What started on a “whim and a prayer” more than two decades ago is now a permanent exhibit at Elkhorn Valley Museum in Norfolk.

The Nebraska Music Hall of Fame display — called “Nebraska Rocks: A Mid-Century Music Scene” — celebrates the state’s music history and contains a collection of memorabilia ranging from posters and photos to costumes and instruments.

“Music is (made) here. It’s such an important part of our lives. It can do so many things for us. It often brings back memories,” said Ashley Brown, executive director of the museum. “I think it’s beautiful. I think — especially after a year of living in a pandemic — we’ve really, truly learned to understand how important art and music is for us and how it can connect people.”

The exhibit was organized with the help of Nebraska musicians Jim Casey of Norfolk and Tom Lingelbach of Omaha.

“The collection mostly comes to us from Jim Casey of the Smoke Ring,” Brown said. “He was our contact with all of our other musicians that we ended up collaborating with, so it showcases instruments, original posters, costumes, et cetera.”

The installation of a temporary exhibit occurred in 2019. The exhibit now has been made permanent with the option to renew its contract set for every five years, Brown said.

The goal of the exhibit is to highlight the entire history of the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame. Inductees into the hall of fame are announced each year in various venues around the state, including as part of the Nebraska Rocks celebration, set this year for Friday and Saturday, July 23-24, at the DeVent Center in Norfolk.

“The hall of fame started on a whim and a prayer,” Casey said. “I wanted to honor the people who inspired me, and lots of musicians and fans.”

Casey said he was encouraged by Lingelbach, his son, Matt Casey, and friends to move forward when the idea of the original temporary exhibit came up.

Brown said the exhibit now highlights early inductees into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame but eventually will have representation of every artist who has been nominated.

“We started way back and, frankly, started the museum with whatever materials we could gather from our studio and basements,” Casey said.

A newly formed nonprofit will give Casey and company the ability to build the exhibit and complete the listings of honorees, he added.

Casey said the state of Nebraska — particularly the northeast corner — has a rich history in music, driven heavily in the early years by the presence of King’s Ballroom.

“A long list of highly successful talents in the national and international level of entertainment came from this Norfolk bunch of which I was a part,” he said. “I think this (exhibit) gives musicians a value for the music they created, how important they were as part of the good and special times in the lives of many, many people.”

Inductees into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame over the years have included Dick Allison, Don Sohl and the Roadrunners, The Smoke Ring and the late Dennis Volk, music producer John Grady, Max Carl, Dickey Lee, Little Joe & The Ramrods and Randy Meisner.

Bands that will be inducted into the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame this year are Sidestep, The Greg Spevak Orchestra and 1960s group The Wanted.

Casey said Norfolk is still well-situated to be an entertainment center because there is a spirit to the area. He hopes the exhibit at the museum will help enable the Nebraska Music Hall of Fame to showcase more new artists from the surrounding areas with live performances.

“I want those younger than me to know what they are inheriting and how good it can be,” he said.

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