"This is not your grandfather's historical society," proclaimed Michael Jehle, executive director of the Fairfield Museum and History Center, as he welcomed the crowd Thursday night for the opening of the "Fairfield's Rockin' Top 10" exhibit.
The new display -- staged as part of the museum's year-long salute to the town's 375th anniversary -- showcases 10 local musicians who shaped Fairfield's musical legacy, including classical and Broadway legends Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers, the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards, jazz great Dave Brubeck, Talking Heads' Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, rhythm-and-blues stars Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, singer Jose Feliciano, Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, disco diva Donna Summer and early rockers The Remains.
The exhibit, which runs through April 28, features memorabilia like Frantz's drumset from the Talking Heads, Weymouth's guitar from Tom Tom Club, a guitar Richards used to perform with the Rolling Stones, Ashford and Simpson's performing outfits and the "cuarto" guitar Feliciano used to record the seasonal classic, "Feliz Navidad."
The Rockin' Top 10 exhibit is the inaugural event in a series of activities planned at the museum in conjunction with the town's 375th Anniversary.
A concurrent exhibition, "Creating Community: Exploring 375 Years of Our Past," highlights events and artifacts from nearly four centuries of Fairfield's history.
"In looking at a number of different ways to mark the anniversary, Fairfield's music legacy stood out," said Meri Erickson, the museum's director of external affairs. "It was difficult to pick the top 10. Candidates had to have a music career of more than 25 years and lived in this area. We also wanted to represent different styles of music: Latin pop, jazz, rock, show tunes, disco."
The museum, with this display, is "definitely headed in the direction of being a regional cultural center rather than a traditional historical society," Erickson said. "We want to use history as a jumping off point to exhibit the fascinating culture of this area. Throughout the year, we will have interesting shows and lectures, trying things not done before. Our IMAGES photo show, for example, will feature Dave LaChapelle, who's edgy and from Fairfield."
The Rockin' Top 10 exhibit co-curator Beth Rose, the museum's research library director, said it was conceived by Jehle, Frantz and author/musician Robert Steven Williams, who served as moderator of a panel discussion Thursday. Rose researched and wrote summaries of each featured artist's career posted on panels throughout the exhibit. She also edited video clips that can be screened on related monitors. Artifacts on display were loaned by the artists themselves or their families.
"Chip" Damiani, drummer for The Remains and a graduate of Staples High School in Westport, was as star-struck as many of the other attendees. Though his band was the opener for the Beatles on their 1966 U.S. tour, he said the group never had a hit record. That said, the band is admired in Europe and, every four months, The Remains head overseas to play. "I have admired Chris (Frantz) and Jose (Feliciano), and would love to play with them if it was logistically possible," Damiani said.
Walter Matis, the museum's program and volunteer coordinator, noted the evolution of culture in Fairfield from its founder Roger Ludlow to record producer/Chic performer Nile Rodgers, a remarkable 375-year progression from Puritanical standards to today's open-minded society.
"There's definitely more to Fairfield than its burning by the British," he said. "There are other layers and we want to uncover those to keep young people interested."
Fairfield's Rock' Top 10 runs through April 28 at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road. For more information, call 203-259-1598. For details about the exhibit and the slate of related programs, visit: http://bit.ly/Kn8tt5