The Bluebird Cafe is one of the world’s preeminent listening rooms and the venue has gained worldwide recognition as a songwriter’s performance space where the “heroes behind the hits” perform their own songs; songs that have been recorded by chart-topping artists in all genres of music. Located in a small strip mall outside of downtown Nashville, the 90 seat venue is unassuming in appearance but some of the most significant songwriters and artists have performed on this stage. Our reputation as a listening room is based on the acoustic music that is our signature style. Our patrons repeatedly tell us that they are captivated by hearing songs performed by the creators themselves.
At The Bluebird, performers include up-and-coming songwriters along with those whose music is regularly on the charts, country music as well as pop, rock and Contemporary Christian hits. Kathy Mattea was the first star to be identified with The Bluebird and is still a friend and a regular guest performer today. Garth Brooks played on both our Open Mic and Sunday Songwriter’s Shows before he was discovered – at The Bluebird – and signed to Capitol Records.
On any given night, artists such as LeAnn Rimes, John Prine, Jojo Herman, (Widespread Panic) and Phil Vassar mingle with writers such as American Idol Song Contest winner Regie Hamm, (The Time of My Life/David Cook),) Billy Kirsch (Holes in the Floor of Heaven/Steve Wariner), Hilary Lindsey (Jesus Take the Wheel/Carrie Underwood) and Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear (Before He Cheats/Carrie Underwood). A typical nightly performance consists of three or four songwriters seated in the center of the room, taking turns playing their songs and accompanying each other instrumentally and with harmony vocals. It is an experience that few forget, and one that reflects why Nashville is known as Music City.
In 2008, original owner and founder Amy Kurland sold the legendary venue to the Nashville Songwriters Association International, (NSAI) a 40+ year old, not-for-profit organization devoted to the service of songwriters and the craft of songwriting. More of a donation than a corporate sale, Kurland saw NSAI’s mission to “educate, elevate and celebrate songwriters” as a way to continue the Bluebird’s relationship to songwriters and to the community.
On October 10, 2012 The Bluebird Cafe made its primetime debut on the ABC drama Nashville. The Bluebird Cafe is a key factor in the show’s plotline which deals with both the music industry in Nashville, the political climate in Nashville and the key players in both these “worlds,” which often collide. Nashville the city is also showcased in the beautiful cinematography of the show each week.
The Bluebird Cafe, Nashville, TN Timeline:
Over 70,000 people visit the venue annually, many of them as a result of seeing The Bluebird on television or reading about the club in publications such as Southwest Spirit, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times or hearing it mentioned by the artists such as Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, Kathy Mattea, Trisha Yearwood, Kim Richey, Dierks Bentley, Faith Hill and Vince Gill, all of whom have had career moments over the past 31 years at the tiny, legendary club.
• Amy Kurland opens The Bluebird Cafe as a 100-seat restaurant in a small strip mall, five miles from downtown Nashville. While her focus was to serve lunch and dinner, Kurland adds a small stage and involves friends with music venue experience to help book bands after the dinner crowd. Music becomes a part of the Cafe’s repertoire.
• Kathy Mattea had been playing the Bluebird for several months and lands a record deal on Mercury Records.
• Blue Monday, fronted by vocalist Roguie Ray, begins a weekly Monday Night blues band tradition at The Bluebird Cafe. During his time, Ray along with band members, Eddie Blakely, Jimmy Greasy, Billy Earl McClelland, Johnny Neel and Dave Pomeroy, hosted many of the music industry great players such as Greg Allman, Dickey Betts, Lenny Breau, Steve Cropper, Vince Gill, Jimmy Hall, Dave Mason, Dee Murray, David Olney & Wynonna.
• The Bluebird Cafe adds their first official weekly Sunday Writers’ Night, featuring 8-10 songwriters chosen through an audition process. Don Schlitz was the special guest on the first show.
• T. Graham Brown’s first performance.
• The songwriter In The Round format, which is now known worldwide, gets its start at the Bluebird. 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) were the first to perform in this format. To this day, a typical nightly performance consists of four songwriters seated in the center of the room, taking turns playing their songs and accompanying each other both instrumentally and with harmony vocals.
• The Sweethearts of the Rodeo appear for the first time with Don Schlitz. They get a record deal on Columbia Records. The Bluebird gets mentioned in The New York Times.
• Radney Foster’s first show.
• Carol Elliot brings a group of the best local talent from Atlanta. That group includes The Indigo Girls.
• Although he’s played at The Bluebird many times before on Writers’ Nnights, this was Kix Brooks’ first appearance here with a band.
• Mike Henderson starts a weekly performance with The Kingsnakes (shortened to The Snakes after being signed to Curb Records), with Kenny Greenberg, Wally Wilson, Glenn Worf, John Gardner & Bill Swartz (later replaced by James Stroud).
• A second incarnation, The Bluebloods, replaces the Snakes in 1986. Originally a trio featuring Henderson, John Gardner, & Glenn Worf, the addition of keyboards to the ‘Bloods brought such luminaries to the band over time including Al Kooper, Greg Wetzel, Reese Wynans and later, John Jarvis.
• Currently on Monday nights, The Bluebird hosts The Mike Henderson Band with Henderson, Willie Domann and Kevin McKendree.
• The Bluebird Cafe adds early shows and the Monday Open-Mic nights, stops serving lunches to concentrate on music and songwriters.
