The Bluebird and Beyond: Where to Hear Great Songwriters

There’s no Nashville experience more authentic that hearing songwriters perform in listening rooms. No frills. No drum solos. No pyro. Just pure poetry set to music. They’re a draw for both locals and visitors, especially in-the-round performances featuring three or more songwriters swapping songs and stories.

I asked artist/songwriter-on-the-rise Lockwood Barr to make a list of some of her favorite listening rooms. (That’s Lockwood with her trusty banjo above at the Bluebird.)

Below are some of her favorites, plus a few I added at the end.

Bluebird Cafe’

Yes, the TV show “Nashville” made the Bluebird an international star. But long before that, it was a jewel, a loosely kept secret among locals, a cozy little listening room that has launched the careers of both songwriters and artists. Because it received monumental exposure via TV, it’s become insanely popular with tourists making it difficult to secure a seat. You might get lucky–but if you don’t, there are equally worthy options of the same calibre.

Monday is open mic night. Check the website if you want a shot at performing.

The Kitchen

Unless someone invites you to a living room concert, you won’t find a more intimate venue than The Kitchen in East Nashville. It did indeed start in a kitchen in the back of book-and-music store Atomic Nashville . Now it can welcome a few more music lovers to the space it shares with Relik Vintage at 943 Woodland Street. The rules: no mics, no amps, no hype.

Cabana Taps

Its sister spot, Belcourt Taps, closed so they relocated their hefty songwriter schedule here. Larger place, longer menu. You’ll need to check their schedule because they mix things up with DJs, full bands and the occasional drag show.

The Listening Room Cafe

If you’re downtown, this could be your most convenient club because it’s just six blocks off Lower Broadway at 618 4th Avenue, S. The owners are respected by songwriters so respected songwriters are often on the bill. Every Monday night a crew of ladies take the stage with a revolving cast they call The Song Suffragettes. The Listening Room also takes its food seriously so you’ll find finer fare than some of its cohorts.

Commodore Grille

Commodore Grille, one of the more active listening rooms

Yes, it’s in the Holiday Inn-Vanderbilt but you won’t find cheesy lounge acts here. In fact, it’s one of the city’s busiest venues for songwriter showcases with live music every night of the week. There’s even an open mic slot on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday with sign-ups starting at 5:45pm. The most up-to-date talent info on the Commodore seems to be on their Twitter account. FREE ADMISSIONNo cover charge or drink minimum.

The Basement

Not strictly a songwriter hang, it’s primarily a small concert hall featuring solo artists and bands. But they don’t turn a deaf ear to local songwriters as you can see by checking out the club’s calendar. It has a reputation for being one of the best-sounding rooms in the city and musicians consider it a cut above many other clubs. Located about a mile south of downtown on 8th Ave. S.

The Basement East

Success breeds success so these folks hopped across the river to create an East Nashville location. (Same website for both.)

Tin Roof–Demonbreun

Not to be confused with their Broadway location, it doesn’t cater to country fans like its sister venue. Its Tuesday night series called Revival Nashville is a songwriter’s haven, a stone’s throw from Music Row.

3rd and Lindsley

Can’t stay up late? Here’s your solution: Backstage Nashville. The doors open at noon Saturday for a VIP experience including a concert with four writers, a meet-and-greet with the writers, photo ops and bourbon sampling. Busy on Saturday? Try their less-expensive Big Stage Mondays. Two hit-making songsmiths hand-pick a pair of up-and-comers to create an in-the-round foursome at 2:30pm. The folks at 3rd & Lindsley are big on giving back so they host a lot of charity events including occasional writers’ nights with some pretty high-calibre talent.

Eastside Bowl

Well, it’s not JUST a bowling alley off Briley Parkway between Inglewood and Madison. It’s a restaurant and a music venue. Every week it hosts Finally Friday, a noon showcase with doors opening at 11am. In conjunction with Roots Radio WMOT. This FREE two-hour live radio show presents three or four Americana-ish acts in a friendly, laidback environment.

This list isn’t comprehensive. You might find songwriter nights at practically any club, coffeehouse, restaurant or hotel. Do some sleuthing; there might be one right around the corner from where you are.

Avoid embarrassment with this tutorial: How to Enjoy Songwriters in Nashville’s Listening Rooms.

Looking for something more rowdy (and skewed towards covers of hits)? Check out the Complete Guide to Broadway Honky Tonks.

Discover Hidden Treasures for Live Music around Nashville.

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