Ever since he first publicly announced his plans in 2014 to create a country music destination in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart’s Country Music Congress has been a Country Music Hall of Famer’s dream. . The initial impetus for the project was to create a permanent home for the approximately 20,000 country music artifacts that Marty Stuart has amassed over the years.
In the 1990s, thousands of pieces of country music history were being dismissed as worthless when modern country music reached its commercial peak. Whole wardrobes of Nudie costumes were ending up in trash cans. Souvenirs of some of country music’s hottest stars were up for grabs at thrift stores and junk shops. Marty Stuart traveled Nashville and beyond to salvage as many of these pieces as he could, and has since become a resource for the Country Music Hall of Fame and other institutions for exhibits and memorabilia.
But this is only the beginning. The Country Music Congress will house and display all of Marty’s artifacts, but it will also include an education center and other facilities, as well as performance space. Completely renovating the historic Ellis Theater in downtown Philadelphia as part of the project, it will be the first-ever Country Music Congress party to come to life when Marty Stuart and his fabulous superlatives officially take the stage Dec. 8 with Connie Smith opening the Show.
The performance will be part of a succession of opening performances to help christen the Ellis and help raise funds for the eventual completion of Marty Stuart’s sanctuary to country music. Other artists on the schedule include Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Gaither Vocal Band, North Mississippi Allstars, Hardy and others (see calendar).
For years, all we’ve seen of what Marty Stuart has in store with the Country Music Congress are architectural renderings. But as the Ellis Theater prepares to open, we can finally see how much love and effort Marty Stuart and many others have put into bringing the Country Music Congress to life.
Earlier this month, Marty Stuart christened the new Ellis Theater by giving a Hard Hat performance to much of the construction crew responsible for the project. This gave us our first look at the Ellis Theater, thanks to Country Music Congress Board Member Douglas Hudson, who snapped the photos below.
The Ellis Theater was first opened in 1926 as a silent movie theater by Henry Bell Hutchison. The newly renovated space has 500 seats with the balcony and VIP boxes, a starry ceiling and a circle in the stage where the headliners stand, similar to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
The Ellis Theater is just Phase 1 of the Country Music Congress. Phase 2 will be a new community center and meeting space that will look much like a church, with a huge arched stained glass window and similar treatments inspired by country music’s mother church, aka the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Phase 3 will be the Education Building and Archive for all Marty Stuart memorabilia to be displayed, and where lessons, lectures, presentations and other events will take place.
The Country Music Congress has been endorsed by the Grammy Museum, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the Library of Congress, and is expected to draw 28,000 and 49,000 visitors a year to Philadelphia. Private donations also play a big role in financing the project. In May, Marty Stuart announced the appointment of Dr. Dan Barnard as executive director of the Congress of Country Music. When complete, the project will comprise some 50,000 square feet of total space.
For more information, visit congressofcountrymusic.org .
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Photos of the Ellis Theater below by Douglas Hudson