Why the Bluebird Café and the Ryman are still going strong

‘Special people’ keep venues special

The Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Café.  Two iconic names that immediately create mental images of what Music City is all about.  Both are at the top of the list for tourists to visit, particularly since the worldwide popularity of the TV drama series, ‘Nashville.’

In fact, many visitors, listening intently to their tour guides, might actually know more about those two venues than those of us who live and work here.  It never hurts to remind ourselves just how important they are to the success of Nashville’s music industry.

In many ways, the story of both venues is really the story of a small number of remarkable people (mainly women, as it happens) whose tenacity, dedication and unwavering belief ensured that both the Ryman and the Bluebird are still thriving today.

The Bluebird put songwriters ‘In the Round’

Inside the Bluebird. Photo: Bluebird Cafe

Originally started as a restaurant in 1982 by founder Amy Kurland, the Bluebird Café had evolved into a 90-seat listening room by 1984, holding regular ‘Writers’ Nights.’  In March 1985, three songwriters, J. Fred Knobloch, Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet, performed the Bluebird’s first ‘In The Round’ show, in which the three writers sat in the center of the room and took turns playing songs and telling the stories behind the songs, while audiences listened quietly and attentively.

The ‘In The Round’ concept was an immediate success and was soon adopted by other venues, but The Bluebird is recognized as the place where it really all started and continues to this day. So many hit writers and recording artists cite the Bluebird as the place where their careers really took off. Among them: Taylor Swift, at the age of fourteen, discovered by Scott Borchetta, and Garth Brooks who, in 1987, filled in for another artist and was spotted by a Capitol Records’ A&R exec and signed to a record deal the very next day.

‘Alive at the Bluebird’ concert series

Photo: The Bluebird Cafe

After 36 years, the Bluebird Café is as popular as ever. It is still the place where songwriters really want to be seen and heard. Baseball great Yogi Berra is credited with saying about a popular restaurant, “Nobody ever goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” And among some Nashvillians, there’s a feeling that the Bluebird has become mainly a tourist destination. But that really is not the case.  Just take a look at the list of upcoming shows at their website, and check out the astonishing list of hit writers scheduled to appear.

The 25th Annual Alive at the Bluebird concert series is currently underway with at least 27 shows running through February 1, 2018 that benefit Alive Hospice. There’s never been a better time to catch a great show and support a really worthwhile cause.

While you’re at their site, it’s a good idea to click on ‘Reservations’ too. That’s where you’ll see the Bluebird’s policy about booking seats. Remember, it’s a small room (the intimate setting and the close proximity to the performers is part of the charm) so have a second or third choice in mind if your first choice is sold out.

The Ryman: 125 years and counting

The Ryman Auditorium dates back to 1892 when it was originally known as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. Now, with around 2,360 seats, it is considerably bigger than the Bluebird, but still one of Nashville’s best venues to see live shows, even in these days of stadium and arena spectaculars.

But, like the Bluebird, the Ryman owes its current existence to a few people who were convinced that it was an essential part of Music City’s heritage. In 1920, Lula C. Naff was hired to manage the space, after working there for several years, booking acts for the Ryman in her spare time. Her tireless dedication kept the venue alive and thriving until her retirement in the 1950s. Since then, the Ryman has had two more female GMs.

“To work here [at the Ryman] you have to be like a crazy, crazy music fan.” – Lisaann Dupont, Director of Communications for Opry Entertainment Group, quoted in an interview at Uproxx.com. You can read the entire story, ‘How Women Shaped the Legacy of Nashville’s Oldest and Most Celebrated Venue, the Ryman Auditorium,’ here.

Saved from demolition

The Ryman. Photo: L.A. Times/Don Bartletti

It’s hard to believe now that, when the Grand Ole Opry moved to its new location at Opryland, the decision was made to demolish the Ryman. Pressure from local preservationists led to the Ryman being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, preventing demolition. But for nearly two decades, it slowly deteriorated as its owners had little interest in it.  Gaylord Entertainment finally carried out repairs to the exterior including the roof.

