1st Look at Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music’s Ellis Theater

photo: Douglas Hudson

Since first announcing his plans publicly in 2014 to create a country music destination in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart’s Congress of Country Music has been a dream of the Country Music Hall of Famer. The original impetus for the project was to make a permanent home for the some 20,000 country music artifacts Marty Stuart has amassed over the years.

In the 90s, thousands of pieces of country music history were being cast aside as worthless when modern country music was hitting its commercial peak. Whole wardrobes of Nudie suits were ending up in dumpsters. Mementos from some of country music’s most prominent stars were up for grabs in thrift stores and junk shops. Marty Stuart scoured Nashville and beyond to retrieve 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 displays and memorabilia.

But that’s just the beginning. The Congress of Country Music will house and display all of Marty’s artifacts, but it will also comprise an education center and other facilities, as well as a performance space. Completely renovating the historic Ellis Theater in downtown Philadelphia as part of the project, it will be the very first part of the Congress of Country Music to come alive when Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives officially take the stage on December 8th with Connie Smith. Jontavius Willis will open 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 shrine to country music. Other performers on the calendar 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 had to see of what Marty Stuart had in store with the Congress of Country Music were architectural renderings. But as the Ellis Theater gets ready to open, we’re finally getting to witness just how much love and effort Marty Stuart and many others have put into bringing the Congress of Country Music to life.

Earlier this month, Marty Stuart christened the new Ellis Theater by giving a Hard Hat performance to a lot of the construction crew responsible for the project. This allowed us a first sneak peak of the Ellis Theater, thanks to Congress of Country Music Board of Directors member Douglas Hudson, who took the photos below.

The Ellis Theater was first opened in 1926 as a silent movie venue by Henry Bell Hutchison. The newly-renovated space boasts 500 seats with the balcony and VIP boxes, a starlight ceiling, and a circle in the stage right where the headliners stand, similar to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

The Ellis Theater is just Phase 1 of the Congress of Country Music. Phase 2 will be a new community center and meeting space that will look very similar to a church, with a huge arching stained glass window and similar treatments inspired by the Mother Church of Country Music, aka the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Phase 3 will be the education building and the archive for all of Marty Stuart’s memorabilia to be displayed, and where lessons, lectures, presentations, and other events will be held.

The Congress of Country Music 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 annually to Philadelphia. Private donations are also playing a big part in the financing of the project. In May, Marty Stuart announced the appointment of Dr. Dan Barnard as the Congress of Country Music’s Executive Director. When completed, the project will include some 50,000 square feet in total space.

For more information, visit congressofcountrymusic.org .

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Pictures of the Ellis Theater below by Douglas Hudson

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