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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Blue Bird Cafe

The Bluebird Cafe is a dynamic 120 seat music club in Nashville, Tennessee that opened in 1982. The club is famous for intimate, acoustic music performed by its composers. Some performers are established singer/songwriters, and others write hit songs performed by other artists including Taylor Swift.

Founder Amy Kurland opened the doors of The Bluebird Cafe in June 1982 at 4104 Hillsboro Pike in Nashville, Tennessee. By that time, 4104 Hillsboro had already been home to a game room, a bar, a pizza parlor, a sewing machine store and a pharmacy. Kurland intended The Bluebird Cafe to be a gourmet restaurant in which patrons would have the opportunity to occasionally listen to live music while enjoying their meals. So, as somewhat of an afterthought, Kurland added a stage. That small stage would later host some of the world's biggest names and greatest songwriters.

As time passed, and more people began to discover The Bluebird Cafe, more and more songwriters and musicians began to pass through its doors. The occasional live music became a regular occurrence.

By March 1983, Kathy Mattea had landed a record deal and she'd only been playing The Bluebird Cafe regularly for a few months. After that, The 'Bird became the place to play. Eventually, fate would repeat itself - time and time again - for some of The Bluebird's regular songwriters as they, too, began to land record deals.

On July 1, 1984, just two short years after The Bluebird Cafe opened, the first official Writer's Night (an evening in which up and coming songwriters have the opportunity to play some of their original material with a special guest who has had some songwriting success) was held and Don Schlitz was the first special guest. By that time, Schlitz had already won a Grammy for writing the Kenny Rogers smash hit The Gambler. The evening was a success. In fact, it was such a success that in 1985 Sunday Writer's Nights were officially added to The Bluebird's weekly schedule.

1985 turned out to be a milestone year for the Bluebird, as well as for songwriters looking to make a name for themselves. On March 29, 1985 the first "In The Round" show was held with Thom Schuyler (16th Avenue and Old Yellow Car), Fred Knobloch (Used to Blue and Meanwhile), Don Schlitz (he would collect his second Grammy a few years later for Forever and Ever, Amen), and Paul Overstreet (future co-writer of Forever and Ever, Amen as well as a slew of other hit songs). The "In The Round" format, which simply means that writers sit in the center of The 'Bird playing, taking turns, and telling stories, was suggested by Knobloch and Schlitz. The story goes that Fred and Don had been out drinking, came up with the idea and said, "let's put four chairs in the middle of the room, facing each other, turn around the lights, and see what happens," (Kurland, 2002). So they did. And it worked.

The show and its format were so popular that shows continued to be held "In The Round" and, to this day, most of the shows at The Bluebird Cafe (and other clubs in Nashville and beyond) are still held "In The Round." At least once a month Knobloch, Schlitz and Schuyler still play together "In The Round" at The Bluebird Cafe with harmonica player Jelly Roll Johnson.

In the five short years since The Bluebird Cafe opened its doors it had already established itself as one of the best and most respected songwriter's clubs around. Writers had to (and still have to) audition to play its small stage, which was used when shows were not "In The Round." Sometime during one of these audition dates on June 6, 1987 a young man by the name of Garth Brooks walked through the door.

Brooks aced his audition and was booked one month later for a Writer's Night. Shortly thereafter, he was booked for a showcase. It was during this showcase, in which Brooks was filling in for another songwriter who missed the gig, that Lynn Shults, the A&R representative at Capitol Records, saw Brooks. Brooks was signed to Capitol the very next day.

Brooks' story with The Bluebird does not end there. He began to frequent The Bluebird's Writer's Nights looking for songs to cut. He found them. Bluebird regulars Kent Blazy (Ain't Going Down Till the Sun Comes Up and If Tomorrow Never Comes), Tony Arata (The Dance) and Pat Alger (Unanswered Prayers) supplied Brooks with some of his biggest hits. Brooks, of course, went on to become the biggest-selling solo act in the history of the music industry.

Also in 1987, dinner shows and Open Mic Nights were added to The Bluebird's schedule. The Bluebird boasted (and still boasts) two shows a night, dinner being made available at both shows. During the week shows times were/are generally at 6:00pm and 9:00pm and at 6:30pm and 9:30pm on the weekends, though there are exceptions. Monday nights are Open Mic Night. It begins at 6:00pm and runs until approximately 9:00pm. Anyone can play these Open Mic Nights as long as they play original material and abide by The Bluebird's other policies.

In the wake of Brooks' success the women songwriters at The Bluebird Cafe decided to shake things up, so to speak, and instituted the first "Women In The Round" night in November 1988. The line-up consisted of Ashley Cleveland (she would go on to win a Grammy), Tricia Walker (she would go on to have multiple cuts by Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Taylor Swift and more), Pam Tillis (she would go on to grace the top of the country charts time and time again) and Karen Staley (she would go on to have many cuts, including multiple Faith Hill hits). After that landmark evening, women songwriters were "In The Round" just as frequently as the men songwriters.

During the 1990's, the Bluebird toured such venues as The Bottom Line in New York City. Such shows are still given outside of Nashville. In fact, Bluebird regulars can be seen every summer at Robert Redford's Sundance Resort in Utah.

It was also during the '90's that The 'Bird flew to Hollywood. In '92 a movie script began circulating. The story was about a group of young songwriters living in Nashville who worked at and frequented The Bluebird Cafe. The 'Bird was so central to the plot of the film that Kurland was flown out to LA as the technical advisor on the film. That film was the Peter Bogdanovich directed The Thing Called Love, starring River Phoenix, Samantha Mathis, Dermot Mulroney and Sandra Bullock. Hollywood also came east to Nashville to shoot exteriors and to capture the magic that The Bluebird Cafe is known for. The Thing Called Love would be Phoenix's last film. He died from a drug overdose in the parking lot of the LA club The Viper Room a few weeks after the film wrapped.

Around 2000, a Turner South program aired, called "Live from the Bluebird Cafe". It featured songwriters performing many well-known original works and spent five years on the air before the Fox buyout of Turner South.

In 2002 it was decided that it was time to chronicle all of these important events and the people involved in them, thus The Bluebird Cafe Scrapbook was published. It is a history of the club, its famous writers, events, and employees, as told by the writers, employees and other witnesses.

It was also in 2002 that The Bluebird Cafe received an Academy of Country Music Award for Night Club of the Year.

At fifteen years old, young singer/songwriter, Taylor Swift, was also discovered at the Bluebird Cafe by music executive, Scott Borchetta.

The Bluebird Cafe was acquired by the Nashville Songwriters Association International on January 1, 2008.

The Bluebird Cafe has been featured on television in nearly every episode of ABC's Fall 2012 Drama, 'NASHVILLE.'


The Bluebird Cafe website

Source: Internet