Nashville Musings: One night in a CAFE

When I first left my hometown of Raleigh NC for Nashville TN I was a naive dreamer who was chasing down stardust in the neon signs of Broadway living and hoping that my song would be the lyrics deep enough to rise above the sonic boom of countless other talented musicians and dreamers.  It was a hot humid day in May 2004 – when I left Raleigh via I-40 alone with a CD mix tape and my own beat ‘Nashville Bound’ – my Martin guitar was in the backseat of my Toyota Corolla with miles of memories waiting to be explored.  My first trip to Nashville – came en route to a summer job at Yellowstone National Park.  My first time in Nashville was more than just a visit I was exploring my future home. I had been accepted to Belmont University, the premier Music Business school in the country – my hope – to become a songwriter.  I still chase that dream though God has blown me in countless new directions through open country and vagabond territory that makes me confident to see the blues and a bittersweet melody of love lost. While in Nashville I fought tooth and nail and worked hard for dreams to come true – I worked fifty hours a week, attended class, volunteered, performed, took voice and music lessons, wrote and recorded…in the end a down economy crash in 2009 and giving up on my voice, while fiercely desperate to recapture my own sound – I left town.  It was a hard break-up – one that makes coming back to Tennessee sweet as a mature magnolia.  I blossomed in the trial and found my roots were planted deep in TN soil – it took winding roads to help me find my voice – my muse and my words.  I’m still on that journey.

Bluebird Cafe, Nashville TN

Nashville is still a lost love of sorts – I yearn to return to make my own mark in music, all the while I don’t regret taking a detour.  Returning to Nashville where I was forced to lose my entire life’s belongings minus a few stray ends – made me realize sometimes it takes broken roads to find your way to your true song – to have the authority to sing a tune completely your own and write lyrics worth the weight of your gold.  I lost my old Martin guitar in our storage unit sale – but I have a new Epiphone and the chords are ready for picking a new street beat and wild symphony.

I have a theme in writing about Ghosts…ghosts are more than spirits of the dead…ghosts are past pictures in our mind – the sort of dreams that can leave us shattered and refined – ghosts are the heart strings we clutch for dear life, but like any song you have to let go for the tone to resonate, you have to power through to keep the melody rising.

When I first arrived in Nashville I stayed at The Guesthouse Suites near downtown.  I cautiously took my guitar up the elevator and nervously practiced a song I wrote at age 17 – Gotta Get to Texas by the Middle of the Night – it had a jazz honk beat.  I’ll admit I’m a far better lyricist than instrumentalist.  I own that – so I was petrified of performing in front of the crowds.  I normally don’t get stage fright but my nerves rattled like a snake on attack.  Still I prayed for courage – my goal was to follow in the footsteps of thousands of other Nashville hopefuls and to get the chance to perform at the world-renowned Bluebird Cafe.

The Bluebird is a songwriter’s paradise – a place of poetry in motion, where spirits remain silent and ears perked in anticipation as every chord and every key is played revealing the mysterious heart of the songwriter on the tiny stage in the haphazard glow of stage light.

The spot is small, cramped and congested – with the ambiance of decor clustered wooden tables and recycled church pews, a tiny bar and autographs of the countless legends of songwriting and music who have played the same small stage – the likes of Faith Hill and Taylor Swift have their roots here – it is the premier spot for songwriting in a city of AMAZING music venues.  What makes the ambiance special is the audience and the history – the fact that so many hopes and dreams life inside these walls – there is an unseen energy – a magic…the fact that you can sit in packed out restaurant – every chair taken and not one person says a word because The Bluebird has a SSSSHHH policy so the songs are heard crisp and with ethereal precision.  Maybe I will gather the nerve – the nerve of a girl of nineteen – that naive belief that dreams are worth fighting for – maybe I’ll get back to The Bluebird and perform again…

It took all my courage to take a risk, take a chance as I waited in a line of fifty people on May 3 – songwriters of all different genres converging on an unassuming hole in the wall in a strip mall across from a shopping center.  As I entered The Bluebird I wrote down my name and placed it in the first-come box.  The concept is that they have twenty or so performers get a slot for two songs over a three hour period.  Those with a stamped ticket get a guaranteed slot to perform – this ticket never expires so if you are from out of town you can use it the next time around.  At that time I assumed I would NEVER get to perform the first chance at go – so when I heard my name called – I felt the panic and excitement strike through my soul like lightning – I knew I was not nearly as good as the seasoned performers – but I hoped – I prayed I would have the audience’s ear in earnest and the applause would be real just for a moment.

I still replay that memory in my head from time to time – I have often criticized myself for falling short of my goal, but life is about Indian Summers, second chances and renaissances – I am finding a renaissance in the antebellum spirit of Nashville.  I look forward to a new road, lessons learned from my travels and adventures and hopes still breathing in the city of music and roots.

I know I’m still a far cry from an aficionado at the guitar – I invested the past four years in helping other traveling musicians – but I’m not intimidated anymore – as much as ready to grow and and take advice – bend but not be broken.

Bluebird Cafe

This is a picture (albeit not the best one of me 🙂 circa 2005)

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