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.

Follow this link if you want reservations or to sign up to perform on the Monday open mic night.

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. New location but the rules remain the same: no mics, no amps, no hype.

Belcourt Taps

Songwriter night at Belcourt Taps, Nashville
Belcourt Taps, 2117 Belcourt Ave.

Located in Hillsboro Village, this cozy little burger and beer joint opens its doors each week to songwriters. Pretty good eats including some of the finest mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten. It’s big with the Vanderbilt/Belmont college crowd but everyone’s welcome.

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. 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.  Music veteran Debi Champion hosts “Live in the Round” (actually it’s a straight line) on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 7-11pm. All told, you’ll probably hear 9-12 writers in the course of an evening. There’s an open mic set at 10:30 with sign-ups starting at 8pm. On Friday & Saturday night, 7-11pm, it’s “The Stewarts’ Songwriter Showcase” hosted by Rick and Tammy Stewart. While I’m running down the week, “The Tuesday Night Jam at the Commodore” is all about jazz with a featured artist, followed by a come-together of A-list players. 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. OMG, I’m a Songwriter takes the stage Thursdays at 7pm.

The Crying Wolf

Up front it’s a bar; in the back is a music venue with a stage that is all of 18″ off the floor. Think intimate. On Tuesdays at 8pm, you’ll find “SongNest Live,” home to an eclectic showcase of songwriters. Admission is typically only $5.

3rd and Lindsley

A few unique offerings here:

Although this notable club has live entertainment every evening, here’s a call-out to something a little different–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.

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.

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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