St. Paul/Minneapolis ~ What's Playing ~ How About A Hootenanny?


As with just about every person my age, I missed out on the Golden Age of Folk Music here in the Twin Cities. Back in the early 1960’s when a scraggly-haired University of Minnesota student, Robert Zimmerman, would play in coffee houses surrounding the UofM campus, along with “Spider” John Koerner, Tony Glover, and Dave Ray, and dozens of other like-minded folk and blues enthusiasts. If they didn’t have a coffeehouse, they’d play in people’s living rooms, hallways, or in basements of dubious nature. There is still a thriving folk scene here, there are plenty of coffeehouses, small clubs, and theaters that are available for a gig. One local musician and former music writer for the local entertainment weekly paper, City Pages, Jim Walsh, AKA “The Mad Ripple” has decided to take us back to the days when the folkies would gather in clandestine locations, bring along some wine or a flask of whiskey, and entertain each other and hangers on with songs and stories in an open jam session or hootenanny.


Every Friday night from 6:30 – 8:30pm, the basement of Java Jack’s Coffee Cafe’ becomes what could be described as a “speakeasy cum opium den” and host to some Bohemian good times. I was told about this by a friend and had to check it out for myself. Unfortunately, the names of the performers escape me, but the experience was very unique and satisfying.


I arrived a little late, having gotten lost (because I’m an idiot, not that the place is hard to find), I looked around and asked the Barista where the “show” was. From what I had been told about it, I was almost fully expecting to have to give the “password” like “Swordfish” or “The rooster crows at midnight” to gain entrance. Not so. Just a simple, “It’s that way” and I made my way downstairs. It is a little musty and dark, and I was greeted by the sight of several small children chasing each other around, or lying on the floor coloring. These children belonged to the patrons and/or performers. There is no sneaking in or out unobtrusively, so select your route carefully. There are colorful blankets adorning the exposed brick walls, some inexpensive mood lighting, several tattered, yet comfortable couches and chairs, and a small, rickety stage propped up on milk crates. There were four chairs on the stage, no speakers, no microphones, just four musicians with guitars, and a very laid back, but appreciative audience. Some had coffee drinks, but there was also an abundance of flasks, or small bottles being cradled by the patrons. The ages of the audience members were anywhere between 21 and early 50’s, and ranging from urban professionals to younger hipsters in terms of social status.


Walsh is host and performs every week, alongside three other performers. Arriving late, I didn’t catch the names of the other musicians, but it didn’t matter, I enjoyed them all. They play in a “round robin” style, one following the other, sharing the stories behind the songs, and playing. There was a lot of between-song banter, joking around, and storytelling. Or, when playing, others harmonizing or joining in on the songs, even allowing the audience to add some vocalizing or rhythm. The bottle of wine or whiskey being shared out between the musicians, added to the loose, homey feeling that filled the room. The barrier between performer and audience was broken down and it’s much more like hanging out with some good friends, enjoying some food and wine, listening to some great music and stories. I was able to grasp some sense of the feeling of what it was like, “back in the day.” I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience this, and plan on returning again soon. Note to self, bring a flask.


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