Cara Burky still pinches herself two years after realizing her dream to open the Blue Jay Listening Room in Jacksonville Beach. The Florida native had a strong role model in her mother who taught Burky to be confident and work hard to reach her goals.
What can you share about your background?
I moved to Neptune Beach when I was 6 months old and I’ve been here in our beaches community ever since. I went to PVPV, Ocean Palms, Landrum Middle, Nease High School and Florida State University for college. I was raised by the most incredible single mom, Cathy Thomasson, who owns a fabulous little boutique in Jax Beach called Sidney Cardel’s. She was the spark that ignited my becoming an entrepreneur. She’s the strongest, most hard-working person I know and I have always wanted to follow in her footsteps. She taught me all about girl power and how if I wanted something, I had to be confident and work hard enough to accomplish it myself.
What artists influenced you most early on?
I grew up in the 90s so at a very early age I became obsessed with MTV Unplugged. I was fascinated by not only the music, but the stories behind the songs. It changed everything for me. And then I heard the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers and it was all over . . . music was going to be my life in one capacity or another.
What genre of music do you enjoy playing the most?
I'm a sucker for a solo. Being into the jam band, southern rock scene kind of morphed by musical taste into really loving people like Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes whose guitar solos send you to another planet. I’m also a huge bluegrass fan. The musicianship it requires to play a quality bluegrass tune is unmatched. However, since I opened Blue Jay and have become a little older, I appreciate lyrics and storytelling so much more than ever before. Songwriters like Tom Waits, John Prine, Tyler Childers and Corey Kilgannon are on my playlist daily. So, basically, I’m all over the place! As long as it’s quality, I can dig it.
When did Blue Jay Listening Room open?
lue Jay Listening Room has been in the works for quite some time. Before opening in my current location, in 2015 I started doing a once a month show in a previous space to see if I was on my own listening room planet, or if any other people might be interested in this kind of thing. Once I found out that I wasn’t the only one who thought we needed a venue like this in our community, I did pop-up shows all over Jax to keep up the momentum while I searched relentlessly for a permanent location. Through the help of Heather Ireland, my Jax Beach liaison and guardian angel, I was able to find this space above Casa Maria Mexican Restaurant and after a brutal construction process we (FINALLY) opened in August of 2017.
How has the music scene changed since opening?
The Jacksonville music scene is incredible. There are so many insanely talented up-and-coming musicians in our midst, it’s really unbelievable to witness. Blue Jay has helped provide a space for artists to come and share their original songs, which is unfortunately not the case at restaurants and bars. Jax is a music scene of not only musicians but also genuine music lovers who are lifting each other up, supporting each other, encouraging going to each other’s shows and really showing that this sometimes cutthroat scene can be about community, not competition. I’m so proud to be even a small part of it.
If you could get anyone to play at Blue Jay, who would it be?
Gosh, this is a difficult one. My dream list is Tom Waits, John Prine, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. Hey — ya never know!
Who are some of the biggest names you’ve had at Blue Jay?
n my short two years of being open, I’ve been lucky enough to host some of my favorite musicians. Nathaniel Rateliff, John Paul White, Brett Dennen, members of the “Live From Here” family as well as the Allman Brothers family and the legendary Bernard Purdie are some of the most notable. I’m still pinching myself!
Why did you choose the name “Blue Jay?”
In 1999, my Grandmother, Sylvia “Sidney” Thomasson passed away suddenly. She was, besides my mother, the best woman I ever knew and I know I speak for my entire family when I say she was our foundation, our rock and the reason we are who we are individually and as a family unit.
She was a beautiful woman, far ahead of her time. She was kind, well-spoken, progressive and one of my greatest inspirations. She stood tall, smiled big, cried whenever we left her, all while simultaneously being the lioness, the huntress, the protector. Her family was her life and if you messed with any of us, well, Lord help ya. She was my heart.
We held her funeral service on her front lawn in Leesburg, Florida overlooking the most beautiful lake. Her casket laid under the most beautiful oak tree on the most beautiful day.
One of the speakers, my Grandma's Sunday School teacher Sherra, was standing on the podium giving the sweetest speech when all of a sudden, a blue jay flew out of the oak tree above where my Grandma laid, did loopy-loops around the crowd and then flew back up in to the tree. Of course, we all noticed but didn't think much of it at first. Sherra shook it off and continued speaking until moments later, the same blue jay flew out of the tree again and danced around all of us as if it was trying to make sure it had our attention. And boy, did it ever.
Sherra just smiled, laughed and said, “OK, Sylvia, we know you're here.”
Ever since that day, my grandma has been a Blue Jay.
I could not have imagined a better name for this sacred space than the Blue Jay Listening Room — named after the woman who always had a song in her heart and who has forever placed a song in mine.