But the turning point was a recording made in the dilapidated building by Emmylou Harris & the Nash Ramblers. Titled ‘At The Ryman,’ the album won a Grammy for Best Performance by a Duo or Group in 1993. The success prompted Gaylord to invest in extensive renovations. Since then, additional updates have revitalized the Ryman into the great venue it is today.

Both the Bluebird Café and the Ryman Auditorium prove that when even a small number of people believe strongly that a venture is worthwhile and never give up on their objectives, great things can happen. Today, it’s difficult to imagine what Nashville would be like without the Bluebird Café or the Ryman.  They are living proof that people with strong beliefs and perseverance can make things happen.

The Bluebird, the Ryman. Two stops on any visitor’s tour of Nashville. But both great entertainment resources for all of us living in Middle Tennessee who owe a debt of gratitude to those who made them what they are today.

“Inside Track on Music Row” ready to read

Here’s a teaser of the January 2018 edition

The January 2018 version of my monthly column, ‘Inside Track on Music Row,’ is now posted at Nashville Music Guide, complete with some great graphics and photos.

Here are a few few teasers, but click the link above to read the full column of news about songwriters, artists and the country music industry.

Artist News

Brett Young has landed on multiple Billboard Year End charts, as 2017 came to a close, including Top New Artists, the only Country artist to do so. He also landed at No. Two on the Year End Hot Country Songs, Country Digital Songs and Country Streaming Songs charts. ASCAP recognized his “quintessential breakout year,” honoring Young for one of the Most Played Songs of the Year with “Sleep Without You.” Young was named a TicketMaster New Favorite Artist of 2017 and was Shazam’s only Country act included on their Emerging Artists of 2017 list. He also drew prestigious CMA, ACM, Teen Choice Award, CMT Music Awards and AIMP Award nominations. 2018 is already shaping up to be another big year for Young, who is working on new music. He will perform at the College Football Playoff concert in Atlanta January 8 before joining ACM Male Vocalist of the Year Thomas Rhett on his LIFE CHANGES Tour.  More info at brettyoungmusic.com.

Concert News

As the curtain closed on a sold-out show at New York City’s Town Hall in December, multi-PLATINUM singer/songwriter Kip Moore took a bow to 2017, for what can only be described as a benchmark career year. Moore is wrapping up an overwhelming year on multiple “Best Of 2017” lists by Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, UpRoxx, Bobby Bones Show, Taste Of Country, Sounds Like Nashville, The Boot, PopMatters and Whiskey Riff for his revered third studio album SLOWHEART, while reflecting on his 4th career No. One for his single “More Girls Like You,” sold-out headlining shows, national TV appearances and more. 2018 tour dates etc at kipmoore.net.

Label News

Luke & Caroline Bryan. Photo: Getty/Frederick Breedon IV

(Capitol Records) On Christmas, via Instagram, Capitol’s ‘Golden Boy’ Luke Bryan surprised his wife Caroline with two baby kangaroos! Yeah, you read that right, two baby kangaroos. The baby roos are the latest additions to Brett’s Barn, a farm of rescue animals honoring their late niece. Country superstar Bryan took to Instagram to share a video of himself surprising his wife Caroline with the most unexpected Christmas gift ever. In the video clip, Bryan approaches Caroline, who is blindfolded, with the two kangaroos in bags. The family named the babies Todd and Margo after two characters from the iconic Christmas film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Todd and Margo will join the family of animals living on the Bryan Family property at Brett’s Barn. The barn is Caroline’s passion project and is dedicated to her late niece who passed away at just 7 months old in early 2017. Brett’s Barn is also home to a pig, goats, and miniature horses. Caroline plans to keep adding to Brett’s Farm and I am sure we will be hearing more about it in the Spring.

And there’s a whole lot more!  Check out the entire column online at Nashville Music Guide.

 

Why songwriters should focus on ‘presence’ in writing session

Presence: part of your “Pod of Seven P’s” 

Having presence is more than your physical body simply being in a given place at any given time.  Just because you are standing in a particular spot or sitting on a specific chair in a certain location, doesn’t mean that you have presence.

