From concert to “bring your own party,” coffeehouse music in the Twin Cities jazzes up the social scene. A quick survey of independent coffeehouses shows that about one-third include music as part of a cultural mix that includes book groups, wi-fi work spaces and art exhibits.
Coffee Bene in St. Paul offers music on Friday nights but is not a major concert venue, according to Manager Molly Krueger.
“We try to bring in people who love what they do,” she said. The musicians aren’t paid, but get free beverages during their performance and can put out a tip jar. Krueger said that they have one band that was successful with their tip jar because they were very adamant about pointing it out.
The size of the audience depends on how heavily the musicians promote the event. There aren’t a lot of regulars in the coffeehouse, but events are mentioned on Coffee Bene’s website and in the store.
The performances at Coffee Bene are intimate and the volume is kept low because the two-year-old store is located near other vendors and doesn’t want to offend anyone. The musicians play in front of a gas fireplace.
One successful group at Coffee Bene is The Fairlanes, an a cappella group. Most people don’t just come specifically for the show, but the Fairlanes draw the biggest crowd, said Krueger. Their audience consists of mostly friends and family. They were scheduled to sing at a different venue the night of Coffee Bene’s second birthday party, but rearranged their schedule in order to sing at Coffee Bene.
Krueger said she is also very upfront about the expectations for the performers. Kids and families stop in, “so nothing offensive.” She said the performances help attract people before they go to the club or offer an alternative to going out.
The coffee shops that offer performance have to get a license but have an opportunity to have a busier night. Licensing “can be a process or it can be smooth,” said Krueger. First, a shop must apply to the city of St. Paul. Then the neighborhood association is asked if there are any concerns regarding performances at the venue. The neighborhood association will ask the shop questions regarding the license and write an approval or disapproval that will factor into the city’s decision. The license will be rejected, approved, or approved with restrictions. Coffee Bene has a license with restrictions on the number of performance per week and the hours the performances can happen.
By involving the neighborhood, Coffee Bene is able to get their name out, since their corporation’s policies don’t allow for advertising.
“Anytime we can go out and meet the neighbors and be a part of an event, it’s great for our business,” Krueger said.
Ginkgo Coffeehouse exemplifies the other end of the coffee music scale, with music from a variety of formats, ranging from jam sessions and open mics to concerts.
Some shows, usually Thursday nights, have a cover charge and the coffeehouse won’t serve customers during these shows said Manager Jen Bluger. The coffee house is set up as a concert hall to seat about 95 people, but averages 30 to 60 people.
During other shows, usually on Friday or Saturday nights, the setting changes and musicians play for free or donations. The coffee bar is open and people are free to come and go as they please.
Most musicians “find us,” Bluger says, but the coffeehouse sometimes books touring musicians from across North America. Some musicians are paid, while others get donations from the audience.
Each coffee shop has its own atmosphere during music events, but there is enough variety around the Twin Cities to please most everyone.
Heidi Hanse is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.