I have boxes of artifacts in the basement. Flyers from shows I played in dating back decades; setlists from shows long forgotten, photos from recording sessions and cassette tapes from 4-track recordings that never saw the light of day. Thing is, I’m not an internationally famous rock star, so the boxes in my basement don’t mean much to anyone but me.
I do know of a guy who’s sold millions of records, toured the world with his band, a band for whom he’s written the majority of their music. He also saved all that stuff. Boxcars full of stuff. Storage Wars would kill for this bounty. He also collects guitars, stage wear, ledgers of every cent spent on the road, notes from his parents, art from fans and lots of guitar picks. He’s synonymous with the guitar pick. If you’ve ever been to a show by his band, you likely have a guitar pick from him.
Rick Nielsen, of Cheap Trick, has been saving like a pack rat since his teen years, saving artifacts both trivial and significant and has opened his vaults for all to enjoy.
In an exhibit called Rick’s Picks, the Rockford native has assembled one of the most impressive exhibits of rock and roll ephemera and memorabilia ever curated outside of possibly the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And while he could have easily staged this collection somewhere more tourist-friendly, like say Chicago or New York City, he chose to open the exhibit in his ancestral home of Rockford, Illinois at the Burpee Nuseum of Natural History. To say that Rockford has embraced its favorite son is an understatement. Try to visit a landmark in Rockford that doesn’t have a tie to or a relic from Rick or Cheap Trick.
The exhibit itself is (almost) literally everything Rick has collected over the years, from humble demerits from grade school, motel keys from the road, financial ledgers to one-of-a-kind instruments like the Fender Telecaster he gave John Lennon (that Yoko Ono returned after John died) and Merle Travis’s “Million Dollar Guitar”. There are drawers full of eyeglasses, shoes, and hand-written notes. Also, vertical displays of Rick’s unique, custom-made sweaters, amps and stage gear.
Give yourself a few hours to get through it all and make time for the 45 minute documentary featuring figures from Cheap Trick’s past and present, with plenty of rock stars in between, staged in a mini-theatre just off the main exhibit, with theatre seats emblazoned with Rick’s signature checkerboard upholstery.
You could do it all in an afternoon–depending upon where you live–or make a day of it, including stops at haunts that Rick frequents or invests in. I highly recommend The Stockholm Inn for Swedish fare and Octane Interlounge for good food coffee.
Just make sure you make your pilgrimage to Rockford before April, as the exhibit pulls up stakes and heads over to Japan, the country that made Cheap Trick legends with the release of At Budokan in 1978, a landmark album which reigns today as one of the finest live albums ever recorded.