Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe is intimately associated with songwriters playing their original material in a respectful and even reverent atmosphere. For 17 years, however, the storied venue has hosted a special night with great songwriters performing songs by others - songs that have been anything but reverent. Because Freedom Sings, a musical celebration of the First Amendment, is about spotlighting songs that have, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, shaken the windows and rattled the walls.
That spirit will be on the airwaves of WMOT/Roots Radio this Thursday evening, October 20, from 6 to 8 pm when the station presents Freedom Sings at the Bluebird in its first-ever live radio broadcast. The sold-out show will be hosted as always by Freedom Sings founder Ken Paulson and will feature a lineup of familiar Freedom Sings artists including Bill Lloyd, Danny Flowers, Beth Nielsen-Chapman, Tommy Womack and Kathy Mattea.
Paulson, who is also Dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment, says the Bluebird Cafe edition of the show inspired the popular traveling Freedom Sings, which plays campuses and conventions around the country. During the early years, he says, he’d fill time between artists by offering some background and context on the songs. “We discovered to our surprise that the audience really enjoyed the backstories,” he said.
Freedom Sings has featured songs that have tested America’s commitment to its own First Amendment - songs that were censored or banned by authorities and songs that directly challenged the status quo. The program varies depending on the artists, but frequently performed songs include “Ohio” by Neil Young, “The Pill” by Loretta Lynn, “Society’s Child” by Janis Ian and The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” which was banned from radio merely because federal authorities thought there must be obscenities buried in the indecipherable lyrics.
In a short YouTube feature on the show, Paulson says it’s about “how guitars and drums have changed the path of American history, because they’ve been accompanied by the kind of lyrics that make a difference.”