That night, I only came to listen. The Bluebird is legendary, with its ironclad “Shhhh!” rule and its history of discovering artists who go on to fill stadiums and win CMA awards. The TV show spread the legend some, but it hasn’t made the room any bigger or getting onto that hallowed stage any easier. In Nashville, aspiring songwriters would rather get into the Bluebird than into heaven—and in Tennessee, where they take heaven seriously, that says it all. I knew it wouldn’t feel like I was really home until I’d dropped by the Bluebird to check out the new talent and say hello to a few friends. So I was there the night a nobody broke the rules and grabbed that chance.
He was working as a busboy—a skinny kid with a silver belt buckle bigger than his ears, an incandescent grin, and a mellow old Martin that was probably older than he was. In Nashville, it makes perfect sense for a busboy to bring his valuable guitar to work with him.
It was open mic night. You have to get on the list. It takes patience and persistence, so the guy who got up there drunk was throwing away a lot of effort. Country music has had its share of alcoholics, but if you aren’t famous first, it’s a really bad idea. He staggered up to the mic with a longneck in his hand. He made less than thirty seconds worth of a fool of himself before they hustled him offstage and out the door.
Before they could announce the next songwriter on the list, the kid leaped onto the stage with two big strides in his scuffed cowboy boots.
“Hey, folks. My name’s Del.” And he began to sing.
Nobody broke the rules at the Bluebird. If you weren’t on the list, you didn’t sing. Craig, the assistant manager in charge that night, jumped up from his seat at the bar.
“Hey! Get down!” he yelled.
Del went on singing. He had a high, otherworldly voice, not as sweet as Roy Orbison’s or as twangy as Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s, but equally compelling. Otherwise, the room was silent as an empty soundproof studio, either because the audience never whispered while someone sang—Bluebird rules—or because Del was making magic.
I was shocked because I knew the song. Viva, my new lead guitar, backup vocalist, and songwriter, had written it. Nobody else had heard it yet, as far as I knew. How did he know it? We’d been on tour, rolled into town the day before. She’d sung it for me on the bus. Viva had never been in Nashville. I had asked her to come along tonight. I wanted to introduce her around. But it was full moon. She had something else to do. Shifters keep it kind of quiet anyplace where half the population is in the public eye, but Viva was wolf. She’d have gone ballistic if she’d heard this kid perform her song. A werewolf going ballistic on full moon in the Bluebird? It would have finished her in Nashville before she started. It wouldn’t have done my reputation any good either.
How did Del know Viva? Were they old acquaintances? Lovers? On tour, you don’t have much of a personal life, and she’d said little about her past. We had talked about her music background, and she’d never mentioned a partner.
“Come on, busboy, get down,” Craig yelled. “You can’t do that.”
“Yes, he can!” the audience chanted. “Yes, he can! Del! Del!” In the space of half a song, they were already fans.
Craig bustled up and grabbed the mic.
“Folks, excuse the help. Come on, country boy, that’s enough.”
The audience growled deep in its collective throat. You never knew what would happen at the Bluebird. Del might be the next Vince Gill or Brad Paisley. They wanted to hear him play Viva’s song.
Del ended the song with a flourish. The boy could play, too, showing off with fingerstyle runs like a young Chet Atkins or Ricky Skaggs.
“Okay, son,” Craig said. “You’ve had your moment, now get off the stage.”
The audience hissed and booed him down.
Grinning, Del played the intro to “Killing Me by Moonlight,” my first Number One.
“We’ve got a music legend in the audience tonight, folks.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me. He had some nerve. But the audience was already shouting, “Emerald! Emerald!”
You never want to disappoint an audience. I thought, “Oh, what the hell.” I got up as Del wound up the intro.
“Nashville’s own Emerald Love, folks! Let’s welcome her home!”