The Bluebird Café in Nashville has a storied past, as die-hard country music fans will tell you. Not being one of those, I hadn’t heard of it before this past weekend.
Shame on me.
The Bluebird Café is a tiny little “listening room” tucked into an unassuming strip mall, far from the noise and neon of Nashville’s Broadway. It has a handful of tables, a postage-stamp stage—and a killer sound system.
Country-Western songwriters have been coming to the Bluebird Café for nearly 40 years to try out new songs, support fellow up-and-comers, jam with local favorites, and every once in a while, experience that lightning-strike of discovery.
Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, Indigo Girls, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley—the names of famous songwriters and stars who list the Bluebird Café on their resume scrolls on for pages.
Garth Brooks played here, so the legend goes, back in the day, to an empty house. He still drops in occasionally to say hi and, presumably, to watch the unsuspecting audience suffer from multiple cardiac arrests when he steps onto the tiny stage. He’s not the only “big name” to pop in every now and then, just to pay their respects. The sense of anticipation is palpable in the small room, both for the chance to see a star return triumphant or a star about to burst onto the scene. (The café itself has become the star of a documentary. Watch the trailer for Bluebird: An Accidental Landmark that Changed Music History.)
Getting tickets is always a long shot, but somehow our group (we were in Nashville for a birthday celebration) scored tickets for “Staff Night”—usually a quarterly event, finally back for its first time since the pandemic. At this event, staff members of the Bluebird Café each have an opportunity to slip off their apron, take that legendary bit of stage, and perform a song they’ve written before stepping back into the kitchen to plate the next food order.
Cook, server, merchandise salesperson…Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma…each staff member came from somewhere not named Nashville and landed at the Bluebird Café with music in their heart, skin, blood, and bones.
And dreams. Such dreams.
The Bluebird Café is sacred ground for songwriters. The creative energy rises up through the floorboards, halos the stage lights, whispers through the silence between songs.
As a writer, I recognized that energy. I felt it drift and circle around my ankles. I felt it crackle thought the strands of my hair. Felt it swirl through my wine glass as I raised a toast.
To all the songwriters at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, whether you’re cooking the Broccoli Mac & Cheese in the kitchen, pouring wine at the tables, or stopping by on your latest tour through town to give a nod to your roots:
I hear you.
I feel your energy.
I support your dreams.