• Jonell Mosser’s first appearance at The Bluebird Cafe.
• Garth Brooks performs at The Bluebird. Due to a cancellation, his performance is moved up in the program and Lynn Schults from Capitol Records is in the audience. Shults takes Garth into the kitchen and asks him to come to Capitol the next day to offer him a deal. Years later, Garth says, “The Bluebird is the beginning and the mecca, the end.”
• First “Women In The Round” show, with Ashley Cleveland, Karen Staley, Pam Tillis and Tricia Walker.
• Jeffrey Steele showcases at The Bluebird with Boy Howdy.
• Gary Burr passes his Bluebird audition.
• The Cowboy Junkies come through on their first tour.
• Deana Carter passes her Bluebird audition.
• Janis Ian performs her first Bluebird ITR.
• Hal Ketchum’s performs his first feature show at The Bluebird.
• Kenny Chesney passes his Bluebird audition.
• Songwriter and café regular Les Kerr performs his first Mardi Gras concert at the Bluebird featuring original songs about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, beginning Nashville’s longest running Fat Tuesday Celebration.
• The Bluebird Cafe is the setting for the movie The Thing Called Love starring River Phoenix, K.T. Oslin, Samantha & Sandra Bullock. Amy Kurland is quoted several times by Oslin’s character.
• Keith Urban passes his Bluebird audition.
• Barbara Walters interviews Garth Brooks at The Bluebird about his career.
• The Bluebird Cafe partners with the Disney Institute to present songwriters performances on the Disney property in Orlando, FL.
• Carolyn Dawn Johnson passes her Bluebird audition.
• Nashville’s First Amendment Center begins an annual “Freedom Sings” show, a celebration of freedom of expression through music.
• Turner South network begins broadcasting a program called “Live from the Bluebird Cafe” which features songwriters performing many well-known original works. The show runs for five years, although is never broadcast in Nashville.
• Dierks Bentley passes his Bluebird audition.
• Bluebird Cafe receives “Night Club of the Year” Award from the Academy of Country Music.
• The Bluebird Cafe Scrapbook, chronicling important Bluebird events and the people involved in them, is published.
• The duo of John Rich & Kenny Alphin performs officially as “Big and Rich” in an acoustic set at The Bluebird.
• Kelly Collom proposes to owner Amy Kurland in the round with a song he co-wrote with Billy Dean.
• The Bluebird Cafe begins an annual summer songwriters performance series at Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort in Utah.
• Dreamworks Records’ Scott Borchetta sees 15 year old Taylor Swift perform for the first time and invites her to be a part of his new venture – a label to be called Big Machine Label Group.
• The Bluebird Cafe partners with Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory to present an annual outdoor concert series, Bluebird on the Mountain.
• Kris Kristofferson performs his first BB show with members of his original band including Billy Swan, Stephen Bruton Chris Gantry and Donnie Fritts to announce the pending sale of The Bluebird to the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). Katie Couric interviews Amy on on CBS news about her retirement and sale of The Bluebird to NSAI.
• Original owner and founder Amy Kurland transfers ownership of the legendary venue to the Nashville Songwriters Association International. More of a donation than a corporate sale, Kurland saw NSAI’s mission to “educate, elevate and celebrate songwriters” as a way to continue the Bluebird’s relationship to songwriters and to the community.
• The Bluebird Cafe Stage is featured on the new Country Throwdown Tour presented by 4fini, creators of the Warped tour.
• “The Johns” (John Rich & John Anderson) perform at The Bluebird Cafe as part of The Birdsongs series, benefitting the club.
• CBS Good Morning visits The Bluebird Cafe
• Leslie Stahl interviews Scott Borchetta for a 60 Minutes piece on Taylor Swift.
• Toby Keith performs at The Bluebird Cafe with co-writers Scotty Emerick & Bobby Pinson as part of The Birdsongs series. The show was a benefit for The Bluebird – the proceeds provide needed bathrooms upgrades.
• Garth Brooks is inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
• Garth Brooks is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York where he is quoted as saying, “You might think this [induction] is it, but trust me, the way The Bluebird is run, the songwriters are king. If the whole entertainment world understood that, we’d all be so much better off, because they get it.”
• Garth Brooks is inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame.
• The Bluebird Cafe is featured in the new ABC-TV series “Nashville”, starring Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere, Robert Wisdom, Powers Boothe, Clare Bowen, Charles Esten and Jonathan Jackson.
The Bluebird Cafe is a magnet for Nashville visitors from all walks of life…some of our more well-known visitors:
Supreme Court Justice David Souter, T-Bone Burnett, Lauren Bacall, Peter Jennings, Helen Hunt, Mary Steenbergen, Ted Danson, Hal David, George Benson, George Stephanopoulis, Neil Sedaka, Carole King, David Crosby, Barbara Walters, Donna Summer, Katie Couric, Susan Stanborg, Bono, John BonJovi, Don Everly, Johnny Cash, Minnie Pearl, Chet Atkins, Mark Knofler, Billy Gibbons, Roy Blount Jr., Al Gore, Patricia Eaton, Jim Varney, George Lindsey, Cher, Bonnie Raitt, Leslie Stahl, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Melissa Etheridge, Jerry Jeff Walker, Stephen Schwartz, Bill Medley, Mose Allison.