Nashville top 3 open mic nights flourish as new songwriters still flock to Music City
As a performing songwriter I’ve seen my fair share of writers nights and open mics. This is my opinion of the Nashville top 3 open mic nights. I’m writing this review from the upcoming songwriter’s perspective, and I’m basing this assessment on a few factors such as consistency, audience quality, and how well it’s run. There are several other high quality writers nights and open mics in Nashville on any given night of the week, but these three have stood the test of time; they were each here when I moved to Nashville and are still go-to venues for local songwriters who are itching to play some originals to an audience.
Writers Nights vs. Open Mics
Some people use the terms interchangeably but they are two different things. Writers Nights are scheduled blocks of songwriters playing their original songs, whereas Open Mics are first-come/first-serve signups. Some venues do both in the same night, having scheduled rounds followed by an open mic.
1.) Douglas Corner Cafe
If it’s Tuesday, getchur phones out! This is a huge favorite for local songwriters. The house is always packed and the networking opportunities are rich. If you frequently attend Douglas Corner’s open mic night, you will undoubtedly increase your chances to make friends and learn about other cool open mics around town. The stage sounds very, very good and is manned by 60-year Nashville native, Donnie Winters. This open mic is absolutely phenomenal and without fail it happens unless there is a holiday. This is why it is my first in the list of Nashville Top 3 open mic nights.
When & Where: Tuesdays on 8th Avenue South, right across from Zanie’s Comedy club.
Signing Up: Call (615) 292-2530 on Tuesday at 1:00pm CST and leave your name on the answering machine. This puts you on the signup list, then just show up at 8:00pm ready to play. NOTE: Seriously, call at 1:00pm, the lines will be busy and if you call at even 1:20pm, you’ll be near the end of the list, playing after midnight. If you want to play early you may have to start calling at 12:59pm and call 100 times before you finally get through at something like 1:05pm. You’ll be on stage with three other songwriters and you’ll each play two songs. Being in an early round usually means you will play to a larger audience.
2.) The Commodore Grill
This is a unique writers night and open mic venue, and the stage always sounds great. The open mic portion of this night starts at 10:00pm, and from about 6:00pm-10:00pm there are scheduled acts which are booked by the host. These acts are seasoned and you will thoroughly enjoy yourself as you take advantage of the full-service food menu and bar. It’s located in a hotel right by Vanderbilt, so it’s a premium place to have your songs heard by people visiting from out of town. The house is always packed with good energy and an attentive audience.
When & Where: It’s on West End, here. It happens every night of the week except Tuesdays. Debi Champion hosts on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, Rick and Tammy Stewart host the night.
Signing Up: Be there by 7:00pm to sign up. The signup period ends at 8:00pm and they only take about eight people. Four play at 10:00pm and the other four play at 10:30pm. Each person plays one to two songs depending on time.
If you want to play in the earlier slots that start at 6:00pm, just ask the host about it, but those songwriters are scheduled in advance.
3.) The Bluebird Cafe
Ahh… the famed Bluebird Cafe. It’s a real experience to play here. No other venue in all of Nashville can consistently provide a guaranteed, shoulder-to-shoulder packed house of 100 people intently listening to your song. The room is always dead quiet as each performer plays. It’s a premium performance for any songwriter to give.
When & Where: Mondays on 21st Ave South – aka Hillsboro Pike
Signing Up: They open the doors around 5:30pm, however, the line forms as early as 3:00pm. It’s nice to be first in line but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee you an early time slot. Once inside, everyone writes their name on a ticket and they draw the names out of a basket for the line-up. Each person plays one song unless there is some fluke or the rare super slow night. Usually about 60 people sign up so there’s simply not enough time for everyone to play before the 9:00pm scheduled show starts. The last 30 or so names that are drawn get a special Bluebird stamp on their ticket which they can bring back anytime to put in the “second-try basket” from which names are always drawn first when building the line-up list. Might sound confusing, but it works and it’s fair. With a second-try ticket, you are pretty much guaranteed to play since your name will be one of the first ones drawn. So if it’s your first time to The Bluebird – you might not get to play that night, but be sure to grab your stamped ticket and come play on your second try. And yes, once you use your second-try ticket you have to start over. It’s entirely possible that you could play without a second-try ticket – you’d be later in the show, after all the second-try tickets have been drawn. The Bluebird Cafe’s Monday Open Mic is hosted by longtime Nashville veteran, Barbara Cloyd.