Hoot night doesn’t get much more upscale than the Poets’ Groove Open Mic at the Blue Nile, hosted by Kevin Washington and Desdamona. Desdamona is a reigning name in Twin Cities hip-hop. She’s worked with producing legends Sly & Robbie to release The Ledge and The Source (which she recorded with ace R&B rockers The New Congress—or, at least, members thereof). Kevin Washington, widely known as one of the top session drummers in town, is also a member of the band Moveable Feast. He has recorded with the likes of the Jayhawks, Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls, and Alicia Wiley.
Don’t come down expecting to catch Desdamona performing, though, because she rarely does at Poets’ Groove. She’s there to host and generally keep a watchful eye on things. Just about every Tuesday, though, Washington is sitting down to wear out some drum skins—and it’s not the least bit unusual to see hot shots like Wiley and Yohannes Tona sit in on keys and bass respectively. So suffice to say, the music always cooks.
There’s no guarantee that each week you’re gonna catch a Sol Testimony or even a Turn Back Now. You will, however, be entertained.
As a rule, the spoken word performances are pretty damned good too. They’re so tight that I’m surprised the Blue Nile hasn’t got together with Desdamona and Kevin Washington on some kind of project. They ought do at least an EP of some of the artists who’ve dropped in to try out material. People like Sol Testimony, K Jay, and more—just a slew of talented spoken-worders. Actually, more than a few of them have drifted over from the Soul Sounds and Open Mic Jam Session hosted by Sol Testimony (Kevin’s wife, Lisa Washington).
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to catch a new band, Turn Back Now. I’d just sat in, myself, singing some blues, and I was still hanging around. Turn Back Now did a brief set of edgy, barebones, remarkably inventive fare that called on elements of rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop with some punk-funk thrown in, featuring sharp, sardonic lyrics. Don’t be surprised if you wind up hearing about these guys. So you’ll know when you do, their names are Claude Culotta, Patrick Callan, Daniel Duke, David Hutner, and Shane Davis.
There’s no guarantee that each week you’re gonna catch a Sol Testimony or even a Turn Back Now. You will, however, be entertained. The Blue Nile Restaurant is at 2027 E. Franklin Ave. in Minneapolis. The Poets’ Groove Open Mic jumps on Tuesday nights at 10. If you want to perform, no need of going down and sitting around super early—the sign-up sheet isn’t accessible until 9.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.