Bluebird Cafe Moves Garth Brooks’ Bar for CMA Fest

The Bluebird Café launched its CMA Fest residency at Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s Friends In Low Places Bar & Honky-Tonk on Tuesday evening with many of Brooks’ hits performed by the writers who co-wrote them–Pat Alger, Victoria Shaw and Kent Blazy.

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The Bluebird Café’s roof sustained storm damage earlier this year, and the café had to close while roofers repaired it. Although the cafe made every effort to reopen before CMA Fest, the roof still isn’t completed. Brooks and Yearwood heard Bluebird Café was homeless for the four-day country music festival and offered up the exclusive third floor at the Honkytonk.  The space is Yearwood’s domain. With its dark wood floors, pale blue wallpaper and soft lighting, it has a more polished feel than the main areas.

Alger, Shaw and Blazy set up at the front of the room. The bar’s staff had situated the audience’s seats in a semicircle around them. Brooks wasn’t there, but his co-writing friends shared many stories and memories connected to the songs they wrote together.

Blazy, who wrote “If Tomorrow Never Comes” with Brooks, shared the very early days of Brooks’ career. Record labels rejected the singer multiple times, Blazy said. He recalled executives told him no one would sign someone named Garth because it sounded like someone was gargling on the radio. Brooks’ break came unexpectedly when someone didn’t show up to play their set at the Bluebird Café. He received a call asking if he’d like to step in.

“If Tomorrow Never Comes” Is Garth Brooks’ First No. 1 hit

“Garth came in and did ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ and someone who had passed on him for the third time that week came up to his afterward and said, ‘I know we passed on you three times, but maybe we missed something,” Blazy said. “He came back in and got a record deal.”

“If Tomorrow Never Comes” was Brooks’ second song and first No. 1 song.

While Alger didn’t write Brooks’ first single–“I’m Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” – he did help him celebrate it. Nashville record labels and performing rights agencies typically only host parties for artists and songwriters when a song tops the charts. Since  “I’m Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” only went to No. 8, Brooks wasn’t going to get a party. Then Alger stepped in.

“We didn’t know anyone who’d had a No. 8,” Alger said. He added, “We got him a cake with an eight on it, and the eight is bigger than the cake. We played volleyball in the backyard.”

Brooks told Alger in the yard that night that “If Tomorrow Never Comes” would be his next single and that it would go to No. 1.

“Like so many things he predicted, it did,” Alger said.

Tanya Tucker: “I Think Somebody’s Got to Die”

Then he played the popular hit he wrote with Brooks, “The Thunder Rolls.” Alger remembered meeting and writing with Brooks before he had a record deal and that song pluggers were pitching the songs they wrote together to other artists. Tanya Tucker recorded “The Thunder Rolls” first, but Alger remembers her team calling and saying they didn’t think the song was finished. He remembers Tucker said, “I think somebody’s got to die.” So Brooks and Alger got together and wrote multiple alternate endings to the song before they landed on the popular last verse.

Shaw shared Brooks’ “She’s Every Woman,” and Blazy looped back around with how he devised a plan to get Brooks and Yearwood together.

Blazy said Brooks was his favorite demo singer in the earliest days of his career. Whenever Brooks came over, Blazy told him about a girl he needed to meet and that she was his favorite singer. Brooks told Blazy he was happy with the demo singer he was using and didn’t need to hear anyone else. So, Blazy wrote a duet where Brooks and Yearwood had to sing on the same microphone simultaneously.

“He’s stubborn and I’m stubborn, and I was going to win this battle,” Blazy said. “I never dreamed they’d get married.”

Throughout the night, guests heard songs including “The River,” “Small Town Saturday Night,” “I Love The Way You Love Me,” “Getting You Home (The Black Dress Song)” and more.

Country fans in Nashville for CMA Fest can find more information on The Bluebird Café at Friends In Low Places Bar & Honky-tonk at Shows continue on Wednesday and Thursday.

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

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