zimmer. “And since he used it during his time with the blues-rock band the Jompson Brothers, it helped us fill out that section of the exhibit.”
All of these different chapters make up an engaging exhibition that details a life and career that hasn’t been conventional and surprising, to put it mildly. Born in Lexington and raised in Staffordsville, Kentucky, Stapleton was raised on a rich musical diet of country, bluegrass as well as R&B and hip-hop, resulting in the dynamic singer-songwriter we have today. When he released his debut record, Traveller, in 2015, the album received a lot of deserved praise and recognition, winning three Country Music Association (CMA) awards including Album of the Year, and it picked up two Grammies for Best Country Album and Best Solo Performance.
But unknown to the mainstream public, Stapleton was writing hit songs in Nashville (and soundtracks like Hell of High Water) for a decade before becoming a household name. Stapleton has written songs for major artists like George Straight, Tim Mcgraw, and even Adele and Taylor Swift.
“He was also in the bluegrass band The SteelDrivers and released one album with friends as the Jompson Brothers,” Zimmer said. “We wanted visitors to see that his ‘overnight success story’ was really anything but, and we wanted to delve into his deep career as a songwriter.”
Since opening its doors in 1967 in downtown Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has become the “Smithsonian of country music,” educating visitors about the cultural importance of this music through educational programs, publications, and yes, impressive exhibits like Stapleton’s over its 350,000 square feet of space.
The goal of exhibits like this is to “offer intimate insights into the people who have shaped country music’s story, from the genre’s pre-commercial roots to today.” From the iconic flannel jacket Stapleton wore on his debut record’s cover to his 1960s Gibson GA-8 Discoverer guitar amp, this collection has gathered some objects from the past that have played some sort of role in his exciting career.
It’s a career that’s established him as a major influencer in not only country music but pop and mainstream music in general – he has made that much impact. It’s a career that’s taken him around the world and yet, Florida and the 30A stretch seem to resonate with him more than other places, attracting him so much that he bought the place and escape for himself and his family on Inlet Beach.
Before being renamed Inlet Beach, the area was actually called Veteran’s or Soldier’s Beach because land in the area had been distributed to WWII veterans in the 1920s on a lottery system. Both of Stapleton’s grandfathers fought in World War II, so in some ways, it’s fitting (or possibly intentional) he has found a place to escape – and be inspired – on its sugar-white beaches.