No pomp and circumstance here: Rock royalty opens Hall of Fame

CLEVELAND — Cleveland -- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum officially opened yesterday in a ceremony that was equal parts show-biz, civic pride and outright silliness.

Show-biz, of course, would have been hard to avoid, what with artists like Little Richard and Yoko Ono on the dais, and an all-star celebratory concert scheduled for tonight. Yet for all its potential star-power, the ribbon-cutting ceremony outside the museum remained relatively low-key, as all the performers in attendance took pains to maintain the dignity of the occasion.


Perhaps the closest the event came to celebrity adulation came when Ono took the podium to a standing ovation. "You are changing the map of America," she told the crowd, adding she was honored to be at the opening. "I think that John would have loved it, too. He would have loved the fact that he is here, and not anymore in my closet."

Civic pride, on the other hand, was clearly on display as Cleveland publicly patted itself on the back for bringing the Hall of Fame to the shores of Lake Erie. There was plenty of crowing to do, and the Cleveland contingent was more than happy to oblige, from Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, who punned, "All we are saying is 'Give Cleveland a chance,' " to Mayor Michael White, who simply declared, "We did it! We did it! We did it!"


As museum director Dennis Barrie put it, "For now and forever, the heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland."

Unfortunately, its brain sometimes seemed to be elsewhere. Immediately after "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- the Jimi Hendrix version, naturally -- two Marine attack jets performed a screaming fly-by. An impressive sight, to be sure, but when the jets circled back to land at nearby Burke Lakefront Airport, the noise drowned out keynote speaker Ahmet M. Ertegun, founder of Atlantic Records.

Then there was the parade preceding the ceremony, which started off with a group of girls dressed up to look like dancing 45s, and ended with a large Madonna puppet that looked uncannily like Anne Murray. In between, the good people of Cleveland got to see a Robert Johnson float that was followed by a large demonic dog (presumably an allusion to his song "Hellhound on My Trail"); a group of papier-mache stones rolling along in front of four VW Beetles (Rolling Stones? Beatles? Get it?); and a bizarre, over-sized pinball machine, complete with marching balls and bumpers, that house a band playing "Pinball Wizard."

That's rock and roll?

No such silliness is scheduled for tonight's Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. The show (which starts at 7:30 and is being carried live on HBO) has already seen several cancellations, with Brian Wilson, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince dropping out of the lineup. But there were also rumors afoot that Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the Band would be last minute additions to the schedule.

It was assured, though, that the show would find stars rubbing shoulders in unusual groupings. Among the pairings planned: Sheryl Crow joining the Allman Brothers for a version of "Midnight Rider"; Martha Reeves and John Mellencamp singing "Wild Night"; Iggy Pop and Soul Asylum running through "Back Door Man"; and Bruce Springsteen and the E St. Band backing everybody from Chuck Berry ("Johnny B. Goode") to Al Green ("Take Me to the River") to Jerry Lee Lewis ("High School Confidential" and more).