Thursday, 29 June 2017

Nashville: Two Nights At The Bluebird – A View From The UK

For anyone in search of live music in Nashville, the possibilities are of course endless. The Grand Ole Opry will need no introduction, nor indeed should the Ryman Auditorium. Honky Tonk Highway on lower Broadway speaks for itself, and many hopeful buskers will be plying their trade.

And thanks to the Nashville TV series, there’s one venue that will by now have gained a far higher profile with the world at large – the Bluebird Café, out on Hillsboro Pike. No, it’s not an imaginary venue once dreamed up by an inspired scriptwriter. As the high profile artists who have performed there in front of an audience of 90 would confirm, it’s most certainly real. One key point from its website’s FAQ: “The Bluebird is a listening room. Too much conversation distracts listeners and is disrespectful to the songwriters who form the backbone of our music community.”

So when our recent USA holiday was all set to finish with four nights in Nashville, at the end of a scenic drive through Virginia and Tennessee, a night at the Bluebird was a must do. The only realistic chance of making it happen was to get in the cyber queue exactly a week ahead of the show, click on Book Tickets, and hope for the best…and it worked. Twice, to be exact, once for an orthodox stage performance, and once for an in the round session three days later (with Veterans’ Night at the Opry in between).

Now for the experience itself. The TV series might give the impression that the Bluebird is relatively spacious. When you arrive at the small and unobtrusive front door amid a row of shops, and take your first look inside, it’s time to think again. It’s almost a Tardis in reverse, especially when the occupant of the next table takes the trouble to introduce himself before his right knee accidentally does so of its own accord. But that’s no bad thing. It adds so much to the atmosphere, all the more so once we realised that our table was right next to the stage, almost within touching distance of the band.

Before the show, a decent burger and fries, good beer and cocktails, and friendly service. Then Don Gallardo and his band took to the stage. Four accomplished musicians with a repertoire of modern country songs. No familiar material to anticipate when hearing the band for the first time ever, but when they’re performing right in front of you, still at a comfortable volume, it’s quite an experience. Exactly like the TV show, in fact. Best song had to be North Dakota Blues – shades of Mark Knopfler. Once the set was over, they signed CDs for the audience, and Don told us that he’d be on a UK tour in the near future. See you at the Alsager Americana, Don…

So three days later, nursing memories of Trace Adkins and Charlie Daniels and others from the Opry show on the night before, we were back for the in the round session. Featured performers, Bruce Arntson, Michael Kelsh, Thom Schuyler and Jack Sundrud. Three guitarists, one keyboard player, seated in a circle in the centre of the Bluebird and alternating two hours’ worth of songs and anecdotes from their lengthy careers in the music business. One particularly memorable song, Thom Schuyler’s “My Least Favourite Things”, taking the Sound of Music classic and reversing its sentiments with a flow of biting satire. I can still recall the outburst of laughter for “most of the music of Andrew Lloyd-Webber…”

Four weeks on, and it’s still hard to believe we made it to the Bluebird, not once but twice. It has to be one of the great Nashville experiences.

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