Marty Stuart Shares His Collection Of Sparkle & Twang

This appeared in The Tennessean - June 3, 2007

Long before there was Marty Stuart the country star, there was Marty Stuart the country fan — a wide-eyed Mississippi kid with his ears glued to the radio and his eyes glued to the TV set whenever his favorite singers would come on the air.

These two sides of Stuart converge in a new exhibit, Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey, opening Wednesday, June 6, at the Tennessee State Museum. Packed with artifacts, the exhibit surveys the history of country music while also threading through the narrative of Stuart's own life: his teenage years playing mandolin with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt; his close relationship with Johnny Cash; his success as a hillbilly rocker in the 1980s; his marriage to singer Connie Smith; his more recent experiences as a photographer and self-defined cultural missionary.

Viewed as a whole, Sparkle & Twang encapsulates some of country music's greatest triumphs and tragedies: a briefcase that traveled alongside the tuberculosis-ravaged body of Jimmie Rodgers as a funeral train carried him from New York to Mississippi; a road case, complete with engraved name and address, belonging to Patsy Cline; sheets of handwritten lyrics by Hank Williams; countless pairs of cowboy boots and rows of rhinestone-bedecked suits.

Stuart's collection originated simply from hanging out with his fellow musicians in Lester Flatt's band. "Like Lester's driver's license," the singer says. "That's the perfect example of my early collecting: He threw it away, and I picked it up. The fiddle player threw his fiddle rosin away, and I picked it up. The guitar players would throw their picks away, or their ties would get too much makeup on them, and they'd go into the trash can or wouldn't get used anymore, and I'd say, 'Can I have that?' "

For Stuart, however, Sparkle & Twang represents something far greater than a need to catalog his expansive memorabilia holdings.

"I feel like it's all about the future beyond this," he says. "One of my goals was to deliver these treasures into the 21st century. There are so many treasures — so many people and perspectives — and I felt like a lot of people were paying attention, but maybe some people weren't. So it befell to me to make sure that it all got here."

On Wednesday evening, Stuart will host his sixth annual Late Night Jam at Ryman Auditorium, a perfect extension of his joyfully reverent museum exhibit. Scheduled to appear are Neko Case, John Rich, Jon Langford, Ashley Monroe, Charley Pride, Pam Tillis, Porter Wagoner and others, who together represent country music's rich past and hopeful future.

By Jonathan Marx

Return To Articles Return To Home Page