Stories Behind The Songs At Legendary Bluebird Cafe

Bluebird Cafe
Guests to Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn., can often be spotted stopping in front of the famous songwriting club for a photo. Sherry Lewis of Maysville, Ga., is shown outside the club, where people wait hours to get inside.
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It’s about the songs. It’s about the stories behind the songs. It’s about the friendships of the people who brought the stories to life through song. This is the legacy of the Bluebird Café.

The legendary Bluebird Café, which has become even more famous since being featured on ABC’s television series, “Nashville,” is not your typical concert venue or music club. It’s a listening room where songwriters sit in a circle, surrounded by tables and chairs with guests who are there to really listen to the words of the songs and the stories behind them from the people who write them. The “shhhh” policy is enforced and people are quiet, actually listening to the music from the songwriters.

It’s a very intimate setting with less than 100 seats open for each show. The seats are in old church pews and a scattering of tables and chairs surrounding the featured songwriters, who sit in a circle and take turns singing their songs.

Any Given Night at the Bluebird Café

On a recent Thursday night, the featured songwriters for the 9 p.m. show included Alan Rhody, Wood Newton, Aaron Barker and Rafe Van Hoy, who have written songs for George Strait, the Oak Ridge Boys, Lonestar and Tanya Tucker, among others.

It’s a special experience to hear the songwriters sing the songs they wrote and tell you what led them to write the songs.

Artists at Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn., sing "in the round."
Artists at Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tenn., sing “in the round.” Guests surrounded the performs in the intimate listening space.

One of the stories Rafe Van Hoy shared at the Bluebird Café, was the first hit song he wrote, “Golden Wedding Ring,” which George Jones and Tammy Wynette made famous. He said it was a story of “extreme luck” as it became a number one hit only four months after he wrote it.  Before singing it, Van Hoy said: “Thank you, George and Tammy…Thank you ‘Golden Ring…”

Wood Newton wrote several songs for the Oak Ridge Boys, including their most well-known hit, “Bobbie Sue.” Before singing it, Newton shared, “They still close their show with this every night.”  Wood also introduced Karen Waldrup and invited her to join the circle to sing a song he wrote with her.

Aaron Barker wrote “Baby Blue,” a hit for George Strait, and he told how it introduced him to the world of song-writing. “This one changed my life,” he said. “It got me to Nashville. It introduced me to a wonderful community of songwriters. I got it all for a song—basically, this one.” He shared a funny story of how he took the check he received in the mail for the song and showed it to his step-dad, who said, “I get those too. You never win.”  Barker laughed, “You can’t make this stuff up,” as he began strumming on his guitar and then sang the song.

Barker also wrote “Love Without End, Amen,” which was also a number one hit for George Strait. Before singing it, Barker said, “I wrote this song for my boy. I was 17 when he was born. I thought, ‘This is cool. We’ll grow up together.’ This is a song about when that all came to an end and I realized I needed to be a dad. My question was, ‘how can you be that mad at someone and still love them?’ This song is my answer to that.”

Alan Rhody shared “Somebody to Care,” a song he wrote for Tanya Tucker that was never a single. Thirty years later, he recorded it for his own CD.

At the end of the show, Barker told the crowd, “Come back. The Bluebird is always here and it’s always good.” After the show, the crowd visited with the guests, taking photos and talking more about their songs.

An evening at the Bluebird Café is a celebration of songs. Make sure to make it a part of your visit to Nashville, Tenn. While it used to be Nashville’s best-kept secret, it is now the hottest ticket in town. You have to plan ahead by going on the website as soon as the tickets go on sale (usually one week before the show). While it used to take a few days to sell out the 90 seats, they often go in just minutes now. If you aren’t lucky enough to get reservations, show up the night of the show and wait in line to possibly get a seat in one of the unreserved seats.

The Bluebird Café is located at 4104 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville. For tickets or more information, check out their website.

Guest post including photos by Angela Gary. Angela Gary is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism. She has over 30 years in the newspaper business and is editor of a North Georgia publication. She has won numerous writing and photography awards from the Georgia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association.

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