The Bluebird Café was originally opened in June of 1982 by Amy Kurland as a restaurant in a small strip center in the Nashville suburb of Green Hills. A fan of songwriters, she quickly began inviting local tunesmiths to perform on a small stage in the restaurant. A year later Kathy Mattea, who would go on to score numerous hit singles, awards and accolades, began performing regularly at the venue.
In 1984, Kurland added the first official “writer’s night,” and one year later the songwriter in-the-round format was started with Thom Schuyler (“16th Avenue” and “Old Yellow Car”), Fred Knobloch (“Used to Blue” and “Meanwhile”), Don Schlitz (he would collect his second Grammy a few years later for “Forever and Ever, Amen”), and Paul Overstreet (future co-writer of “Forever and Ever, Amen” as well as a slew of other hit songs.)
In the ensuing years, the small stage would play host to a who’s who of songwriters and artists, many of whom credit the Bluebird Café for providing a safe-haven for them to perfect their craft or try out new material. Sweethearts of the Rodeo were offered a deal with Columbia Records after execs saw the duo perform in the club in 1985. A year later, a talent agent brought a group of singer/songwriters from Atlanta, which included The Indigo Girls. Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley, Radney Foster, Deana Carter, and numerous others passed Bluebird auditions early in their careers.
On a fateful night in 1987, a new artist named Garth Brooks was scheduled to perform at The Bluebird. Due to a cancellation, his performance was moved up in the program, and an executive from Capitol Records happened to be in the audience. The executive took Garth into the kitchen and asked him to come by the label the next day to offer him a deal. Years later, Garth says, “The Bluebird is the beginning and the mecca, the end.”
In 2004 Dreamworks Records’ executive Scott Borchetta saw 15-year-old Taylor Swift perform for the first time and invited her to be a part of his new venture – a label to be called Big Machine Label Group.
Over 65,000 people now visit The Bluebird Café annually, many of them as a result of seeing the venue on television or reading about the club in publications such as Southwest Spirit, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times and elsewhere.
The small venue has also been the setting for many television and movie scenes, including 1993′sThe Thing Called Love starring River Phoenix, K.T. Oslin, Samantha and Sandra Bullock. Amy Kurland is quoted several times by Oslin’s character. The Bluebird is also central to many scenes in ABC Television’s new series, “Nashville,” starring Jason K. Allen, Connie Britton, Ed Amatrudo and Powers Boothe. The trailer for the new show can be viewed here.
On January 1, 2008, original owner and founder Amy Kurland transferred ownership of the legendary venue to the Nashville Songwriters Association International, (NSAI). More of a donation than a corporate sale, Kurland saw NSAI’s mission to “educate, elevate and celebrate songwriters” as a way to continue the Bluebird’s relationship to songwriters and to the community.
On October 10, 2012 The Bluebird Cafe made its primetime debut on the ABC drama Nashville. The Bluebird Cafe is a key factor in the show’s plotline which deals with both the music industry in Nashville, the political climate in Nashville and the key players in both these “worlds,” which often collide. Nashville the city is also showcased in the beautiful cinematography of the show each week.
Though times have changed, and the business of music continues in its state of flux, The Bluebird Café has changed little in appearance, character and purpose over the last 30 years. The small stage still offers the opportunity for budding singers and songwriters to be heard, the Bluebird Café is guaranteed to always provide musical “moments,” and in most cases, only 100 lucky listeners will be in the room to let the rest of the world know what it missed.