From Kerouac to Beck, coffeehouses have been a rich underground source of musical and artistic creativity for decades. Increasingly, Spokane is giving attention and interest to a scene that has always been here, but perhaps stood in the shadows of trendy nightclubs and entertainment venues.
"I think there is a mini-renaissance well underway in terms of acoustic music in Spokane," says Michael Millham, guitarist for the popular regional act Sidhe. "We are beginning to get small, national touring acts on a regular basis, and the increase in venues has been very encouraging to up-and-coming performers."
Indeed, the list of cafes, coffee shops and markets that are adding live music to their rosters is multiplying exponentially. There are the standards, such as Starbucks, Europa Pizzaria and Common Grounds that might immediately come to mind. But places such as the Mercury Cafe, the Rocket Market (as well as the Rocket coffee shops), Huckleberry's, Lindaman's North and the Shop are providing a wide opportunity for musicians and spectators to enjoy an amazing variety of music, art and culture on a continual basis.
In fact, one of the most common misconceptions about Spokane is that there is nothing to do in the evenings -- our nightlife selections are boring and lacking diversity. Being guilty of saying this phrase myself in the past, I was humbled and nicely surprised by the frequency of shows and musical freedom that I discovered at our local coffeehouse venues. Every place has music at least once a week, if not more, and most also declare that they are open to sponsoring nearly any style of music.
At Common Grounds on Northwest Boulevard, owner Amy Bruscoe states that they have had everything from bluegrass, Irish and folk music to Christian and heavy metal. Renowned blues musician Tom McFarland performs almost every Monday night, adding to their repertoire.
"I think we have great music in Spokane," says Bruscoe. "We have a lot of talented local musicians in Spokane, and there's a wide variety." This sentiment was echoed by almost every shop owner, including Marcus McCoy from the Mercury Cafe. For the last couple of years, the Mercury has tried out various musical experiments and tried to work with other venues as well to get the word out on local performers. Well-known Spokane bands like Moments of Clarity, Sidhe and the Celtic Nots gained early support from these venues.
"A lot of people are introduced to music that they might not have listened to live or sought out," says McCoy, who also thinks that the coffeehouse scene is immensely beneficial for high school-age kids and the under-21 crowd. "We've always been impressed with the talent coming out of the high schools: The quality is there."
And unlike other venues, Spokane's coffeehouses provide a relaxed, unique and affordable alternative to smoky bars, crowded clubs and mosh-pit concerts. One of the newest musical outlets is the Shop on South Perry, which not only has great coffee and art in a concert-type setting, but houses a professional-quality recording studio. Many national artists have stopped over in Spokane to play here, trading their usual fee for a live recording of their performance. Renowned artists from the Minnesota acoustic music genre are always return performers each year, including guitarist Billy McLaughlin, Dan Schwartz and Brenda Weiler.
"If you want to look for music, you can find it," says co-owner Mark Camp. "You can see some wonderful things for free." Most places like the Shop do not have a cover charge, offering a great opportunity for people to come out and see interesting music and bring their families as well.
Support has come a bit slow, though, for the musicians and venues in Spokane. The different, individual and independent establishments still seem to struggle in the wake of generic big businesses, who can afford huge advertising campaigns to keep their names on the forefront of people's thoughts. But the coffeehouses around Spokane are raging against the corporate machine by offering an outlet for our local musicians to play their music in an artful and easygoing setting.
"The intimacy of these shows is always nice," states Michael Millham. "As well, the staff and universally unique atmospheres of coffeehouses are always fun."
Marcus McCoy wishes that our local artists could have a stronger and more supportive scene so they would not move away so often to find one. "They should have every opportunity that a small city can provide for them," he says. "We wanted people to have the beginning of some kind of cultural hub and hope to continue it in the future."
So grab your beret and help keep local music and business alive by checking out our coffeehouses for good beverages, diverse surroundings and quality entertainment. The artists always appreciate an audience, however large or small, the shops appreciate the business and you can hear some great music.