‘Expresso Yourself’ at open mic in Winter Park
Sky-Hi News Contributor
Writing matters to Sue Volk, owner of the Mountain Grind Coffee Shop in Cooper Creek Square in Winter Park. So much so that she regularly contributes to a Facebook page called “writing matters” on which she shares short, poetic musings.
Her affinity for creative expression started at a young age.
“I grew up on a farm; we didn’t have a whole lot of entertainment,” said Volk, originally from North Dakota. “I always say boredom is the mother of creativity. If all of your entertainment needs are immediately met, you don’t have to dig deep and find ways to express yourself.”
The desire to share writing and ideas has spurred Volk to experiment with different versions of the open mic night. During the past 10 years, Mountain Grind has been the venue for authors, poets and musicians who want to share their craft live on stage.
This spring, a new series of “Expresso Yourself” open mic nights begins Friday evening, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m., and runs every Friday through the end of March. Each week features a different form of expression: original songs written and performed by musicians, poetry readings, comedy nights, and a philosophical discussion group.
“The only thing that isn’t represented is the visual arts,” said Volk. “Maybe in the next series.”
The Jan. 30 open mic features songwriters performing their own original songs. No tired renditions of classic rock standards. Artists can introduce their songs with background on their inspiration or thought process, which sets this venue apart.
“I think the originals make our open mic night unique in the county,” said Brent Burgess, a barista at Mountain Grind who will also emcee the music. “I think there’s sort of a stereotypical open mic nights — we’re one of the only places changing it up a little bit.”
Burgess comes to Mountain Grind with a wide variety of previous experiences, including playing his own Texas-style folk music and being a preacher, so he has no issue with stage fright.
“I was a musician for years before I played an open mic night. I used to get the jitters but I don’t anymore,” he said.
Burgess is excited about the coffee shop’s openness to trying new things. He is hatching a plan to host a Grand County chess tournament at the shop.
More than music
The Expresso Yourself series also sets itself apart by giving those who can’t carry a tune the chance to showcase their writing or comedic talents.
Aspiring poets can read their own creations or the work of their favorite published poets on Feb. 6 and March 6.
Volk herself has a breadth of work that she draws from to get things started. Her writing background was passed down to her from her mother’s side of the family. Her grandfather immigrated to Canada at only 14, and in spite of very little formal education, he was a gifted poet and writer.
“I think writing was really passed down to me through my family — my mother’s side. I always grew up with kind of a nature for expressing myself, whether it was through writing or drawing,” Volk said.
Two nights in the series require no stage presence or microphone. Socrates Café, a philosophical discussion group based on the Christopher Phillips’ book by the same name, is an open group focused on bringing philosophy out of academic lecture halls and into the public forum — the figurative town square — as the ancient Greeks intended.
Participants do not need any previous knowledge of philosophy. An informal facilitator helps guide the group to a question on which to focus the discussion. For example, the group recently asked, “Can power exist without corruption or self-interest?”
Tabernash resident Sandra Lenga attends Socrates Café because she likes to meet new people and have intellectual discussions.
“For me it’s an opportunity for stimulating conversation with people who have a wide range of views and opinions. I like good conversation about all kinds of topics,” she said. Although personal experience contributes to the discussion, this group moves way beyond small talk to question more broadly.
Getting a good laugh is the order of the night for the comedy and improv open mic events in the series on Feb. 20 and March 20. Have a signature joke or even a true story that gets laughs at dinner parties? Tell it here, to a room full of strangers.
Ultimately, Volk hopes the series will bring people together.
“While we have a core community here, we’re all so busy it’s hard to get people together. This gives people from all different ages and backgrounds an opportunity to come together and create a little community in a place that has so much change,” said Volk.
Attendee Polly Gallagher of Tabernash usually doesn’t venture up on stage, but she appreciates the open forum for expression.
“All of these creative, artistic people from different walks of life come out and share their ideas,” she said.
Mountain Grind offers a coffee, espresso, and tea drinks, gelato and home-made fudge, as well as a full food menu and beer, wine, and cocktails. Find out more at http://www.moutaingrindwinterpark.com.
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In partnership with Winter Park artist Shannon Foley Henn, Cooper Creek Square has debuted a public mural on the retail center featuring stick figures and animals representing donors participating in a new fundraiser.