020411 The Bluebird Cafe, Nashville, TN

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On February 4th, 2011 m’lady and I were just starting to dig into the America-crossing musical treasure hunt I had dubbed the Rock & Roll Field Trip.  We had awoken in Louisville, Kentucky and spent our morning at the hallowed Muhammad Ali Museum before driving a bit further south to Nashville for the night.  

We booked into the Millennium Maxwell House for the night, amazingly the city’s only music-themed hotel.  The entranceway was embossed with guitars and sheet music, the lobby was lined with instruments autographed by the greats of country music, and among the treasures held in a display case next to the elevators was a bass guitar signed by Mick Jagger and Ron Wood and several pages of Bob Dylan’s hand-written lyrics, along with one of his harmonicas.

We spent an hour in our Hatch Show Print-decorated room enjoying a few prevening beers before setting out for the early show at the famous Bluebird Cafe.  Established in 1981, this small unassuming pub is in a strip mall away from the much more famous Nashville strip, and apparently it is the place for up-and-coming singer/songwriters.  The early show charged no cover, just a $7 per person table minimum.  

We sat along the wall a few feet from the musicians, who were set up in a circle facing each other in the middle of the small room.  There were four singer/songwriters plus an extra guitar player doing the song-circle thing.  The host wrote good generic new country stuff, the only guy in the group sounded like a young James Taylor, and the youngest singer with the biggest voice wrote and sang songs that could easily be on every country station in the world.  That said, neither of us was overly impressed with any of them – it just wasn’t our cup o’ tea – though the fourth performer, a lady from Texas named Mims* wrote really great songs.  She had one called Gettin’ There that I wish I had written. 

I was shocked to notice that none of them were over-the-top great players, even (especially?) the extra guitarist.  At one point the host asked him to play a solo in her next song ( a standard I-IV-V in A) and he told her he couldn’t do it.  When the solo section came around he just sat there shrugging his shoulders with his hands in his pockets.  I was amazed, and somewhat buoyed, to be honest.  Maybe if I landed in this town someday with a guitar and an empty stomach I could get a little work after all.

After the show we went back to the hotel for a couple more Bud’s before hopping the free shuttle down to Legend’s Corner, Nashville’s main strip.  We bar-hopped for the rest of the night (on Broadway they call it Honky-Tonkin’) and I got re-humbled in a hurry.  Every bar had great, and I mean great live music.  We saw some standard classic rock, a couple of really good rockabilly bands, a great straight up old-time country band with a devastatingly good guitar player, a metal-ish band that was doing all requests, and, well…things get a little hard to remember by then.  I do recall we were ready to call it a night but decided to stop in on just one more bar where we happened upon the best player of the night, a guitarist who was flying through astounding solo after astounding solo.  It was another rockabilly band and their bass player was pretty hot too.  He took way more solos than a bass player is usually allotted and every one was tastier than the last.

And from what I hear the whole strip plays for the tip jar.  I suspect this Music City is a pretty tough town for musicians.

Finally we could stand no more and after a long, fantastic day we stumbled into the rainy street and flagged a cab to take us back to the hotel, where a stormy wind that continually whipped against our windows afforded us the opportunity to wake up in our remarkably comfortable bed over and over again.

*A little internet sleuthing filled out her name.  It’s Connie Mims Pinkerton.

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