Traveling memories

From the Jim Irsay Collection comes a concert and exhibition with a Vineyard connection.


What does the $100 million collection of some 500 unique rock ’n’ roll, pop culture, and American history items belonging to Jim Irsay — owner and CEO of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts — have to do with Martha’s Vineyard? The answer is a bit circuitous, but just as fascinating as the intriguing collection, which includes pieces ranging from the Atlantic Charter signed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt to Secretariat’s saddle used during the 1973 Triple Crown, to the 1865 War Department wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth, boasting a reward of $100,000. But more about the objects and how you can see them in a moment. Let’s start at the beginning of the journey.

Irsay is a frequent visitor to the Vineyard. In the summer of 2021, he wandered into the Carnegie in Edgartown. It happened that Island resident and Carnegie director at the time Michael Wexler was working there, and the meeting of the two men ended up being momentous. Wexler, who has been living here for about five years, had come at the behest of his girlfriend, whose family came to the Island from the Azores in 1810. Wexler says, “A guy walks in the door one day, and I don’t know who he is, but he’s very enamored of the Carnegie. He says, I want to build a museum someday. I thought, Oh here we go. What is he talking about?” He told Wexler about some of the fascinating pieces in his own collection, and ended up making a very generous gift to the Vineyard Preservation Trust. When Irsay left, one of his staff said, “Do you know who that is? It’s Jim Irsay.” Still not ringing a bell, Wexler was told that he was the owner of the Indianapolis Colts.

Having hit it off, the two men corresponded sporadically about artifacts that Irsay was considering, and other shared interests. On a subsequent trip, Irsay returned with a rare 1823 lithograph of the Declaration of Independence by William Stone to show President Obama, who had expressed interest in seeing it. Irsay shares, “I tried to get him to sign it, but he chuckled and politely and wisely declined.” In an impromptu moment, Irsay wanted to display the Declaration on the lawn at the Carnegie. He enjoyed himself, and was inspired to create another event like it. With Wexler’s assistance, Irsay took about 20 items to Nashville, and also included a jam session with a handful of known musicians. The event, like all those afterward, was free. Wexler explains, “Jim knows everybody is going through things in life, and he wants to bring everyone a night where they can forget about their troubles and just enjoy this incredible collection.”

Eventually, Wexler left the Carnegie to take on the role of executive producer for what is now a national tour. There have been 10 stops so far, with the biggest at the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, for 25,000 people, with over 100 artifacts and a fully staged concert. But now just such an opportunity is coming to us a stone’s throw away, at Boston’s TD Garden on July 15.

So what can you expect to see among Irsay’s many valuable pieces from the worlds of cinema, music, politics, and more? Although he had been collecting guitars for some 10 years before then, about 20 years ago Irsay acquired what would turn out to be one of his most prized possessions, the original typewritten manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s iconic novel “On the Road,” which he wrote in three weeks on 100 sheets of paper that the author had taped together so he wouldn’t have to stop writing to refeed each one into the typewriter. From then on, Irsay just followed his heart in his acquisitions.

In the American history realm, there are documents signed by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Gandhi, and others, as well as the Continental Congress declaration of the first National Thanksgiving Holiday in 1777.

Among the popular culture artifacts, you can feast your eyes on a bat Jackie Robinson used to hit a home run, and shoes worn by “the Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, during his legendary “Thrilla in Manilla” fight with fellow icon Joe Fraizer. And from the film side, there are Sylvester Stallone’s training shoes from “Rocky,” and, more impressively, his handwritten script from the original Oscar-winning film.

Irsay’s rock ’n’ roll collection includes some 220 guitars. Among the 30 coming to Boston are those played by the likes of Jerry Garcia, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, Les Paul, Jimmy Page, Lou Reed, Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Prince, The Grateful Dead, and Pink Floyd. Other instruments are Ringo Starr’s drum set from the Beatles’ famous appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and a touring piano Elton John used for 20 years, which was on the stage for John Lennon’s final performance.

I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg. You can understand when Wexler says, “People cry when they see the collection; it’s just very evocative.”

The evening will culminate with a concert by the Jim Irsay Band, featuring Irsay on vocals, Kenny Aronoff on drums; Billy Branch on harmonica; Tom Bukovac on guitar; Mike Mills on bass and vocals; Danny Nucci on guitar and saxophone; Michael Ramos on keyboards; Carmella Ramsey on violin, mandolin, and vocals; Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar and vocals as well as country music star Vince Gill, and other special guests to be announced.

“Jim’s generosity of heart is really at the source of all of this,” Wexler says. “How many times in this day and age do you see someone who is just doing this out of the goodness of their heart? He has a love for this stuff and a love for people.”

And to think, as Irsay says, “I actually came up with the idea of transforming the collection into a traveling museum while visiting Martha’s Vineyard.”

For more information and to register for the Jim Irsay Collection Concert and Exhibition on July 15, see, or reserve free digital tickets at