I was lucky enough to perform on some iconic stages at some amazing venues over my time as an artist. My band opened for Kiss at Madison Square Garden and in a subsequent video released by the make-up wearing hall of famers, there is a panning shot of the crowd that clearly shows my mom and dad (who flew out for the show), arms raised, in Nixons t-shirts, rocking right along with the Kiss Army. We got to play Red Rocks, the picturesque amphitheater that is cut right out of the Rocky Mountains just outside of Denver. In fact, we played there enough times (5) to be presented with a little trophy made out of a sliver of the actual red rock that surrounds the outdoor venue. Played Cain’s Ballroom, which for an Okie is something any band coming up in the Sooner State aspires to do. I can also say we played the room before the renovations that included A.C. Once upon an August night somewhere in the mid 90’s, we happily sweat our way through a rock show and mosh pit somewhere in the low 100’s.
As a songwriter, an ultimate honor is to play another iconic room, the Bluebird Cafe. I had heard of the place even before moving to Nashville. I think I was first made aware from the 1993 River Phoenix film The Thing Called Love. Like most people my age, anything Phoenix was associated with was just…cool. I don’t think I understood what it was really all about, but started hearing stories beginning with one about an iconic Garth Brooks song. As the story goes, Garth was in attendance in the tiny little cafe that sits unassumingly between a dry cleaners and some random retail shop, when Tony Arata performed “The Dance.” Brooks apparently told the writer he would someday cut the song when he got a record deal. The rest is history.
I’ve now played there a few times, most recently to a packed house alongside three other writers including J.T. Harding who played some of his hits. J.T. has a singing style all his own and it was so amazingly cool to hear him bust out his version of “Smile” by Uncle Kracker while the 90 plus in attendance sang along. The first time I played there was with Craig Wiseman. There is something equally inspiring and daunting about following his version of “Live Like You Were Dying” with one of my own songs.
When we were putting together and speaking to people about the Oklahoma Songwriters Festival, we used the Bluebird Cafe as a touchstone. As in, the songwriter showcase will be set up as if we are bringing the Bluebird to Oklahoma for an evening. In Nashville, in large part because of the TV show with the same name, people line up and clamor to get into the writer showcase room. In OKC, we’ve been spreading the word and hope people line up to come see myself, Marcus Hummon (“Bless the Broken Road”), Jim Beavers (“Watching Airplanes”), Marti Frederickson (“Undo it”) and J.D. McPherson sing the songs we’ve written for ourselves and others.
The Bluebird Cafe has no lighting trusses or catwalks like an arena in Manhattan, no sweeping views of mountains in Colorado. But the history and the energy in this little room is like nothing else I’ve ever felt. If you are in the audience and you chit chat, you’ll get shushed. It’s quiet, yes. But truth is the Bluebird rocks as hard as any wall of Marshall cabs ever will.