Noe Valley Voice September 1997

Java 'n' More Hosts an Open Mike Night

By Erin O'Briant

"Finally! Something to do at night in Noe Valley!" exclaimed one Noe Valley resident. She was referring to the new Thursday-night open mikes at Java 'n' More on the corner of Church and Clipper. The performance showcase for musicians and poets got started in July.

For several months, Jeff Troiano, a folk guitarist and songwriter (and Noe Valley Voice contributor), had been looking for a place to play and sing that was within walking of his home on Church Street. But the closest venue he'd found was a coffeehouse in the Richmond District.

"I got tired of taking two buses to get back home at midnight," he said, "so I convinced the owners at Java 'n' More to start an open mike night in Noe Valley. We have so many musicians and poets in this neighborhood, the response has been tremendous."

Troiano said that for now the event was acoustic-only -- meaning no electric guitars or synthesizers. "There's been a long tradition of acoustic music in Noe Valley," he said, "which has trailed off over the years. So a lot of local musicians are really excited about this."

Players and listeners from other San Francisco neighborhoods are jazzed, too. During July and August, performers came from all over the city. "I'd say the crowd is about a 50 - 50 mix, half from Noe Valley, half from outside the area," Troiano said. "People see us listed in the Bay Guardian and come out to play."

So far, the crowd has been comprised mostly of the musicians and poets themselves. Audiences sometimes steer clear of open mikes, assuming that the bulk of the artists are amateurs. But the entertainers at Java 'n' More include a surprising number of skilled, experienced musicians and poets.

"Generally, people do their own original music, but often the musicians do covers of classics, songs by Bob Dylan or Neil Young. But they always do it in their own way," said Troiano.

Though some entertainers may bring along CDs or tapes for sale, Troiano emphasized that "money is not what this is about. This is about trying to work out the songs in a supportive environment," he continued. "Lots of these musicians show up with their CDs, and that's a lot of fun. But we don't pass the hat."

On a recent Thursday evening, a lively gathering of about 25 filled the seats. The big open space at the front of the coffeehouse provided plenty of room for everyone and their musical instruments, while the high ceilings made for good acoustics. One by one, members of the audience mounted the "stage" for their 15 minutes to play, sing, or read. Listeners sat clustered around the small wooden tables, while others sipped coffee quietly in the back of the shop. The atmosphere was homey and comfortable.

"Rick the bad poet brought me here," said a young bard named Publius, pointing to a guy at the next table. "I'm over from the Richmond District -- I've been coming here about three or four weeks."

Longtime Noe Valley residents Rich Alpert and David Perry kept the audience clapping with their guitar-harmonica-tambourine rendition of Corina, Corina. A traveling musician from New Orleans, Paul Kemnitz, singlehandedly sang, played a Dobro (a guitar that looks like a huge silver violin), and blew a kazoo.

As the evening wore on, locals wandered in and out. Some listened from the bus stop outside. "It's a typical, eclectic night," said Troiano.

Through all the hubbub, Java 'n' More co-owner Tom Madanat presided calmly over the snacks and cappuccino machine. "I had been looking for someone to take charge of an open mike night here," said Madanat, who owns the coffeeshop along with his brother, Don Madanat.

So it was a pleasant coincidence when Troiano offered to set up the show. "I love music, but I'm not a professional," Madanat explained. "From the first night it was good," he added. "People are getting to know the place more and more."

Though the clapping, singing, guitar strumming, and harmonica blowing can get loud at times, Madanat said the neighbors didn't seem to mind. "We close the doors, and since there's no sound system [to amplify the music] we haven't had any complaints."

The Java 'n' More Open Mic Night starts every Thursday at 7 p.m., with a signup at 6:30 for participants. "Everyone is welcome," said Troiano. For more information, call him at 282-2216.