Nashville is Music City, where on any given evening music pours from venues ranging from the massive Nissan Stadium and the nearly 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena, to relatively smaller venues such as the Ryman Auditorium and Station Inn.
But on Wednesday evening (Feb. 15), the 90-person capacity venue The Bluebird Café, long considered a mecca for singer-songwriters, had one of the hottest tickets in town—a rare full concert from three-time Grammy winner Trisha Yearwood, which sold out moments after tickets went on sale.
Over the past several years, Yearwood has joined her husband and fellow artist Garth Brooks on his world tour, and added to her growing business ventures which now includes cookbooks, pet products, home goods and cocktail mixers. But at the Bluebird Café, it’s all about the music. Yearwood told the audience it was likely her first solo concert at the intimate venue since she signed her first record deal with MCA Records as an aspiring artist in 1990.
“I’ve performed here a bunch of other times with other people, and it’s always such a joy to be here,” she told the crowd, which was a sturdy mix of die-hard fans and music industry execs. “It’s not like I’ve just been sitting at home writing cookbooks. I’ve been singing, but most of the time, I’m a shiny quarter—Garth goes out and does his show and when he’s losing them, he brings me out,” she said in jest, drawing laughs from the audience. “That is where my fitness is as a singer, so did I mention I’m scared s—less?” she said, holding up a glass of amber liquid. “This is alcohol.”
She needn’t have worried—the room was filled with love for Yearwood and her music.
Earlier in the evening, Yearwood held a private event celebrating her new signature cocktail mix “Cheers in a Cup” at the grand opening of Williams Sonoma in Nashville. The event also raised funds for Dottie’s Yard, Yearwood’s charity endeavor which assists animal rescue efforts. She surprised music fans by announcing a show at the Bluebird and was soliciting fan requests for the setlist. The show promptly sold out.
Several of her most well-known radio hits made the list including “Walkaway Joe,” “Wrong Side of Memphis” her 1994 chart-topper “XXX’s and OOO’s” and “The Song Remembers When,” but the bulk of the evening was dedicated a range of album cuts and other promotional singles. She offered “The Matador,” from her 2019 album Every Girl, the bluesy Tia Sillers/Craig Wiseman-penned track “Sweet Love,” (from 2005’s Jasper County), “Victim of the Game” (from her 1991 eponymous debut), as well as “Little Hercules” and “A Lover is Forever” (both from 1996’s Everybody Knows).
The attentiveness and enthusiasm of the intimate crowd, paired with Yearwood’s innately conversational performance style, made the concert feel like an evening with a close friend (who happens to be a phenomenal vocalist).
Yearwood has always shown respect for songwriters, selecting the choicest of compositions over the years to pair with her pristine voice. Throughout the evening, she peppered her comments with nods to many of the songwriters behind many of her hits, among them Matraca Berg, Hugh Prestwood and Gretchen Peters.
“I know I’m standing here because I’ve been lucky enough to know some really amazing songwriters who have trusted me with their children, and I hope their trust is well-placed.”
Yearwood recalled receiving a copy of the Bobbie Cryner-written song “Real Live Woman” in her mailbox, immediately loving the title and relishing that the rest of the song was as good as its title. Her rendering of the song was replete with agency, as Yearwood noted to the audience her favorite lyric: “I no longer justify reasons for the way that I behave/ I offer no apologies for the things that I believe and say” (though she coyly added, “Well, sometimes I apologize”).
Among those in attendance was Yearwood’s longtime producer Garth Fundis.
“The reason I wanted to sing was I love music,” Yearwood said. “Music moved me. Garth Fundis and I have always sat down, whether it was with a cassette tape or a DAT or someone singing on a guitar and our whole rule of thumb was that we wouldn’t record anything that we didn’t both love.” She later told Fundis, “Thank you for finding all these great songs with me.”
Prior to performing “XXXs and OOO’s (An American Girl),” she said the song was originally recorded as the themesong for the pilot of a two-hour movie that Yearwood called “kind of a precursor to Nashville.’
“Another artist was supposed to do the song and she couldn’t do it, so I got an 11th-hour call, of like, ‘This is a Matraca Berg and Alice Randall song, could you sing it? And the track is cut by the way, so can you sing it in the key that it is in and it’s for a TV movie so it doesn’t really have a form.’ We recorded it for the movie, but the movie didn’t get picked up and was never made. But we liked the song, so we took it in to MCA and everybody loved the song—the only problem was we didn’t have an album, so the whole Thinkin’ About You album got made around this song. Anybody new who comes into the band when we play it live is like ‘Why do the chords change in the last chorus?’ I’m like, ‘Because it wasn’t a chorus, we just kind of made it work over the chords that are there.’”
She nodded to her love for the music of Linda Ronstadt by performing stellar, powerful renditions of “You’re No Good” and then “Try Me Again,” which earned Yearwood a standing ovation.
In performing a stripped-down version of Frank Sinatra’s 1958 hit “Come Fly With Me,” she also nodded to her 2019 tribute album Let’s Be Frank, which she recorded with a 55-piece orchestra at the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles, using Sinatra’s original microphone. She also hinted that there could be more Sinatra music ahead, in the form of her own upcoming concerts with a symphony orchestra.
“October,” she said quickly, with a sly grin.
She also discussed something she learned from a recent Kennedy Center Honors event she attended with Brooks. “He was singing to honor Gladys Knight, and we got to go to a dinner the night before. One of the recipients got up and talked about how—she was nervous—she talked about how when she is getting ready to do something big, she calls on all her angels. She prays and talks to God, but she also calls on the people in her life that have gone on. So I did that tonight because I was so incredibly nervous. I’m wearing my mom’s ring and I believe that she’s with me.”
Yearwood also gestured to a load-bearing post that was on one side of the room, and positioned in front of a sign bearing the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey brand logo.
“From where I’m standing, and where that post is, all I can see is Jack, and that’s my dad’s name,” Yearwood said. “It’s all love out here and I feel it. I can’t thank you all enough. As long as I’ve been doing this—and I’m a pretty confident person, but getting up in front of a lot of people and singing, especially when you haven’t done it in a long time, is kind of scary. I felt all of your love tonight…it’s been a really special night.”
She concluded with the evening’s most-requested song, delivering a stunning rendition of Gretchen Peters’ “On a Bus to St. Cloud.”
“This is fun. I may have to do this again,” Yearwood said near the conclusion of the evening, nodding to Bluebird Café COO/GM Erika Wollam-Nichols in the audience.
Indeed, given the warm reception from the audience and how fast tickets to the last-minute event sold out, the notion of repeat shows, or even a Bluebird Café residency from Yearwood, feels both logical and immensely desired.