Adventures in Nashville: The Bluebird Cafe

‘And now I’m glad I didn’t know/The way it all would end, the way it all would go/Our lives are better left to chance/I could have missed the pain/But I’d have had to miss the dance’-Garth Brooks (Lyrics by Tony Arata)

I wanted to do a lot of things on my first real visit to Nashville. Other than the Opry, I was desperate to go to the famed Bluebird Cafe! Any country music fan needs to stop by once (at least!) in their life. This dive bar, located in a strip mall, twenty minutes from Broadway (land of the honky tonks) does not, upon description, seem like somewhere you would wait hours and hours to go and see. But it is one of the most significant places in music history. There are other ‘Bluebird’ shows at larger venues but there is only one true Bluebird Cafe!

Opening in the 1980s, The Bluebird Cafe, once a small stage was added, is designed as a space for songwriters to showcase their work and hopefully get discovered. They had some early success when Kathy Mattea became one of the first Bluebird artists to be signed to a record deal. While others soon followed, it was not until a young man from Oklahoma took the mic stand. That man was Garth Brooks and he was discovered within these walls. That a small venue is where the most successful artist in music history (seriously, he’s second to The Beatles) got his start is incredible. The night Garth was discovered, he wasn’t even supposed to be on. A record exec had been there to see someone else, someone who didn’t show. Garth had been turned down already by every label in Nashville, including the executives, but they just needed to see him with a crowd. He was signed to Capital Records the next day. In another twist of fate, Garth was visiting one night and heard another artist, Tony Arata, sing a new song he wrote. Garth vowed that he would record ‘The Dance‘ on his major record debut (he didn’t have a deal yet). The song is Garth’s signature. A song he views as his favorite record. I agree, it is one of the greatest songs of all time.

A couple decades later, a young girl, from outside Philadelphia by the name of Taylor Swift also earned a coveted spot one night. A record executive was sitting in the front row and signed her. She has become one of the most successful songwriters in music history and the only woman, and one of a handful of artists, to have earned three album of the year Grammy awards. I am a huge fan and highly recommend her latest records, Folklore and Evermore, true singer/songwriter albums. All from a little dive bar in a strip mall.

So with all of this, I was determined to go! Tickets are hard to get and became even harder following the popularity of the ABC show, ‘Nashville,’ where The Bluebird was often featured. I love this show and rewatched during Covid! The venue only holds about 60-70 and you sit at tables or the bar. I woke up at 6 am to try and get tickets but the ticketing system sucks/not user friendly and I didn’t get a ticket. The two shows for Saturday night (6:30 and 9:30) were sold out and did so in less than a minute. They are introducing a new ticketing system, so I cannot speak to if it will work better but it cannot be any worse.

Through my research, I know that they leave open about 10 seats in the church pew area or x no shows for first come first serve. So I was determined to get a spot! I had two options and knew I would have to wait hours. So I left the Johnny Cash Museum and drove to the venue. I said that, for the early show, if there were more than 15 people in line, I would come back at 6 for the 9:30 show. I arrived at 3:15 and was the fifth person in line! Fortunately, I had some water as it was about 90 out. But I knew I was going to make it in. So I sat and waited. I chatted with other people in line, including a girl from Vancouver who is going to give me some tips when I visit next year to see Elton John, and waited to see if we would be called in. The line got very long, so you do need to get there hours ahead of time. You also cannot hold a spot for someone.

Then, at 6:30, I was able to go in. I sat very close to the stage at a table with an empty seat. The Bluebird ticket varies per show but I paid $10. There is also a $15 purchase minimum of food and/or beverage. They had a limited menu when I was there but I had the Fritto pie and I am still thinking about it! It was so good! There were three songwriters, who were clearly friends and collaborators, and they just talked and sang for about two hours. It was amazing although I was so in the moment, I forgot their names…oops! Also, no talking! You are to truly just enjoy the experience and I did!

I truly had the best time and did consider if I could wait in line again to see the late show…the line was just a touch long to think I would make it and I was tired. But I would wait in line again to have this experience again. Next time I am in Nashville, I will definitely be back…even if I cannot get a ticket. I shall wait three hours again because I love art and music and ‘three chords and the truth.’

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