One of Nashville’s icons is the Bluebird Café, a Mecca for songwriters who want to make it big and songwriters who have made it big. In business for over a quarter of a century, the Bluebird draws people from all over the world not only as audience members but as performers. In my twenty-four years in Nashville, I’ve seen writers like Mary Chapin Carpenter on stage and John Prine in the audience, just soaking up the new talent coming to town.
Among the badges of honor in Music City is a performance at the Bluebird’s Sunday night Writers Showcase. At the Sunday night show, people audition or send material if they live out of town for a chance to play three songs. That’s it – three songs. Songwriters come from around the country and around the world for that opportunity. I remember the thrill of getting to sing my three songs there in 1987. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to perform many other times at the venue but I’ll never forget that first Sunday night.
Since about 1998, I’ve had the good fortune to be a fairly regular host at the event, starting with an invitation from Jeff Pearson, who was the regular host for many years. When he travelled or was unable to do his duties on a given Sunday, he called me fairly frequently to fill in, as current host Steve Goodie still does occasionally. Recently, I had the opportunity to be the guest writer, the person who has achieved some success and is asked to perform at 30-minute set at the end of the show. A true honor for me, once again.
Maybe because I don’t see the show every week, I have begun to notice a rise in quality of all of the songs performed at the Sunday night show. Back in the 1980s, it really was hit and miss regarding the musical fare on a given Sunday. In addition, I think the performances have improved. The songwriters are better prepared than they were a couple of decades ago, although there is still the periodic nervousness that causes a writer to forget which lyric to sing or the now-rare on-stage tuning. But on the whole, after watching the show on Sunday, I am very impressed and encouraged by the songs.
Let me say that I’m no expert on what makes a good song, but I do know what I enjoy hearing. And I think it’s getting better. So keep writing, songwriters, and keep looking for an audience. You don’t have to live in Nashville to be a good songwriter. We even had a country singer from India perform one Sunday night and he sounded more like the traditional country artists “we grew up with” than most of the singers getting radio airplay at the time.
I would also encourage those of you who don’t write songs but come to Nashville to visit to stop by on a Sunday night. This past Sunday, I sat at the bar beside a couple from South Africa who were music fans, not writers, who had heard about the Bluebird and said it lived up to their expectations. And if you live in Nashville, there’s no excuse. Just like the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Ryman Auditorium, the Bluebird Café is a gem in Nashville’s crown. What makes it a real treasure, though, is the heart and soul delivered by the songwriters who lay it all on the line for you and me.
Learn more about the Bluebird Café and make reservations to see a show at www.bluebirdcafe.com
Learn “More about Les” at www.leskerr.com
Text and Photo Copyright 2011