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Songbird Cafe brings songwriters-in-the-round format to St. Louis

The group shot after the Jan. 25 show features, left to right, Steve St. Cyr, Lynne Reif, Mike Schrand, JJ Loui and Marc Chechik.
The group shot after the Jan. 25 show features, left to right, Steve St. Cyr, Lynne Reif, Mike Schrand, JJ Loui and Marc Chechik.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Nashville, Tenn., music scene is filled with talented musicians and songwriters all trying to get their big break in the city that’s become synonymous as the epicenter of country music.

There are plenty of music venues in Nashville – from the venerable Grand Old Opry to classic bars like Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. But one of the most interesting is the Bluebird Café, an intimate 100-seat club in a suburban strip mall that features some of Nashville’s best known singer/songwriters as well as up-and-coming artists performing in the round.

The usual format involve four songwriters seated in the round in the center of the club, and taking turns singing their own songs adding comments about the music – and occasionally accompanying each other instrumentally and on harmony vocals.

Now the Bluebird’s songwriters-in-the-round format has been transferred to St. Louis thanks to Steve St. Cyr, who started the Songbird Café series at Focal Point in Maplewood last October – in large part because of his fascination with the music format he experienced first hand at the Bluebird Café.

“I’ve always been a person who enjoys live music,” states St. Cyr. “But it was always limited to just being a buyer of tickets to concerts until I retired about a year ago. I had time on my hands, and kept thinking about retirement as the time to really pursue that elusive passion that you always wanted to follow. For me, that turned out to be Songbird Café.”

St. Cyr and his wife Susie first visited the Bluebird Café on a trip to Nashville – and they both loved the songwriter-in-the-round format they experienced there.

“Five years ago, my wife was on a business trip in Nashville and I went, too,” recalls St. Cyr. “The concierge at the hotel where we were staying recommended that if we really enjoyed music we should go to the Bluebird Café. We followed his advice and really loved the format they used and the intimate setting.”

The Bluebird became a frequent destination for the couple over the past few years, and inspired several road trips to Nashville to catch special performances by the likes of Rodney Crowell and other well-known performers.

“We would leave St. Louis around noon, drive down to Nashville, go the Bluebird, spend the night and drive back. It was really an experience that we both loved.”

St. Cyr decided he’d like to make the Bluebird Café format work in St. Louis and decided to seek advice from the source – the people who ran the Nashville venue.

“I’m not embarrassed to say that I totally stole their idea,” says St. Cyr with a laugh. “But I did talk to the people at the Bluebird. and they were happy to share what worked for them and to help me get started in St. Louis.”

Once he had decided he wanted to pursue a concert series featuring songwriters in the round, St. Cyr’s next task was to find a venue intimate enough to fit the concept – as well as one that would be a good fit with acoustic music.

“As far as finding the right venue to present songwriters in the round, I really wanted to try to find a club-style setting like the Bluebird has,” St. Cyr says. “Finally, I decided to try to work with Focal Point in Maplewood. Not only were they known for their great lineup of acoustic music concerts, they were also very supportive and worked with me to set up the songwriters in-the-round format I wanted to present.”

For the debut concert in the series, St. Cyr was able to line up two of the most noted songwriters in St. Louis - Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets and Kip Loui, who has been an integral part of bands such as Belle Starr, the Rockhouse Ramblers, the transmitters and other groups, plus the well regarded Kevin Bilchik and Caleb Travers.

“Our first concert went incredibly well,” states St. Cyr. “It really exceeded expectations. And the audiences really continued to grow as we’ve done more concerts.”

Additional Songbird Café performances took place in December and January, and the fourth concert is scheduled for Wednesday, March 28 at Focal Point. Featured performers that evening will be Beth Bambara, Auset Sarno, Jesse Irwin and Jimmy Griffin.

“We’re taking baby steps with the series, right now, but we are now focusing on doing a concert once a month,” concludes St. Cyr. “We’ve already got musicians lined up for our April and May concerts, and it’ll be really exciting to see where it all is headed.”

For another look at Songbird, check out this report on HEC: http://www.hectv.org/programs/series/state-of-the-arts/1519/march-2012/#play1351

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer who covers the music scene in St. Louis.

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.

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