“There were times that I thought ‘There's just no way we're going to be able to continue to do this. It's just impossible.' And then people stepped up with contributions to get the building fixed,” he said. “It's still the greatest house concert in America. It really is.”
The Blue Door isn't a club. Johnson, 61, lives there.
He doesn't sell alcohol, although concertgoers are invited to bring in wine, 3.2 beer and nonalcoholic drinks. He's selective about who he invites to play in his house and gets frustrated when he hosts great musicians and they draw meager crowds.
“The best part is being able to introduce people to all these great songwriters who they, for whatever reason, haven't had a chance to check out, (either) didn't know how to find them or didn't know that many were out there,” he said. “You've got a lot of people my age who'll say, ‘Well, where are all the guys like John Prine around now?' And I'll say they're everywhere; just start with Greg Jacobs in Checotah and then go to Tom Skinner and then Bob Childers, of course.”
Johnson and Fullbright first met when the latter played with the Mike McClure Band at a 2008 Childers memorial at the Blue Door. Although they initially clashed, they eventually developed a mutual respect and rapport.
Johnson became Fullbright's manager, and the singer-songwriter recorded his first album, “Live at the Blue Door,” at the venue in 2009. His 2012 studio debut, “From the Ground Up,” earned a Grammy nomination for best Americana album.
“It's almost like the whole spirit of the Blue Door and the whole reason I stuck with it all these years when it was like a month-to-month situation to where I didn't think I could keep it open was 'cause I just believe songs matter. They matter in our culture. And John is like the culmination of that,” Johnson said.
“When John came along, it's like he represents a new, younger generation of what I've been trying to do ... and I'm sure John's profile has certainly helped the Blue Door.”
Fullbright, 25, recalls Skinner telling him about the venue before he ever darkened those blue doors, which appropriately enough, open onto the small stage.
“He said, ‘The Blue Door is probably the only place that I still get really nervous before I play because people are listening and they're really intuned to what you're doing.' You're up there all by yourself and there's no place to hide,” Fullbright said.
“There's no place like the Blue Door, but the little listening rooms, I always kind of think of them as places that you don't really realize that you need it until you get there. And you experience a really good show and ... you walk out of there with something that you didn't have when you walked in.”