Songwriter Showcases–The Heart and Soul of Music City
There’s no more authentic Nashville experience than listening to 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 Lockwood Barr to make a list of some of her favorite listening rooms. (That’s Lockwood above at The Bluebird.) Then I added a few.
Long before the TV show “Nashville” made the Bluebird internationally famous, this jewel was a loosely kept secret among locals, a cozy little listening room that has launched the careers of both songwriters and artists. Due to TV exposure, it’s tough to secure a reservation–but worth the effort. Read the rules if you’d like a shot at Open Mic Monday. Parking is insane so consider a rideshare or cab.
Can’t get into The Bluebird? You’ve got alternatives.
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. There’s a Lunchtime Tunes showcase and every Monday night a crew of female writers takes the stage with a revolving cast they call Song Suffragettes. The Listening Room also takes its food seriously so you’ll find finer fare than at some of its cohorts.
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. For up-to-date talent info, visit the Commodore Grille’s Twitter account. FREE ADMISSION–No cover charge or drink minimum. Sun-Thurs, 5-10pm, Fri-Sat, 5-11pm.
It’s often overlooked by the masses but the CMHoF has a monthly roster of Songwriter Sessions featuring some of the most notable tunesmiths in the industry. These sets are scheduled noon-12:45 so you don’t have to be a nightowl to enjoy them. The link above takes you to their calendar.
Pindrop is an almost-weekly series than moves among several local clubs. You’re more likely to find non-country songs than at some other places.
Located in the Fifth and Broadway complex, the stage welcomes singer/songwriters who may mix up familiar songs with their own compositions. Sit close to the stage to hear them well because they’re essentially performing in a food court.
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, particularly with their early shows. 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.
Success breeds success so these folks hopped across the river to create an East Nashville location. (Same website for both.)
Not to be confused with their Broadway location, it doesn’t cater to country fans as much as its sister venue. Its Tuesday night series called Revival Nashville is a songwriter’s haven, a stone’s throw from Music Row.
Can’t stay up late? Here’s your solution: Backstage Nashville. The pre-show starts Saturday afternoon at 12:15pm followed by a concert with four top writers. General admission is $20; a VIP experience is $125. Every week 3rd and Lindsley partners with Roots Radio WMOT to host Finally Friday, a noon showcase with doors opening at 11am. This FREE two-hour live radio show presents three or four Americana-ish acts in a friendly, laidback environment.
On the first Tuesday of every month, Franklin First United Methodist Church welcomes hitmaking songwriters, up-and-comers and appreciative audiences for an evening music and alcohol-free entertainment. Perfect for those who appreciate good songwriting but would prefer to steer clear of bars and rowdier venues. In addition to the church’s website, you can get more info on their Facebook page.
Hats off to this multi-use historic venue for lining up cream-of-the-crop songwriters for their Songwriter Series. Check the calendar for these and other tasty music events.
A few other likely candidates worth investigating but ALWAYS verify before heading out:
- “Exit 209 Songwriter Series”–Weekly Wednesday rounds at the Twelve Thirty Club’s Supper Club. Hosted by Storme Warren. 3-5pm.
- “Writers at the Water”–Springwater‘s weekly session, Wednesdays, 5-8pm.
- “Southern Rounds” at Analog in the Hutton Hotel, Wednesdays at 7pm.
- Eastside Bowl, a multi-faceted entertainment center, hosts “Pitch Meeting,” a songwriter’s showcase.
- Greenlight Bar near the Gulch hosts Songnest every Tuesday, 7-10pm. Each songwriter performs approximately three songs with a possible open mic if time permits.
- Twelve Keys Saloon in Hermitage hosts an open mic night on Tuesdays and writer’s night on Wednesdays.
- Live Oak Nashville in Midtown caters to a younger crowd and leans toward country and rock acts but occasionally includes songwriter rounds.
- Union Station Hotel The lobby hosts #StoriesAtTheStation, Wednesdays, 7-10pm, in the Lobby. Check with the hotel because the frequency seems unpredictable.
- Hard Rock Cafe hosts a variety of bands and solo performers as well as a weekly songwriter showcase, “Nashville Tour Stop,” Thursdays, 6-10pm.
- Of late, there’s a trend for other hotels to feature songwriters so, if you’re staying in a hotel with a lounge, it’s worth an ask.
Wise up with a few tips:
1. Make reservations if possible. Every listening room has its own set of rules. Go to that club’s website and get details.
2. Silence your cellphone. You don’t wanna be “that person.”
3. Don’t talk during performances. It’s considered highly disrespectful and you WILL get the evil eye from others. Go to a honky tonk if you wanna talk over the music.
4. Be friendly. You may be asked to share a table. Or you may be elbow-to-elbow with the person seated next to you. Be nice. Remember, enjoying music is a shared experience.
5. Take your potty break before the show. The bathrooms typically have limited capacity and standing in line in a small venue is awkward.
6. Meet your minimum tab. Some listening rooms have cover charges. Some have minimum tabs (usually $15 or less per person). Some have both. And the rules may change depending on the show.
7. Be kind on open mic nights. Everybody starts somewhere. Open mic nights draw a mixture of rookies and seasoned vets.
8. Enjoy yourself with an authentically Nashville night on the town.