In 1978 Kent Finlay created what would grow to become one of the premier songwriter nights for Central Texas. In fact, his Songwriter Night could easily be called the nucleus of Cheatham Street Warehouse. The packed houses and sold out advance tickets for big shows may pay the bills, but the Songwriter Circle was the reason Kent kept Cheatham Street Warehouse open.
Such musicians as Todd Snider, Clay Blaker, Bruce Robison and Terri Hendrix and countless others have walked through the door of the old warehouse on Wednesday nights as novices and come back later to perform for full houses. In fact, Bruce tells that the first time he came to songwriter night, he felt too embarrassed to perform his first few songs.
New generations of songwriters came through the door every week and Kent was proud to nurture them toward their goals.
The songwriters who perform at Kent’s Songwriter Circle have always been treated as equals – and with equal reverence. It is a “golden rule” listening night – and everyone who attends pay as much attention to the artist on stage as they would expect others to listen to them. This has kept it from becoming one of those places were people go to play and then pack up and leave as soon as they finish performing. The songwriter night has become truly magical for participants – listeners and writers, alike.
For all of this success, Kent kept his songwriter circle as informal as it was back in the beginning – as the songwriters gathered around the old wood-burning stove and passed a guitar around. Every Wednesday night kicks off somewhere around 9 p.m.
Everyone is equal – Songwriters sign up on a yellow legal pad that is on the bar, and they each perform 2 songs. (On occasional nights when there are fewer songwriters on the list, they each may perform three songs.) The list fills quickly so it’s important to get there early to sign in. The songs must be original compositions by the performer – and generally performed with a guitar.
Cheatham Street Warehouse is renowned for its quality sound – Doug Sahm used to say that those old wooden walls enhance the sound like an old beloved fiddle. Al Barlow said, “Cheatham Street Warehouse is the Ryman Auditorium for Songwriters.” Ace Ford has called Kent Finlay the “Godfather of Texas Songwriters.”
The Cheatham Street Music Foundation is proud to continue the tradition Kent started in 1978. Songwriters Circle is a “Lisening Night” and all music fans are asked to please refrain from talking and silence their cell phones. Thanks!