by Rob Nicholson
It’s already dark at five thirty on a rainy Sunday night as a line of musicians waits at the entrance of Capitol City Cheesecake. When the doors open, the giddy and guitar laden crowd shuffles in, eager to sign up on the performer’s list of the Official Takoma Park Open Mic Night. Though the weather outside is dreary, the atmosphere inside CCC is glowing with the warm harmony of a close knit musical social scene. The crowd hushes as the witty, well-loved, and uber-talented host Rob Hinkle steps up to the microphone and strums a first fiery chord of the evening, unleashing the floodgate of local talent gracing Takoma’s new musical Mecca.
Takoma Park is well known for its public music and art festivals. The Institute of Musical Traditions (imtfolk.org) has brought amazing performers of all genres to the area for years. The community is brimming over with musicians, poets, and artists. So, how can it be that live music has not been heard in our bars and restaurants since the closing of Taliano’s years ago?
Well, part of the issue was a lack of bars and restaurants. With the addition of several new venues and the determination of a few local musicians, a local music scene is beginning to rise again from its plateau.
The recent revolution seemed to have begun with the highly anticipated re-opening of the Everyday Gourmet. With its ample space for live music and a crowd, it caught the attention of any musician who strolled through its doors. The initiative was taken by musician Rob Hinkle and House of Musical Traditions owner David Eisner, and soon the Official Takoma Park Open Mic was born. In time, the open mic settled into its new home at Capitol City Cheesecake, a match made in heaven.
Drawing from the vast contact list of Musical Traditions, the weekly open mic immediately attracted incredible talent from around the area. Anything and everything can be heard between 6-9pm on a Sunday evening including warmly received rank-amateurs, funky soulful piano based R&B singers, lyrically genius songwriters, a virtuoso South American harp player, and the soaring harmonies of traditional Hawaiian ukulele strummers. In addition, each open mic includes an extended performance by a featured artist of the week.
Though some amazing performers can be found here, it must be stressed that the scene is incredibly welcoming and supportive to musical newcomers. Stephen Rosenberg co-founder of Takoma Spark states “in the midst of so many talented individuals, the open mic still feels like an open and nurturing environment for the unseasoned performer.” It’s true, the open mic is a night of playfulness and musical sharing, not competing. The words of Shel Silverstein’s Invitation should be heard echoing “Come in! Come in!”
The open mic seemed to create a tipping point for the increased collaboration of local venues and musicians. With the help of local musician Chris Colvin, The Everyday Gourmet now hosts award winning acoustic blues performer Warner Williams every other Wednesday night. In addition, every other Thursday the venue also hosts Takoma’s second open mic night entitled Blues and Beyond which recently relocated from Frederick.
Other local spots have also been experimenting with live music. The cozy Olive Lounge has twice hosted a live band deemed a success by co-owners Nadal and Chris Hishmeh. In addition, they host an occasional Karaoke night where familiar regulars giggle and rally each other on in cheerful Takoma style.
Even Roscoe’s joined in by hosting a lovely evening with local acoustic blues act Cookin’ with Gas. However, with brand new babies in the respective lives of owners Ed and Murat, hosting consistent late night live music is understandably not high on their agenda.
Capitol City Cheesecake, in addition to hosting the open mic, created their very own line of Fantabulicious Thursdays (now on winter break) featuring Brazillian jazz, R&B, Americana, and more. They also offer their support to the area’s incredible teenage music scene by hosting the bi-monthly Takoma Groove Camp Acoustic Showcase next occurring Dec. 15.
Of course, live music is also thriving outside of Takoma’s restaurant scene. Suzanne Brindamour’s Artists for World Harmony concert series at the newly renovated Electric Maid (electricmaid.org) offers exceptional concerts by both local and traveling musicians. Next-door, The Carroll Café (carrollcafe.org) set in the crisp and artfully inspiring sanctuary of the Seekers Church is a concert series absolutely worth attending every second Friday of the month.
Here in Takoma we cherish community collaboration that brings results. Hats off to the venues, musicians, promoters, and audience members who have worked hard over the past year to make the local music scene flourish. Please join in the effort to help make Takoma a musical destination for both our residents and our visitors by supporting local music; you’ll have a great time doing it!