BABE #156: CARA BURKY, Owner @ Blue Jay Listening Room
Today’s babe is a Jax native paving her own path in our local music scene. As owner of a venue that truly lives up to its slogan, “where every ticket is a backstage pass,” Cara has curated a space where guests can experience an authentic, intimate concert like no other. Blue Jay Listening Room brings artists from all genres together and invites listeners to stay a little longer. Today, Cara shares the story behind the space, why it means so much to her, and what it's like being a woman in the music industry. Thanks for chatting with us, Cara! Never stop movin’ and groovin’ to your own beat.
Hometown: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Current city: Jacksonville Beach, Florida
Alma mater: Florida State University
Degree: B.A., Studio Art & Art History
Very first job: Hostess @ First Street Grille
Hustle: Owner & Operator @ Blue Jay Listening Room
Babe you admire and why?
I’m surrounded by so many incredibly badass babes, it’s hard to narrow it down. I feel so grateful to be a part of a community filled with so many entrepreneurial women who encourage one another. I frequently have lunch (or happy hour) meetings with Stevan Brown of Hotel Palms or Ansley Randall of Jax Is Rad and leave with a seriously inspired pep in my step after an hour or so of ideas, cross-promoting and event planning. It’s just a constant “high-five!,” “hell yeah!,” “great idea!” from those women. I’m also insanely inspired by Kat Layton with In Güd Company. That woman is perma-positive and has such a deep love for music and community. I’m also completely obsessed with and inspired by Michelle Obama and Ashley Longshore.
How do you spend your free time?
I love just sitting on the porch listening to music with my girlfriends. Music festivals out at Suwannee are pretty much my favorite thing ever, and I love skateboarding, yoga and camping. Any opportunity to immerse myself in nature, I take.
Favorite app, website or blog?
I absolutely love Headspace. It’s an awesome guided meditation app that has really been a game changer in my day-to-day. I’m not sure if you’d consider this a website or blog, but NPR Tiny Desk is my absolute favorite. It’s intimate video performances of some seriously incredible musicians both well-known and up-and-coming. I’ve found some of my favorite bands on that site. Check it out, it’ll change ya life!
Favorite fictional female character?
I’m a gigantic Game of Thrones fan. Arya Stark is my girl.
Go-to adult beverage?
Jameson & ginger.
Go-to power anthem?
When I’m having a rough day and need a pick-me-up, “White Flag,” by The Band Joseph. When I want to pump it up real loud and rock the eff out, “Whipping Post,” by the Allman Brothers.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
A gigantic bowl of pho and creme brulee for dessert
Three words to describe yourself?
I love pizza.
Tell us about your hustle.
My full-time hustle is lovingly called The Blue Jay Listening Room. It’s an intimate live music venue specifically built for artist-show-goer interaction. It’s a space for you to come, be present and really listen to an artist or band play their original music and share their stories. Think MTV Unplugged with beer and wine. It’s just the best.
What does your typical workday look like?
My workday starts with a short meditation and a cup (or three) of coffee (many mornings, at the Jax Beach Brunch Haus). Most of the things I do on a day-to-day basis are all the things on the backend, like booking bands, scheduling, creating ticket sites, marketing, wine and beer orders, inventory, etc. I wear all the hats—owner, manager, booker, promoter, marketer, bartender, janitor, emcee and, my personal favorite: show-goer. I get to watch incredible live music every single night. It’s seriously the best. If I’m not on the computer, I’m working on whatever the next project may be. Right now, it’s building out my office and the backstage area. One thing about having your own brick-and-mortar, no matter the industry, is that you’re always working on it. Luckily for me, I enjoy that part.
What inspired Blue Jay Listening Room?
I’d love to to take the credit for originating the Listening Room idea, but, alas, there are many amazing listening rooms all around the country; Jacksonville was just behind until now. Blue Jay used to be located in a previous space I primarily used for special events. I always knew I wanted to create a space for music, so I did a show once a month to test the waters and the response was overwhelming. I went through a lot with the city, trying to get a beer and wine license in that building, and was ultimately denied, so I had to find a new space. In the meantime, I was doing pop-up shows all around Jacksonville once a month to keep the momentum going. I was so devastated when I was unable to get approved for a beer and wine license in my previous space, and now, as with most things in life, I know it was such a blessing in disguise. This new space couldn’t be more perfect. I was able to create something from the (metaphorical) ground up. The Universe gave me the opportunity to make it an extension of myself and all the things I love and I truly believe you can feel it when you walk in. There’s a different vibe here. It’s something this city has needed for a really long time. The inspiration for the name, Blue Jay, comes from my grandmother. Whenever you come in for a show, the story of Blue Jay is on the third page of our menu. It’s a really beautiful story and I feel honored to be able to share her story with anyone who comes in.
Has music always been a part of your life?
Music has been a part of my life since I can remember. When I was 13, my grandma got me a guitar for Christmas and from there, it was all over. My sister was a big Deadhead and was burning me String Cheese Incident and Grateful Dead CDs when I was super young, so I was bound to eventually join the festival scene, which totally changed my life forever. I was raised by an entrepreneur, so having a nine-to-five was just never really an option for me. In my head, I was always going to follow my dreams. The difficult part was compartmentalizing those dreams and figuring out which ones were going to last, which ones I was most passionate about and which ones brought me the most joy. Looking back, music was always the answer. Music transports me to another place and time. Playing my guitar has gotten me through some of the most difficult times I’ve ever experienced. A specific album can change your life. Being able to bring music to Jacksonville that people may not otherwise ever know about is a pretty incredible feeling. The potential to change any single person’s life through music fills me up. It was always music.
