I read online that Milkboy Coffee in Ardmore, PA was one of the best open mics in the Philadelphia area. I’ve been to their open mic twice now, which is on Tuesday nights at 7, with sign-ups starting at 6:30, and I have come to really enjoy the place. I plan to return next Tuesday if my schedule allows.
The first time I ventured into Ardmore, PA for Milkboy’s open mic, I have to admit I was intimidated when I saw the building. The view from my car window was of a corner coffee shop that was filled with people. On the sidewalk outside were about 10 musicians with guitars tuning and playing songs while the open mic was starting inside. I circled the block about 3 times looking for parking and building up the courage to go into this new place all by myself. I have to admit, I can be a bit like a 10 year old girl at times, reserved and shy about new places and new people. After considering to turn around and go back home several times, my nervous subconscious telling me that I would never find a parking place, I found a parking lot in the back with free parking after 6pm. At that moment, I realized I had no excuse not to go in. I decided to leave my keyboard in the car, in case I wanted to chicken out and not ask to play…then it would look like I was only there to listen and I could slip out without risking looking foolish.
When I got inside the building, I saw that the stage wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I had imagined it, the people were really friendly, and the gracious host Mike Shax could fit me in on the end open mic list. I ordered an iced Chai and a grilled cheese sandwich, and sat at one of the diner-style tables to watch the performers. I heard musicians of all experience levels sharing their well-rehearsed songs. A young man wearing a bandanna on his head and with tattoos on his arms and fingers took the stage. He played and sang a traditional folk song on his banjo with professional skill. Small ensembles (bands) came on and shared their original music. I had the pleasure of hearing Joel Benjamin for the first time, a motivational stand-up comedian who is just beginning his career in comedy. Steven Singer (spelling?) has a special act that he performs with his keyboard. The audience requests songs, and he plays them. Sometimes this can take a turn for the hilarious, as people request “a Disney song”, and Steven begins playing (and singing) “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. At the end of the night, I brought my keyboard to the stage and played my favorite original song, “Red”, which was well-received by the patrons that were still occupying the tables and chairs in the dimmed lighting. As we all dispersed from the coffee shop carrying keyboards and guitar cases, I got to meet some of the other performers and share some musical discussion on our way to our vehicles.
The following Tuesday, I made the trip out to Milkboy Coffee Shop again. It was pouring rain, and a 45 minute drive, so once again I barely made it onto the list…and was 2nd to last. I didn’t mind, since I wanted to stay and hear the other performers while enjoying dinner there again…Iced Chai and a grilled cheese sandwich. I managed to make it inside before the open mic began, and got to hear Mike Shax open up with The Ladybug Song from Sesame Street…which is actually a really well-written song! I heard the tattooed banjo man again. His songs were mesmerizing as he plucked the strings in a fast pattern with impeccable precision. Joel Benjamin was there again, and his act and jokes this week talked about politics and religion. Ordinarily, this might seem like a “hot topic” with the crowd, but for this group of open-minded liberals, his witty remarks and interaction were right on target. I heard a woman named Laurie read a poem she had written for her daughter, who was coming that tuesday to visit her from another state. The poem talked about her 35 year old daughter, and the emotions this woman felt at her birth.”Ten fingers, ten toes, one tiny little nose”…(paraphrased). It was a beautiful poem that exposed the mother’s fear that her daughter would not have a good time visiting her as she has grown older and the poem hints that they are both going through hard times in their lives. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you will understand why I couldn’t hold back tears from welling in my eyes while the woman read about singing to her newborn at her breast. Ah yes, and Tommy played heartfelt guitar chords in the background to set the mood. I was doomed for runny mascara. Red-splotched with emotion and teary eyed, I went over to talk to Laurie and thank her for sharing her poem. We talked for a bit about her daughter and mine before I slipped into the ladies room to assess the damage on my mascara. Toward the end of the night, I played my original song “Apple Tree”, talked with a few of the musicians who were still around, and headed back home.
On to the reviewing part…Milkboy Coffee is kind to the musicians performing, and has a regular crowd that is welcoming to newcomers and respectful of the music. If you talk very loudly with friends, expect for the other audience members to kindly “shh” you. Talking is ok, but loud talking while others are performing is rude, and this audience respects the musicians. Milkboy has a LOT of talent that is worth coming in to hear while you enjoy a drink or light meal. (I couldn’t mention all of the acts I saw there, although I wish I could.) I did notice throughout the night that large groups of people would come in, sit down, and not purchase anything. While I appreciate that Milkboy Coffee allows people to come in just to hear the music and doesn’t make it’s patrons pay to have a seat, I worry that if the open mic nights don’t generate enough income it might be cancelled or reduced to once per month like many other venues do. That would be a shame. It’s such a wonderful place to come and share music. If you’re going to try out Milkboy Coffee’s open mic night, you may not be required to purchase anything, but if you bring $4-5 with you, your purchase will help support local musicians who want to share their songs and talent.
Milkboy Coffee …. 5 stars