I think I have hit a zone with my recent post about playing the BLUEBIRD and so I thought I would put a post on JUST that. For over thirty five years, everyone who has anything to do with songwriting and performing, and specifically Nashville songwriting and performing, have in their sights a goal to "PLAY THE BLUEBIRD CAFE'."
I've been fortunate and proud to be involved with the venue since before I moved to town. Auditioning in Feb ,of 1988, before I moved in April of 1988. I've had a love affair with the place from the moment I stepped in it's doors, and it is still a place like no other to be involved in, either from a performer's point of view or an audience point of view. Just no other place has the same vibe.
It is to SONGWRITING what the GRAND OLD OPRY is to COUNTRY MUSIC.
One of the continuous questions brought up by songwriters and general people is HOW DO YOU GET INTO THE BIRD? When you are a new writer or even those that have been around for many years, that keeps popping up. It is on "people's bucket list" to play or go. People come from all over the world, stand in line, arrange vacations around it. and writers are drawn to it like the "promised land". It is always packed, always in demand. Shows sell out in five minutes for the week.
So if you are wanting to perform there, there are a few things you need to understand.
#1, EVERYBODY WANTS TO PLAY THERE.
Being a member of NSAI, who owns and administers the venue is a good positive. But there are a TON of people who want to even just make the audition. 20 plus years ago, my good friend Amy Kurland, the original founder and owner, told me there was a standing list of over 20,000 people who had auditioned and were waiting to play the Sunday night. Only so many Sunday nights.
#2. YOU WORK YOUR WAY UP.
Most people start with the OPEN MICS. Now you call the number and get your name on a list. (If this is different, someone let me know. I haven't done that in a long time, well actually never, just people who have been trying have been telling me how it is)
Most of the time, you go from the open mic. which is open to anyone, to the SUNDAY NIGHT SHOWCASE.
This is where new and up and coming people will play three songs and then have a FEATURE, who is a hit writer or someone known in the community.
Most everything revolves around ROUNDS This is when four-five writers are in the middle of the room and play AROUND the circle. Doing one song at a time, till it gets back around. Usually about 4-5 songs in a two hour set.
The rounds are organized by one person who will most often invite their co-writers, their friends hit writers, known performers, etc.
It is also to have a wide selection of entertainers. filling in different slots. Having the young artists, the older experienced writers ,hit writers, some humor oriented sections. They audiences are varied so the music should be.
#4. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.
Each person is a part of a larger show. Having rounds that have diversity and yet allow everyone to shine in their own slot, is the best thing about it. And when people can sing or play on each other's songs, you have a really fun experience for everyone.
#5. IT'S NOT WHO YOU KNOW.
One of the things about Nashville in general is "IT'S NOT WHO YOU KNOW, IT'S ABOUT WHO KNOWS YOU AND HOW THEY KNOW YOU."
While any time you have an "inside contact" it is a good thing, most of the time it is how your reputation and your own skill level develops. Some are just not at the level for the BLUEBIRD. having such demands, means the overall caliber of performers is higher. It is something you have to work up to.
People who organize the rounds will invite their co-writers, friends, and people that will make the round work best.
So performing in other venues, writing with other people, developing those unending relationships are all essential.
#6. IT'S A VERY TIGHT TIME FRAME.
The shows, two a night, one in the evening at 6:00-8:00, one at 9:00-11:00 ish. Early shows are no cover, second ones have a cover charge. And there is always a $7.00 charge of food or drinks. Got to keep the doors open.
And the time frame for the early shows mean there is another show coming in right afterward. They "Clear the room" in between shows, so if you play early, you need to get your stuff together and move out. Often have to sell product or take pictures, greet the public in the parking lot.
This is part of the limiting factor. With roughly 14-16 shows a week with 4-5 people each, 20 on the open mic, and nine on the Sunday night show, is roughly around 100 people a week. With THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of people wanting to perform, waiting in line, auditioning, trying to work their way in, there is only so much physical space for people to perform. So it keeps it very tight on who gets in.
#7. IT SHOULD BE LOOKED AT AS THE GRAND OLD OPRY OR A BROADWAY SHOW FOR AN ACTOR.
It is the place everyone wants to be. The top of the heap of venues. It resonates with the people who came before. There is an electricity that is not found anywhere else. So it has to be respected. People have to be on top of their game.
Basically it is the best you can get if you are a writer. And it lives up to the reputation every time. The staff, bartenders, cooks, bar backs, managers, door people, waitresses and waiters, are trained very well, and get in and out of the crowd, take orders, deliver great service without disturbing the show. (AND THEY ARE SONGWRITERS TOO! SO TIP UP PEOPLE!!!)
The food is very good and it is THE place to take your out of town guests. Just have to figure ways to get in! LOL!
Last night was an exemplary round with TIA McGRAFF AND TOMMY PARNAM. Tia is from Canada, and has tha tvery sweet folk approach to her music. Tommy is an established writer in his own right.
WOOD NEWTON is hit writer, with number ones like BOBBY SUE, for the OAK RIDGE BOYS, and RIDING WITH PRIVATE MALONE for DAVID BALL. He also is a Grammy Winning producer for folk album of the year, SONGS OF STEPHEN FOSTER.
JIM SALES is an established writer and guitar player. He plays a smooth combination of country, jazz and blues, with a very easy delivery.
I was there for the edgy, country, blues, and humor.
This is a very good approach to the round. Each person able to sing on each other;s songs, different styles of songs and a show that was very well paced. There was no down time and everyone took the ball as it was handed to them, shone brightly and then passed it on to the next person. When that happens in a well constructed set, it seems like it flies by. It does.
So that is more or less my take on the BLUEBIRD. It is tough to get into, yet amazingly rewarding. I hope everyone gets a chance to visit or perform there. It will be a memory that will last you forever!
Marc Alan Barnette