Everybody who knows Nashville and country music knows the Bluebird Cafe, so that’s where I wanted to start. Here is the opening scene:
A hush hovered over the room.
Her voice. What was it about that voice? The way it came from something deep inside. Longing. Regret. Old pain for what was lost. Etched in a fresh face. How could a twenty-five-year-old possibly know all of it? But you believed she did when you heard her sing.
I’ve never been a fan of country music. Never followed country music, except for summer visits with my grandparents in south Georgia, when the radio was always tuned to the big clear channel, WSM, out of Nashville. Hearing a classic like Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You can still take me back to that simpler, sweeter time.
After those long ago summers, I didn’t pay much attention to country music.
But Willow Goodheart’s voice grabbed me, pulled me into what she was feeling, made me hold my breath.
The first chill of fall in the air
The smell of wood smoke in your hair . . .
The lyrics, unpretentious but elegant, and the hymn-like melody with a hint of blues. Her quiet rhythmic picking on the acoustic guitar. All of it. And the voice.
Not like any country song I’d ever heard.
Your heart’s first small crack
The part that you never get back . . .
The haunting verse climbed into the chorus that rang with raw honesty, with the resonance of an old soul.
There are things that will vanish,
But they don’t fade away.
Then, as Willow held the audience under her spell, another voice boomed from behind us. “That’s my song, Missy!”
A disheveled man, weathered face, wiry beard, staggered from the bar at the opposite end of the room from the stage. “Mine! You stole my song!” He lurched forward, heading toward the stage, stumbling into a table of four women. Their drinks spilled. The women shrieked.
“It’s mine!” he kept yelling.
Willow went silent in the middle of a line. The stillness in the room turned into a roar of disgruntled chatter. Several men, including Kyle, my daughter’s significant other, jumped up, but before they could rush to rescue the women, a linebacker-type from the bar swung a huge arm around the man’s skinny neck. And then, grasping his scrawny arm and gray scraggly ponytail, swept him out the door.
“Stupid drunk,” Kyle said, under his breath. He sat down and reached for his beer.
“Who is that?” Holly whispered.
“He’s Notorious.” Kyle took a long pull from the bottle.