It’s been a long time but live music is finally returning to Cleburne thanks to a partnership between Fly By Night Cattle Company Steak House and Songbird Live.
“[Songbird Live owner Tom Burkett] was eating in our restaruant one night and we were both singing the COVID-19 woes,” Fly By Night owner Jennifer Craft said. “I told Tom, ‘You know, we’ve got a bigger place than [Songbird Live] where we can spread people out. We need to do something.’”
The recent COVID-19 shutdowns hit live entertainment venues especially hard forcing the closure of downtown Cleburne’s Songbird Live for several months, and for the foreseeable future.
“COVID-19 really put a number on us,” Burkett said. “The thing that makes Songbird so cool is its small, intimate setting. The thing that makes Songbird dangerous, for right now, is its small, intimate setting.
“But we’re not alone. COVID hit live music and entertainment hard from major concert halls to smaller places like ours. Through this whole thing, live entertainment places have been the first to close and will be among the last to reopen.”
Although Burkett is technically free now to reopen Songbird, which seats about 100, ongoing social distancing and other safety requirements simply don’t make it feasible to do so at this time.
“With the limits on the number of people we could let in there right now there’s no way to break even,” Burkett said. “Our plan is still to start Songbird back up at some point.”
Other than a murder mystery dinner night last February live shows have been rare at Fly By Night, Craft said.
“But, talking to Tom that night, we figured why not?” Craft said. “I told him we have space for parties and events and plenty of room to socially distance people apart, have all the safety measures in place and still do something fun.”
Burkett said he was all for the idea.
“They can easily get 100 people in there and still be in compliance with all the state safety guidelines,” Burkett said. “They can get more, but 100 is the number where we can have spread out at tables and distanced from others.”
Burkett and Craft subsequently scheduled four Fly By Night shows.
Fort Worth’s own Buddy Whittington kicks things off with a July 18 show.
Whittington’s sister’s Beatles, Rolling Stones and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers records inspired him to pick up a guitar.
“Later on he went on to play in John Mayall’s band for 18 years,” Burkett said. “That’s the same guy that Eric Clapton and Peter Green used to play with.”
Whittington also previously played for southern rock, by way of Irving, Texas, band Point Blank, best known for their 1981 hit “Nicole,” which charted No. 39 on Billboard’s Top 100.
A bevy of performers head Cleburne’s way Aug. 1 for Cowtown Swing, a night of cowboy and western musicians, poets and more.
“These performers have played Songbird many times,” Burkett said. “They’re a huge crowd favorite and they always pack the place out and deliver a night to remember.”
The show includes Miss Devon and the Outlaw, Kristyn Harris, Brook Wallace Deaton, Stan Mahler and cowboy poets Teresa Burleson and Stan Mahler.
Fort Worth Beatles tribute band Me & My Monkey hit the stage Aug. 22 followed by guitar gunslinger Rhett Butler on Sept. 12.
Tickets for all shows, $60, include a meal of tenderloin steak or chicken, baked potato, salad and tea.
Doors open at 6 p.m. with full bar service available. Dinner is at 7 p.m. with the shows starting at 8 p.m.
Mahler, called the singing judge because he serves as a justice of the peace judge when not busy singing, said he’s raring to hit the stage and “turn ’em loose and let ’em go,” he, like the rest of the performers upcoming, having had multiple gigs cancelled in recent months.
“We’ve had so many gigs cancelled this year,” Burleson chimed in. “We had Under the Stars, part of the annual Abilene Western Heritage Classic, which is a huge poetry under the stars type event cancelled this year. Everyone involved submitted videos so they could hold a virtual event. That was interesting. But we’re all ready to get back in front of an actual audience.
“All of us on the bill are also good friends and have performed together many times so we’re also looking forward to seeing each other again.
Fly By Night is at 2706 County Road 1125.
For tickets and information, visit songbirdlive.com.