Bill Monroe, Guy Clark, Willie Dixon and Keith Whitley have all appeared on the marquee sign at the corner of Main and Watauga streets in downtown Johnson City.
So have local bands and singers.
They’re less-known to the public, but they’ll have a chance to change that on Feb. 23, when the Down Home hosts an open-mic night as part of the Tennessee Songwriters Week competition.
During Tennessee Songwriters Week, the Down Home, Lafayette Music Room in Memphis, The Camp House in Chattanooga and WDVX in Knoxville will host open mic nights.
Twenty-five songwriters will perform an original song of no particular genre. A panel of local judges will pick one winner. The chosen performer from each open mic night will win the opportunity to perform at the famous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, a venue frequented by industry professionals, including many well-known songwriters.
Emceeing for the night will be The Bluebird Cafe’s long-time open mic night host and songwriter Barbara Cloyd.
“Johnson City is very musical town,” said Jenna Moore, director of sales at the Johnson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I’m glad we were chosen to host this event because it does help to highlight some of that history that they may not know about or remember.”
The competition taking place in Johnson City also coincides with the 90th anniversary of the Johnson City Sessions, musical recording auditions by Columbia Records in 1928 and 1929 to discover new talent. The Johnson City Sessions came only a year after the Bristol Sessions, which established Bristol Tennessee-Virginia’s musical heritage.
Moore said the organizer of the competition, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, tries to host events that showcase different parts of the state. She also said it ties in with one of the department’s pillars of tourism for the state, which is music.
And The Down Home knows its music.
The venue’s owner, Ed Snodderly, said that when he and his partners first opened The Down Home, it was out of a desire to have a place where the audience could come and respond to the music on the stage. It was a place, Snodderly said, where they would shush audience members who tried to talk over the music.
The space is simple. There is a stage surrounded by tables and chairs and then benches and more seats at a gradual incline, similar to an amphitheater, and a small bar for refreshments. Nothing else.
“In that nothing is everything,” said Snodderly.
Unfortunately, for songwriters wanting to take part, the sign-up list, which opened Thursday morning, filled up within an hour and a half at all four locations. However, tickets to attend are now on sale.
The competition will take place Feb 23 at The Down Home. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the show begins at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 and can be bought in advance through the Down Home’s website at downhome.com.