INTERVIEW: Chris Blair The Listening Room Cafe'

Nashville is known to many as the Country Music Capitol of the World. There is of course Broadway downtown where you can find the honky tonks and tourists, and then there is Music Row where the magical deals are made. Nashvegas as some call it also is home to some of the most well known and historic venues for discovering the hit songwriters and exposing the amazing talent that finds its ways to Music City to be a star.

The Listening Room Café in Nashville’s historic Cummin’s Station is well on the way to joining the prestigious list of venue’s where you can hear hit songwriters and artists sing and play music in an intimate setting. Chris Blair, owner of The Listening Room Café and I visited about his personal challenges and the rewards he has reaped, as well as what the future holds for this live music venue.

I asked Chris what his background was and what made him decide to open yet another venue for singers, songwriters and musicians, he responded with “Well, for starters I had a great job as an AVP and Branch Manager for Fifth Third Bank. I took a huge risk to walk away from that because my passion has always been singing and songwriting myself, and I wanted to open this place up. I was getting involved in one of the most volatile business at one of the worst economical times in our history, and scared to death...still scared...but working hard to manage everything”.

With any new venture there are unexpected road blocks and bumps in the road, when asked what he felt was one of the biggest challenges he faced, Blair replied “I wanted to conquer and to have the best sounding room in Nashville for songwriters, showcases and full bands - and how to make it feel like you are home; while also having incredible food. The food was a big challenge at first. We opened up and did not expect the rush of business that we got, and we had my previous partner’s kids working in the kitchen. I think we did a great job of creating excellent food, but struggled with the timeliness of getting that food out. Lack of experience in the kitchen was the biggest issue there. In June, just 9 months after we opened our doors I bought my business partner out and became sole owner. This was another huge challenge, but one I knew was for the best and it has allowed me to focus on some changes I wanted to make happen. The first change was the kitchen. I started my search for a Chef, someone who could run the kitchen, get food out to our lunch patrons very quickly, come up with creative daily specials and build the catering business that I want to focus on. Chef Betsy Pharr, who came to me with tons of kitchen experience as well as owning her own catering company, has been amazing in getting the kitchen exactly where it needs to be. I then hired some new servers and have begun our plans for marketing into the area of Nashville to let everyone that hasn't been to The Listening Room yet know where we are and what we are about!”

Recognition, accolades, awards and being one of the best and well known names in a town filled with music venues is not an easy task. I asked what some of the best moments of the past year had been. “We were voted by the readers of Nashville Scene for two categories of "The Best Of..." We won the Best Songwriting Venue along with The Bluebird Cafe and Douglas Corner. I was blown away by this accomplishment. Here I am, first year in business, and of all the great music venues in town we are listed with two historic venues that have been here for over 20 years. The Bluebird took the number 1 spot and we tied for second with Douglas Corner. So now I have a new make that number 1 spot next year! They list the top 3 venues for each category, and we also took third as Best Open Mic.”

Trying to formulate a plan to success and stand out is every business owner’s goal. What has The Listening Room done to achieve this? Blair answer is given with a smile, “We have some huge events coming up and have focused on doing a lot of benefits. I love doing benefits because I have always been one that loves to give back into the
community; I’m thrilled to be able to provide a venue big enough to do that. We are also doing more showcases and full band shows. Many new customers and people have taken our name "The Listening Room" and think of us as an acoustic venue for songwriting shows only. I would say that is our biggest attraction, but that goes back to what I mentioned earlier about that challenge of sound. I have grown up with music...been singing since I was six years old, and have always had an ear for what sounds good and what doesn't. That's the big reason I wanted to start a venue like The Listening Room. There weren't any places I had played in town that had the sound I wanted to hear, so this place was built for the music first. Not the food. Not the bar. The music. For my friends and family in the music biz. And with that, we have a room that can certainly do the acoustic shows, but we have also had some big name artists - major label artists - play with full bands and they have told us the sound was amazing. So I'm trying to build the showcases up and the bigger shows as well.”

Since Blair is also a singer and songwriter, I asked if this was a bonus having his own place or if he found himself too busy too pursue his own dream, to which he replied “I have started to have more time for my true passion, songwriting, again and have started working with some of the incredible and talented writers I have gotten to be dear friends with over the past couple of years. I hope to keep that going, build it more and enjoy the path that lies before me”

For more information on The Listening Room Café visit

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