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  • Writer's picturePaulina Burnside

Bluebird Bands: The Newest Evolution of Sundance Resort's Collaboration with The Bluebird Cafe

This article was originally published in SLUG Magazine.


On Sunday, September 3 at 8 p.m., music from Stephen Kellogg and his band will pour from the outdoor amphitheater at Sundance Resort during the very first Bluebird Bands concert. While Sundance Resort has hosted the popular Bluebird Cafe Concert Series for the past 21 years—a summer-long string of intimate, mainly acoustic performances—this new event will feature individual bands for a plugged-in concert experience. Both the Bluebird Cafe Concert Series and Bluebird Bands are collaborations between Sundance Resort and The Bluebird Cafe: a famous music venue in Nashville, TN that has been an important platform for country songwriters across the U.S. including Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Kathy Mattea and Taylor Swift.

The outdoor amphitheater at Sundance seats 1,500 people and is nestled in Provo Canyon, a one-hour drive from downtown Salt Lake City. Traditionally, each Bluebird Cafe concert features three individual artists sitting in “the row,” a name spun off from the circle that songwriters at the original Bluebird Cafe sit in called “the round.” While Sundance's outdoor amphitheater seats a much larger audience than The Bluebird Cafe, the atmosphere is just as intimate. In this setting, songwriters share the inspiration behind songs they’ve written, such as how long it took for them to write the song or who the song ended up being licensed to.

“It’s really cool to see the curtain pulled back and recognize that a lot of the songs that we hear on the radio, songs that are winning Grammys—like, the person singing is very talented, but just as much credit belongs to the person who came up with the idea,” says Annie Condon, Public Relations and Marketing Manager at Sundance Resort. With beautiful mountain scenery, the smell of hearty food wafting through the pines and live music, The Bluebird Concert Series is the perfect evening for listeners who crave more details behind the songs they love—for people who frequent music encyclopedia Genius and artist subreddits more than they care to admit.

Before each concert begins, the sun lowers beyond the reach of the canyon and the sky over Mt. Timpanogos becomes blotted with stars. The night turns chilly, and the audience is presented with another series of storytelling and singing. Nights like these make up the Bluebird Cafe Concert Series and have become a ritual at Sundance Resort—so popular that tickets for the concert series sell out within two hours. “There’s a feeling at Sundance that really sets it apart,” says Mari Turner, Programs Manager at Sundance Resort. “When people come here, they feel something special. We always hear people say that they felt like there was magic in the air when they’ve come to an event in our amphitheater.” Turner, who has been involved with the Bluebird Cafe Concert Series since its formation in 2002, claims that the collaboration between Sundance Resort and The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville was an easy fit given Sundance’s ethos of supporting creative storytelling. “Sundance is all about storytelling,” she says. “We like to work with artists; we concentrate on art, nature, recreation and community, so it really seemed like a natural fit because The Bluebird Cafe features singer-songwriters who write original music.”

“Sundance is all about storytelling.”

The addition of Bluebird Bands to Sundance’s repertoire of entertainment was inspired by a conversation between Turner and Erika Wollam Nichols, COO and General Manager of The Bluebird Cafe. Nichols had explained to Turner that every Sunday night at the cafe features a full band instead of individual artists. This is a nod to the early days of The Bluebird Cafe, which was founded in 1982, when the venue primarily showcased bands rather than solo acts. After learning this, Turner knew that she wanted to bring Bluebird Bands to Sundance.

Bluebird Bands will be set on the same timeless stage as the Bluebird Cafe Concert Series but will take on a more classic concert approach with a full band playing. Nichols herself handpicked Stephen Kellogg and his band to be the first group to play. “He’s really great. He’s Americana, folk, rock; he’ll bring a cool vibe as we start this series,” says Turner. A storyteller at heart, Stephen Kellogg requested two items for the greenroom: a book and four postcards. “He loves to send his children a postcard from every venue he plays. He seems to be kind of a Renaissance man,” says Turner.

“He loves to send his children a postcard from every venue he plays. He seems to be kind of a Renaissance man.”

Sunday, September 3 will be the first of many annual Bluebird Bands events. Turner hopes to schedule two or three plugged-in concert events every summer in addition to the Bluebird Cafe Concert Series. Preceding the concert, there will be a pre-show BBQ from 6–8 p.m. that will take place under a grove of trees near the amphitheater. While no outside food or drink is allowed, there will be additional restaurants and concessions to order from. Temperatures in the canyon drop in the evening, so make sure to pack jackets and blankets.

For further information on this event or to purchase tickets, visit sundanceresort.com/bluebird-cafe-concert-series.

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