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You haven't been to an open mic like this before

The Hugh Spinney Trio band plays to a full house at the Coldstream Women's Institute Hall.
Image Credit: Coldstream Coffee House
February 20, 2014 - 4:26 PM

VERNON - It’s evening on the third Saturday of the month, and the lights are on in the Coldstream Women’s Institute Hall. People pour into the building, pay the $5 admission and hunt for seats, or as it nears 7 p.m., leftover standing room.

The Coldstream Coffee House has earned a name for itself across the valley as one of the best open mics in the area. It welcomes both musicians and poets, and is followed by a featured band at the end of the night. 

“Most people are surprised by the calibre. You’re thinking it’s going to be an amateur night, and it’s not,” says Keith Hustler, a committee member.

In its 12 years, the coffee house—which started off with a group of blue grass musicians jamming together—has evolved into the sophisticated and professional entity it is today. It does things a little differently from your typical open mic. Performers get to play 2-3 songs, and priority is given to those who haven’t played recently, or ever. Unlike most open mics, the organizers don’t run the event in order of who signed up first, rather, they arrange it to give the show flow. Whereas most open mics take place in bars or cafes, the organizers have taken more of a concert approach. Seats are arranged theatre style, in rows, to direct attention towards the stage. 

“Usually there’s an ancillary reason for people to go out to an open mic—out for a coffee or a party. Whereas here, you’re not music in the background, you are the night out,” Hustler says.

Jayme McKillop goes to the coffee house whenever she can, sometimes as a performer, sometimes as a listener. It’s hard to find good venues to play at in Vernon, she says, especially when you’re just starting out. The coffee house has good acoustics, great sound equipment, and a consistently full house.

“I’ve grown up here and one of the things I’ve noticed with music community is it’s ebbed and flowed. We need something consistent like this to give it strength,” McKillop says.

It’s a vital link in keeping the local music scene healthy, Hustler says. It’s a place where musicians can get practice, exposure and a chance to mingle with other artists.

“You need that transition point... It’s a musical little league that provides this portal for people to pass through between their first few paid gigs and the couch,” Hustler says. “It’s part of the growth process.”

It’s also a great way for artists to network. Many have gone on to play together. The brief performances are kind of like speed-dating for musicians, Hustler says.

And while the performers are doing their thing, the community gets to sit back and enjoy the voices. There’s a big emphasis on keeping the event consistent. It starts on time, wraps up by 10:30 p.m. and keeps the audience coming back. The organizers treat the audience well by keeping things running smoothly and on-time. You won’t have a mic hog running away with the evening.

The event lets the best part of an open mic—variety—shine through. Because it’s not held in a bar, you get everything from 12-year-old Elvis impersonators  to family blue grass bands.

The proceeds either go to the hall rental, new sound equipment, or back into the community. More than one young musician has been supported by the coffee house.

The beauty of the coffee house, committee member Kerry Parks says, is in bringing together both sides of the musical experience.

“A song or a poem unheard is incomplete. You have to have a performance and feedback to complete the whole thing,” Parks says.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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