Graphic: Mike Harris

When you have presence, your complete attention and every fiber of your being is focused on where you are and what you are doing.  Taken to an extreme, all five of your senses are brought to bear with laser-like concentration on that specific moment in time and what you are doing there.

Note: this is one part of my seven-part series “The ‘P’ Pod: Seven characteristics shared by the most successful people in the music industry.” It is currently being serialized at MusicStartsHere.org

In reality, a total state of presence is virtually impossible to achieve and would probably make us unaware if the house was burning down around us!  However, developing your sense of presence is an essential element in your own professional growth and in your relationship with others.

Songwriting needs you to ‘be here now’

On a personal basis, any act of creation – a song, for example – requires your total presence, or at least as total as is practical.  If you’re constantly checking your email, responding to texts or (AAAaargh!) listening to someone else’s music on your earbuds, you don’t have presence in your creation and it will suffer.

Worse still, if you are in a writing session with co-writers and you’re answering phone calls because “I gotta take this” or you’re saying, “Wait! You gotta see this video someone just sent me,” you’re not only destroying your own presence but also that of your co-writers. That’s unproductive, but it’s also inconsiderate in the extreme and is disrespectful to your colleagues.

Continue reading the ‘Presence’ chapter at MusicStartsHere.org. MusicStartsHere is a great resource for singers and songwriters that I highly recommend!

August’s Inside Track on Music Row now posted

The August edition of America’s longest-running monthly country music column “Inside Track on Music Row” is now ready to read online at Nashville Music Guide and on my own “I Know Country” site as well as on websites in Europe.  Hard to believe I’ve been writing that column for around a quarter of a century! Whew!

Here are just a few ‘teasers’ from the full column…

CHARITY NEWS

My dear friend Lisa Wysocki reminded me about Colby’s Army, an organization that supports children and adults with disabilities, special needs, and life challenges through education, the teaching of life skills, and job training. Participants also gain physical strength by learning to ride a horse and through organic gardening, and our homeless friends are supported through the gifts of nutritious food from the garden, and first aid and street supplies. There are two new opportunities for you to support their programs:

1. Gift and organic products sold through EllisJaxonFarms.com on a “name your own price” model now benefit Colby’s Army! Please take time to check out this wonderful site. Anything paid over wholesale cost comes to Colby’s Army. Please also take time to thank this very generous company for their support!

2. Memory/honor sponsorships in the organic garden, on their trails, and along the beautiful creek. Your sponsorship in memory of a loved one includes a bench with your loved one’s name on it. Signage to read similar to: “Donated by _______ in memory (or honor) of ______” These sponsorships are only $400 and include the cost of a bench. You also receive a beautiful photo of your bench and signage. To participate, just click on the yellow donate button at colby’sarmy.org.  Colby’s Army is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and financial gifts are tax deductible according to applicable laws.

INDIE ARTIST NEWS

EmiSunshine, the extraordinary talent who burst into stardom four short years ago as a nine-year-old via viral video, is set to release her new album, RAGGED DREAMS (her fourth studio recording), on August 25, 2017. The little girl with a big voice, who recently celebrated her 13th birthday, has made her mark shattering preconceived notions of youthful imagery that embraces gleeful innocence and optimism.

The 15 tracks on the album (written/co-written by Sunshine) touch on Autism, close-to-home tragedies (the Gatlinburg fires and TN floods) and tell tall tales that portray colorful stories illuminating murder, deceit, vengeful spirits and incarceration. Produced by Sunshine and backed by her family-band, The Rain (father, Randall Hamilton-bass; brother, John Hamilton-mandolin; uncle, Bobby Hill-drums), the album spotlights cameo performances by notables Randy Kohrs (resonator guitar), Tim Crouch (Mandolin/Fiddle/Guitar), Justin Moses (Fiddle/Guitar/Dobro/Banjo), Hitoshi Yamaguchi (cello), Ben Probus (fiddle) and others. Her social stats are: 14 million digital views, 500,000 Facebook followers, hitting close to 25,000 Instagram followers, 13 Grand Ole Opry performances, and appearances on THE TODAY SHOW, Stagecoach, and WOODSONGS. Details at emisunshine.com.

