Breaking through the geographic barrier of boredom that haunts the suburbs usually involves the long haul of public transportation to San Francisco and Berkeley or the ownership of a car, and all its attendant responsibilities. The suburbs rarely offer much alternative entertainment aside from the occasional indie movie at the multiplex or theme night at the local nightclub. Music teacher and member of the band Please Do Not Fight, Zen Zenith has teamed with Aiden Young, Creative Director of The Riekes Center for Human Enhancement to fight the bleakness with an open mic night at The Grind, a Redwood City coffee shop.
The second Thursday of each month, The Grind transforms itself into an all-ages music venue. Young and Zenith approached the owner of the coffee shop, Scott Sapienza, almost two years ago to start the live music event. According to Zenith, the idea, "...began out of a desire to support local art and all-ages events -- both of which tend to be under-appreciated in most suburbs. The Grind was the perfect spot because of its own underdog status as the 'Local Coffee Shop trying to make it in a Starbucks world'..." He adds that all-ages music venues "...are almost non-existent and it's not just Redwood City. Almost all suburban towns under support all-ages venues and all-ages events in general. There's hardly ever anywhere for youth to gather without being under the microscope of some authority figure. All-ages venues and events put everyone on an even plane, which is extremely valuable. Adults have a lot they could learn from youth and vice versa, but it will never really happen in most day-to-day environments."
Attending one of the open mic nights reveals how much it benefits performers and brings together a community of music-lovers. Zen notes that "for the beginners, it's having a spot to get experience -- you only get better at performing by actually performing after all! For the more experienced folks, it's the opportunity to try something a little more daring, to have a space that's more relaxed where they can try that new song or poem and see what kind of reaction it gets. Also, to me, seeing those two types of people performing alongside each other is something really special. Both groups can learn a lot from each other."
I've seen performances by major local acts such as Picture Atlantic and Rin Tin Tiger playing alongside bands like Steve, formed by a few of Zenith's music students. Out of all the music venues I've attended, the crowd at The Grind is consistently the friendliest. A variety of people diverse in age crowd the coffee shop to the point that tables and chairs are set up in the parking lot to accommodate everyone. It's a forum of people chatting against a backdrop of live music, while others squeeze through the coffee shop to get a better view of the performers.
As The Grind's Open Mic Night established itself and received regular performers, Young and Zenith expanded the programming to include a featured headliner once a month. Tribal Suns, a psychedelic folk band hailing from Redwood City, is the pick for August. Victor Cooper and Zach Davis formed the band a few years ago and recently added Justin Happ, bassist, and Jake Nilson, drummer, to their lineup. They are currently recording their debut EP Grow Up Right and are planning a full-length album, titled The Parade of Sound. When asked about why he chose them, Zenith answered, "Tribal Suns has played almost (ALMOST) every single Open Mic Night since we started. It's been incredible to see them grow from playing covers to sharing a full set of their own original material."
Catch Tribal Suns and other artists at Open Mic Night, August 11, 2011, at The Grind, 1200 El Camino Real, Redwood City. Signups are at 6:30pm, show begins at 7. For more information visit openmicnight.tumblr.com.