Playing at the Bluebird Café…

Nashville SkylineYou may be familiar with the hit TV show ‘Nashville.’ On the show much of the action takes place in and around a place called the Bluebird Café. You may also know the Bluebird Café is a real place. It is a small music venue that is famous for being the place where many music stars (like Garth Brooks) got exposure for the first time. So as you can imagine aspiring songwriters and performers from all over the world flock to this tiny venue for the chance to be heard…myself included.

It was July 7, 2014: let me tell you about my experience…my first impression of the Bluebird was how ordinary it was. It is on a modestly busy street indistinguishable from any of the other city streets in Nashville. It sits tightly wedged in a strip mall between a hair salon and a children’s clothing shop. There is nothing spectacular about the sign out front it looks like a million other commercial signs that dot the landscape. Every Monday night is the Open Mic at the Bluebird and I knew that I had to get there early if I wanted a chance to play.

George at the Bluebird CafeI got there early and it was obvious I was hoping to be in the front of the line when the guy (or gal) inside comes out and tells us it is time to line up. I saw lots of people toting guitar cases, various percussion instruments and just generally trying to not look nervous. Finally, the moment arrived and we all hustled to get a spot in the line up area.

As we formed up I happened to be near Georgio…he was carrying a rather beat up dreadnought with no case and a hand drum that looked like a mini version of the mirror blob sculpture (I hear it’s actually called Cloud Gate) in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Georgio looked the part of a travelling singer songwriter. He was in his early twenties, lean and sharp featured. He was wearing skinny jeans and a button down, long sleeved plaid shirt He had a boundless positive energy and continued to engage everyone around him either in conversation or impromptu songs he created on the spot. He was one of those people whose entertainer switch had no “off” position.

Quite the polar opposite of Georgio was another performer…I never found out his name. He was sitting quietly, reading a book of classic poetry. He had what I took to be a classical guitar in a soft case hung over his right shoulder. Not exactly impressive in line; but later on he stunned everyone in the room with his soulful voice and amazing flat-picking guitar technique. Did I mention he was missing his right (picking) hand? No? I didn’t notice either until he took the stage.

As you can tell, I was truly in my element. I like being in the center of that controlled chaos that happens when creative people gather in one space. Even though I had gotten close to the front of the line, luck of the draw put me toward the end of the performance schedule. I was performer #31 that night. I played my original song “City of Hawkinsville” which is about an old riverboat that sank on the Suwannee River in 1922. It was the first time that song was performed in public.

I wish I could report that my performance that night caught the attention of a big time record executive; and, I was immediately signed to a record deal and catapulted instantly to fame and fortune. But that isn’t reality for me…nor for most other musicians. Nor really is that dream the primary reason most of us do this. In fact, I honestly think that those who pursue being “discovered” are really missing a much larger point.

Fame, fortune and record sales are definitely good things, no doubt. However, I think that creating something that can only come from you…that is larger than yourself…that will leave a legacy after you are gone from this mortal plane…those things are far more important than fame and fortune. To the extent that we were engaged in creating something that was unique and that was only experienced by the 60 or so people who were there that night…in that place…in that moment…we were all successful and accomplished our purpose. Creativity is not a zero sum game. Hey, don’t get me wrong if the right deal comes along…I’m going to take it.

I hope that you can tell it was a very meaningful experience for me to take a chance and play the Bluebird Café. Surprisingly, the largest part of it happened before I even took the stage. I found out recently that the procedures have changed and now everyone has to sign up on the interwebs for an Open Mic spot. No more milling about the parking lot hoping to get in…I understand why. Yet, I cannot help but feel a sense of loss to think that when I go back it will be a much more sterile experience. Some may appreciate the order and neatness of it; but I think a little chaos is not a bad thing.

Thanks for listening! If you want to know more check out my latest CD “Sunshine State of Mind,” my musical tribute to the history and life of my home state, Florida.

As always, I want to hear your stories and comments. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments box below or shoot me an email.

See ya ‘round,

George Lower