25 Years of Alive at the Bluebird: How it All Began

A conversation with Bluebird Cafe Founder Amy Kurland

Every song begins with a single note. Twenty-five years ago, the longest running concert series in the history of The Bluebird Cafe began with a single night – or that was the original idea, anyway.

It all began with a songwriter friend who came to Bluebird Founder Amy Kurland with an idea: a benefit concert for an organization called Alive Hospice. It was a nice idea, but Kurland had something bigger in mind: not a one-night-only benefit show, but a month-long concert series.

In January 1994, she filled the calendar with songwriters who came together for Alive Hospice – donating every dollar to support our mission-based services. It has continued every January since with literally hundreds and hundreds of hitmakers joining in, many coming back year after year.

All told, they’ve raised more than $1 million for Alive, funding that has helped terminally ill patients and their families get the care and support they need regardless of ability to pay.

Amy Kurland loved the idea in 1994, and she’s proud that it has continued so long.

“At the time, hospice was a radical idea. It was a radical idea about the end of life, about death, about medical care,” Kurland said. “At that very moment I was like, ‘This is an idea I can get behind. It’s a big idea,’ so I wanted to be part of it.”

Many others did, too: songwriters with more hits to their names than we can count. And it’s only continued to grow! Five years ago, Alive At The Bluebird consisted of 22 shows during the month. That number grew to 26, and then to 30, and then to 36 in January 2017.

“At that very moment I was like, ‘This is an idea I can get behind. It’s a big idea,’ so I wanted to be part of it.”

So many artists have wanted to be involved that The Bluebird added Alive benefit shows to accommodate them all! If you ask Kurland, it shows what tremendous heart the music community has. And they’re not the only ones. Corporate sponsors continue to rally around Alive with financial underwriting and have shown more and more support the last 5 years. As a result, our net proceeds from the series increased significantly, doing even more good for families in Middle Tennessee.

The significance of 25 years

No one could have guessed that Alive At The Bluebird would continue so long, certainly not for 25 years. For Kurland, “doing something for Alive Hospice was the right thing,” and she is gratified that it’s still going. When Nashville Songwriters Association International acquired The Bluebird in 2008, there were certain things she wanted to see continue: Mike Henderson on Monday nights, frequent shows with Don Schlitz – and Alive At The Bluebird.

“The fact that Alive Hospice is so much in the middle of that makes the Bluebird legacy for me all the more meaningful,” she said.

It’s not just a tradition. For Kurland, it’s part of The Bluebird’s culture. And because it is, it has had a tremendous impact in two ways, she said: it has raised money to make Alive’s services available as a charitable offering to the community, and it has raised awareness within the community.

Alive At The Bluebird is more than a concert series. It’s a connection to one of Middle Tennessee’s most impactful organizations through one of its most beloved institutions. It began with a songwriter 25 years ago, it grew in the space Amy Kurland created, and it only continues to grow with more than 100 of the world’s best songwriters taking part year after year. Alive will be forever in their debt.