As a musician in Nashville, John Shaw has fond memories of the Bluebird Cafe — the iconic cafe that is still the place to go if you want to listen to original music straight from the songwriters themselves.
Musical artists like Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and Kathy Mattea were all “discovered” at the Bluebird Cafe. And on any given night, you might see the likes of LeAnn Rimes and John Prine.
People go to the Bluebird to listen to music.
“Nothing against bars, but most people go to a bar to talk and drink,” Shaw said. “If they’ve got background music, great; they just have to talk over it. If you ever go to the Bluebird or go to the listening rounds, they will actually ‘shh’ you.”
Shaw, who spent 18 years in Nashville and played with a variety of musicians, wants to create a little bit of the Bluebird atmosphere with a series of songwriter rounds at Mural City Coffee Co. in downtown Dothan. People won’t necessarily get shushed, but Shaw hopes to nurture an environment for listening.
“We want to develop that listening attitude where people come in to listen to the songs and not just to talk, not just to drink, to really enjoy the entertainment and the stories behind the songs,” he said.
The series, called Play the Cafe — Songwriters in the Round, is held at Mural City Coffee Co. the second Tuesday of each month. The next event will be held Jan. 14.
“It’s all original. Each writer does a song; they tell a story if there’s some story to tell about the song,” Shaw said. “It’s just like getting to know some friends who are saying, ‘Well, you know, I had this girlfriend …’ or whatever − just really, almost an exchange between the writer and the people around them.”
Shaw is originally from Dothan. He spent 16 years in Birmingham before moving to Nashville in 1998. He worked in the research department at Vanderbilt University but pursued a music career on the side. Shaw even played at the Bluebird Cafe.
He returned to Dothan in 2016 to be closer to his mother. He plays at Wiregrass Church and started organizing the Play the Cafe nights in September. The monthly events are not open mic. Songwriters are invited to come and play at Mural City Coffee Co., where they gather in a circle near the front entrance and perform their songs on acoustic instruments such as guitars, keyboards and the occasional stand-up bass. The songwriters take turns playing and talking about their music.
The monthly series has been well-received, but Shaw said it’s challenging at times to find enough good songwriters. Because it’s not a paid gig — and there’s no covercharge — it’s hard to get out-of-town songwriters to come. He hopes it will get easier to find songwriters as more people learn about the event.
Shaw said many local musicians who primarily perform covers of popular songs may not know how good they can be at songwriting until they have to place to showcase their original work.
“One of the things you get when you have a place like that is you can try out your music on people and see how it goes over,” Shaw said.