I had a choice while on a media tour sponsored by Visit Music City: Go back to my room at Hotel Indigo and transcribe my many pages of handwritten notes or take in the late show at the Bluebird Café. I was tired. This was my first trip to Nashville, I’m not a country music fan, and I’d never seen the TV show “Nashville.”
My fellow journalists assured me I didn’t want to miss out on the Bluebird Cafe.
I’m very glad I went. Listening to the songwriters perform their own works and hearing the stories behind them was insightful and intimate. I felt, for a couple of hours, I was peering into their inner circle as they made music magic.
We arrived at a drab strip mall, where the venue is marked by a green canvas awning and striped barber pole. An orderly mob had gathered, awaiting entrance to the 9 p.m. show. The doors opened, and we quickly were ushered to a vinyl-clad table. The walls bore posters of music legends and cascades of white icicle lights. A friendly but efficient server took our drink order.
One of the most unique ways to hear music in Nashville is at a songwriters show. They perform their own songs, many of which have been made famous by someone else singing them, in small spaces called listening rooms. The Bluebird Café is a 90-seat listening room established in 1982. Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and a 15-year-old Taylor Swift performed here before they became famous. The room gained worldwide recognition a few years ago as a key location in the “Nashville” storyline.
The musicians sit in the center of the room, where they are spotlighted and surrounded by two rows of tables. The night I was in the audience, the lineup included Kate York, Gabe Dixon and Leigh Nash. Their performance was a benefit for Musicians Corner, a free summer concert series in the city’s Centennial Park.
Kate York has written more than a dozen songs that have been performed on “Nashville,” including the Season One finale with Sarah Buxton, “Nothing in This World Will Ever Break My Heart Again.” She performed that one and also “I Will Never Let You Know.”
Gabe Dixon, whose work also has been featured on the show, sang “Can’t Say No to Love.” Leigh Nash and hubby Stephen Wilson dueted her “Somebody’s Yesterday,” an ode to lost romance.
Emily West made an unexpected appearance. I thought she seemed familiar but couldn’t place her. I looked her up online and found out she came in second to magician Mat Franco in the 2014 season of “America’s Got Talent.” It’s a show I never miss, from auditions to finale. Of course, I remember Emily.
Emily West delighted the audience with her song, “Puppy Dog,” a naughty ditty rich in double entendre. “You ain’t nothing but a puppy dog,” she sang. “Just want a place to bury your bone.”
The night was so enjoyable, I now have my TV set to record “Nashville.” You can bet I’ll be watching the credits as they roll!
Getting into the Bluebird Café is tricky. One Nashville native I talked to said the worst outcome of the TV show is the large number of tourists who flock to the Bluebird. Locals, who have supported the place for decades, now have a hard time getting reservations.
There are two shows nightly. Lesser-known songwriters are featured at the early shows, and established songwriters at the late shows.
All reservations go through the website. No reservations are taken for Sunday or Monday, which is open mic night. Reservations for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday come available one week in advance. Reservations for Friday and Saturday come available on the Monday prior. Get online early, and don’t try to book a large party. The Bluebird Cafe has only 20 tables.
(Many thanks to Visit Music City for hosting my visit to Nashville and the Bluebird Cafe!)