Posted by Larry Gleeson
Brian Loschiavo’s documentary, Bluebird, made it’s Nashville Premiere last night, October 8th, 2019, at the 50th Anniversary of the Nashville Film Festival, receiving a standing ovation for the filmmakers from a sold out Regal Hollywood ScreenX & RPX Cinema – Nashville theatre audience. Loschiavo’s film is about The Bluebird Cafe, an accidental Nashville landmark that changed the course of music history with its Sunday audition nights and implementation of the “in The Round” method, whereby, writers sit in the center of The Bluebird singing, taking turns and telling stories.
After starting out in 1982 as a traditional, upscale, gourmet restaurant business venture by Amy Kurtland, The Bluebird morphed into Nashville’s most famous songwriters club jump starting and launching the careers of countless artists including Taylor Swift, Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks, Kelsea Ballerini, Kasey Musgraves, Maren Morris, Tenille Townes, Pam Tillis and Jason Isbell to name a few – all of whom appear in the film. The documentary also features interviews and/or performances of these stars inside or about their experiences inside The Bluebird.
The genesis of the film emanated from a conversation approximately two and a half years ago between Loschiavo (Riverside Entertainment) and the Bluebird Cafe Manager, Erika Wollam Nichols. While the venue had been portrayed in Callie Khouri’s ABC hit drama, Nashville, incredulously, no one had made a film about the Nashville “songwriters-in-the-round” at The Bluebird Cafe. Nichols, who had been running the restaurant for more than a decade, felt a film telling the story of the artists and the spirit of the community was important. As one of the cast members eloquently said, “Nashville wouldn’t be Nashville without The Bluebird.”
Technically, the film is a gem. Seamless editing, harmonious non-diegetic background music combined with the film’s mise-en-scene evoked a moment of self-awareness and the suspension of disbelief. Cinematographer Jeff Molyneaux captures artists’ frames with precision belying the challenges he faced. Anyone who has seen the performances of the songwriters-in-the-round at work might imagine a special production set was built to the very minutia detail of the cafe’s interior (as in the ABC Nashville series wth Charles Esten) allowing Molyneaux to set up his shoot. Years from now, film professors will prod their student to explain how the shots were executed in the live, at-capacity space.
Setting aside the spectacular techniques utilized, the film has a spiritual life of its own mirroring the songwriters, The Bluebird personnel, the artists who perform and the physical structure of the venue. With an atmospheric of a living room and a church sanctuary, artists from Faith Hill to Garth Brooks espouse the nurturing nature of The Bluebird. Fifteen year-old Landon Wall is also featured in the film performing in the venue several times as he honed his craft. In addition, Maren Morris hearkens the Holy Ghost in a powerful performance of “My Church” evoking memories of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” And, more than one tear was shed as Tenille Townes and Taylor Swift performed “Jersey on the Wall” and “Better Man,” respectively.
With irrefutable evidence accumulated over the years in the form of testimonies, The Bluebird is hallowed ground. It had been a best kept secret. After its depiction in the ABC Nashville television series, The Bluebird has become a mecca for songwriters and travelers alike from around the globe hoping to get a taste and glimpse of the establishment. It has also made songwriting cool. A groovy profession. Despite Amy Kurland’s effort to safeguard The Bluebird and its legacy by turning it over to the Nashville Songwriters Association International on January 1, 2008, a real estate developer has purchased the strip mall where The Bluebird is located.
A mesmerizing documentary about the Holy Grail of country music, Bluebird is a masterpiece. Best seen on the big screen…. A must-see film! Coming out with a limited release November 15.