Dozens of country music’s most laurelled songwriters celebrated the 25th anniversary of Nashville’s Bluebird Café during a Thursday afternoon (May 24) party on BMI’s spacious sixth-floor balcony overlooking downtown Nashville.
The center of attention was Bluebird owner Amy Kurland, who circulated through the crowd in her ankle-length, floral-patterned sundress, basking in hugs and congratulations.
Guests arriving at the party were handed cardboard fans bearing the legend “Shhh!” — a reference to Bluebird employees shushing anyone who attempts to talk while songwriters are performing there. The temperature turned out to be much lower than predicted, rendering the fans ornamental.
Established in 1982 in a nondescript strip mall in the Green Hills section of Nashville, the Bluebird quickly grew into such a songwriters’ haven that it became the focal point of The Thing Called Love, the 1993 film starring Sandra Bullock and the late River Phoenix. Record label executives and music publishers first “discovered” many aspiring artists at the club, chief among them Garth Brooks.
The Jay Patten Band provided music for the celebration. Saxophonist Patten played the Bluebird on its opening night and has performed in its annual Christmas show every year since.
BMI’s Jody Williams welcomed the guests. He noted that the Bluebird now ranks on Nashville’s “primary list of must-see places, along with the Ryman [Auditorium] and the Grand Ole Opry.”
Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, a longtime supporter of the club, joked about Kurland’s real reason for starting it. “She thought it would last just a few weekends, and then she’d meet some guys,” he said.
Songwriter Thom Schuyler (“16th Avenue”), a frequent performer at the club, called the Bluebird “a fire marshal’s dream,” observing that it was a space meant to hold 90 that sometimes wedges in 150. Nonetheless, he continued, “Hundreds of thousands [of dollars] have been raised for good works within the walls of that modest establishment.”
Schuyler cited a string of acts the Bluebird had helped propel to stardom, including Brooks, Faith Hill, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and the Dixie Chicks. He labeled it “a sanctuary for songs and songwriters” that has “showcased the music inside the music.”
When Kurland came forward to speak, she said she wished she had a recording of all the flattering remarks made about her and the Bluebird. It would, she said, be something she could play for encouragement at 2 in the morning when she’s cleaning a toilet or repairing a door.
Among the many Kurland thanked by name was the late David Skepner, who once managed Loretta Lynn and, later, the Dixie Chicks. She said Skepner would come to the club not to see anyone specifically but just in the hope that he might hear someone whose talent excited him.
She also praised her parents, who were in the audience. “They paid the rent many a time,” she said.
Guests at the party included singers Crystal Gayle, Hal Ketchum, Michael Johnson, Jonell Mosser and Mark McGuinn and songwriters Hugh Prestwood (“Ghost in This House”), Earl Bud Lee (“Friends in Low Places”), Dave Berg (“If You’re Going Through Hell”), Becky Hobbs (“I Want to Know You Before We Make Love”), Benita Hill (“Two Pina Coladas”), Victoria Shaw (“The River”), Gary Burr (“What Mattered Most”), Jim Photoglo (“Fishin’ in the Dark”), Fred Knobloch (“Baby’s Got a New Baby”), Don Henry (“Where’ve You Been”), Bill Lloyd (“Crazy Over You”), Rob Crosby (“She’s More”) and Robert Ellis Orrall (“Next to You, Next to Me”).
BMI gave Kurland a large Bluebird poster signed by all the songwriters in attendance.