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

The Kentucky Headhunters ‘On Safari’

Known as “southern rock royalty,” The Kentucky Headhunters are gearing up to take their rowdy, high-energy live show across the pond, as they return to the U.K. for a string of performances this fall. Supporting the American band will be U.K. rockers Bad Touch, who will join the Headhunters on all 8 shows this October. “We first met Bad Touch when they were chosen as our support act after my son John Fred Young’s band, Black Stone Cherry, convinced us to do our first-ever U.K. tour in 2016. In a mere week of touring, the Headhunter’s and Bad Touch became like a band of brothers,” said Richard Young of The Kentucky Headhunters. The Kentucky Headhunters have been crisscrossing North America fresh off the 2016 release of On Safari, the band’s 12th studio album. U.S. and U.K. tour updates at kentuckyheadhunters.com

‘Inside Track on Music Row’ now posted

Monthly column in NMG has run for more than 25 years

For more than a quarter of a century [!] I’ve written “Inside Track on Music Row,” a monthly column that runs in Nashville Music Guide and on websites around the world. The special CMA MusicFest print edition of NMG will be available in a few days. Visit NMG’s website here. You can also catch the full column at my other websitewww.iknowcountry.comand maybe buy a copy of my country music trivia Q&A book, “I Know Country.”  Here’s a teaser of some of the items in the June 2017 column.

Morgan Evans [left] with WMN’s John Esposito
INDUSTRY NEWS:  WMN CEO John Esposito was happily smiling for a photo opp recently. They have signed Singer/songwriter Morgan Evans to Warner Music Nashville. Evans has a power team around him. Morgan is managed by Fitzgerald Hartley in Nashville and Rob Potts Entertainment Edge in Australia. He’s currently in the studio working on new music with songwriter/producer Chris DeStefano. Find Morgan Evans’ Facebook page here.

Maren Morris receives ‘Breakthrough’ Award from Jim Donio

MUSIC BIZ 2017 AWARD NEWS: Maren Morris and Lukas Graham were the two recipients of the Breakthrough Artist of the Year Award at Music Biz 2017, presented by the Music Biz Association (formerly known as NARM), during their 4-day seminar in Nashville, May 15-18. Reba McEntire received the Chairman’s Award; the Artist of the Year Award went to Adele; Paula Abdul won the Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award; Terry Cutler of Music Millennium received the Independent Spirit Award; and the Presidential Award went to Mike Dungan of UMG Nashville. Awards were presented by Music Biz chief Jim Donio.

NSAI’s Bart Herbison

MUSIC BIZ 2017 NEWS: Bart Herbison Executive Director of the Nashville Songwriters Association said it best: “Music Biz 2017 is one the top Music Conferences around the globe.” Around 1,500 music pros attended the event that annually brings together the influential decision makers from the world of music. More at musicbiz.org

Miranda to host march for shelter pets, June 8

Miranda Lambert

MUTT NATION NEWS: Over the top animal lover and activist Miranda Lambert will host the inaugural MuttNation March June 8, where Lambert and her rescue dogs will walk from Nissan Stadium, over the Nashville Pedestrian Bridge, and end in downtown Nashville. “So many shelter pets need a home, so we are going to march to raise awareness,” says Lambert. “Country music has the best fans in the world and together we can help so many animals find amazing homes.” Fans and their mutts are encouraged to join the walk. Details and registration info here. Additional related events include the MuttNation Foundation Adoption Drive inside CMA Fan Fair X and the MuttNation Shelter Day Sweepstakes, which gives one winner and a guest the chance to win a day with Lambert making over an animal shelter in need.

Read the entire June 2017 column at http://www.nashvillemusicguide.com and  www.iknowcountry.com