How to Enjoy Songwriter Nights in Listening Rooms

We’re blessed with an astonishing variety of songwriters who regularly perform at listening rooms, hotels, restaurants–even hair salons. Many step out of the shadows and perform their hits or try out new material.

Most songwriter nights at listening rooms are a combination of old pros and newcomers. All offer the opportunity for a grand night of storytelling and music. Here are a few tips to have the time of your life:

1. Make reservations if possible.

Every listening room has its own set of rules. Go to that club’s website and get details. You don’t want to be turned away at the door due to a lack of planning. Note: some listening rooms keep it simple by admitting whoever gets there first until capacity is reached.

2. Be friendly.

You may be asked to share a table. Or you may be bumper-to-bumper with the person seated next to you. That’s really fitting because listening to fresh-baked songs is very much a shared experience. Be nice. Introduce yourself. If you’re seated by a regular, ask for food or beer recommendations.

3. Take your bathroom break before the show.

Because these venues are fairly intimate, save some embarrassment by heading to the bathroom before the music begins (and lines form). Note: some listening rooms have solo bathrooms so lines are sometimes inevitable.

Commodore Grille, among the busiest listening rooms in Nashville4. Find your best line-of-sight.

No tiered seating here so shift your chair around to gain your best view. Don’t get trapped behind the cowboy who won’t remove his hat and the lady with the beehive hairdo.

5. Meet your minimum tab.

Some listening rooms have cover charges. Some have minimum tabs you must meet (usually $10-12 per person). Some have both. And the rules may change depending on the show. Most menus are bare-bones but, for example, I had a really tasty chicken quesadilla at the Bluebird. And for the love of Pete, tip your waitstaff well. The true rock-star servers navigate tight spaces with grace and geniality while creating minimal distractions–no small feat.

6. Relax and enjoy yourself.

Not only are you likely to hear some great songs, you’ll get the double-treat of some fine storytelling. Maybe you’ll learn what inspired him to write that song or hear about the farm she bought because her song went to #1 for Faith Hill. Kathy Mattea once described folk music as “porch music” and you’ll get the feeling you’re on someone’s porch or in their living room. If you hear a new song that later becomes a hit, think of the bragging rights you’ll have: “Oh yeah, I heard that last year in Nashville.”

7. Be kind on open mic nights.

Everybody starts somewhere. Open mic nights draw a mixture of rookies and seasoned vets. You can even make good use of bad songs by playing the role of producer or A&R (that’s Artist & Repetoire) person. Figure out what made them bad and come up with ways to improve them.

Decide which artists fit the songs you hear. If you liked something, don’t be afraid to mention it to the writer. My songwriting friend Alan says that “no one ever died from too much encouragement.”

8. Silence your cellphone.

And don’t even think about taking a call while someone is performing. If you can think of anything distracting you might do, don’t.

Easy ways to connect with live music:

Beyond the Bluebird: Where to Hear Nashville Songwriters 

All the Honky Tonks on Broadway 

♦ Free Outdoor Live Music Series

Who’s Playing Around Town? Consult NowPlayingNashville and VisitMusicCity/livemusic.

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