What makes listening rooms different from other music venues?
I’ve been going to shows since I was very young. I’ve had many experiences, both good and bad, at a multitude of different music venues. There is just nothing like being a part of a smaller, like-minded crowd who are there to hear what the artist has to say and sing. There is nothing quite like feeling what the artist was feeling when they wrote a particular song. Being in a room where you can hear a pin drop because everyone is so engulfed in the music—that’s a special thing. There’s so much love and intention that goes into every single detail here at Blue Jay. You can feel it. I’ve been told it “feels like home” and I don’t think I could receive a better compliment. It’s basically like having a show in your living room—your really cool, vibey, blue living room.
What kind of musicians do you bring to the space?
I always like to compare it to MTV Unplugged, not only because of the vibe, but because that show had everyone from Neil Young to Nirvana. We have every genre you can think of, as long as it can be broken down and has a story. I’m a bluegrass, folk girl, which always lends itself well to rooms like mine, but we’ve had everything from soul, to southern rock, to jazz, to country. Even if you may have never heard of the artist or band, I highly encourage you to come to Blue Jay anyway. While it may not be a genre you thought you were into, I promise it will always be quality musicianship you can thoroughly appreciate and open your mind to. We have both local and national acts coming through. There are some seriously incredible shows on the horizon.
Have you always had entrepreneurial qualities?
Absolutely. I was raised by the OG hustler in my life, my mother. That woman is one seriously badass babe who has never faltered from following her dreams. She raised me on her own, she’s been through some seriously tragic shit, and through it all managed to remain a beacon of love and light for me throughout my entire life. I had the opportunity to open and work alongside her at her home decor store, Sidney Cardel’s, for the past five years before I opened Blue Jay. I learned pretty much everything I know about business from her on a personal and professional level, through being her coworker and daughter simultaneously. I’m so grateful to have been raised by a strong woman who lead by example and taught me to be a dreamer and a doer. I owe my entrepreneurial mindset to her.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
I would definitely say the day I opened these doors to Blue Jay was the biggest milestone of my career. From the original space to the new one, this process has taken over two years. Blood, sweat, tears, the whole nine. From battles with the city, to an absolute construction nightmare, to hand-painting furniture, picking out curtain fabric and booking bands I never thought I would have the chance to book, I’ve never experienced such high-highs and low-lows. But it’s those experiences that make you appreciate the end result so much more. Our first show was one of the happiest moments of my life and I continue to just sit back and look at what Blue Jay has and will continue to become. I swear, it hits me like a freight train every day, in the best way possible.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
Being a woman in the music industry is interesting, to say the least. Up until now, I’d never experienced an industry where one sex was the minority. I’ve now had moments of, “Oh no he di’int!” quite frequently and I’ve had to stand up for myself many times. As a woman, I’ve really had to grow more of a backbone and stand tall in my beliefs in my own business. I’ve had to gain much more outward confidence. I love it because I now have the space to host things like our Jax Women Are Rad networking and panel event specifically for fellow local woman entrepreneurs. I get to showcase amazingly talented female musicians. I have the opportunity to go from being empowered to empowering. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve never been more proud to be a woman.
What is your biggest strength in your role?
I’m very proud to have the mentality that everything must be perfect. I know that may sound like I create a lot of stress for myself, but they way I see it, that’s what’s going to set Blue Jay apart. Every candle is perfectly placed, every pillow is fluffed, every glass is polished and the sound must always be spot-on. I’m not saying mistakes can’t be made, but every move we make as a team, every decision is made with intention.
What skill do you most need to improve?
Time management and delegation. I’m always saying “there just aren’t enough hours in the day,” and then I have to give myself a lil’ kick in the booty and remind myself there are, I’m just not managing them as well as I could. I live by making lists and I need to work on not giving myself too many things to do in one day. I need to prioritize better and not spend too much time responding to emails. I also need to work on asking for help when I need it. I have to tell myself that it’s okay not to do it all. I have an incredible team surrounding me who are constant reminders that they believe in Blue Jay and want to help take some of the weight off my shoulders. Just when I think no one can do it as well as me, they remind me that not only can they do it as well—they may just even do it a little better.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Do not be intimidated or discouraged because you are female. Yes, the chick-to-dude ration is 10-1 in the music industry, but it won’t be that way for long. Stand strong and don’t let the old-school ideals in this industry deter you from creating your own path. As Fleetwood Mac says, “You can go your own waaaaayyy!” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Do what brings you joy. Get the hell out of that nine-to-five that’s sucking the life out of you. Create a plan, dream it and do it. It’s not easy in the least, but nothing life-changing is. Also, remember it’s about community, not competition. It’s about lifting each other up and empowering one another personally and professionally. It takes a village. No one can do it alone. Let people help you when you need it. We are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with, so make sure those people believe in you and make you feel like the badass babe you are.
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