Good Music, Great Coffee: Bookophilia’s Open Mic

If you’re looking for the hipster demographic in Kingston Jamaica, look no further than the bookstore/cafe Bookophilia on Open Mic night. Replete with converse-wearing, indie-music-appreciating, dreadlocked guys and gals, it’s certainly the place to be for the creatively analytical mind. And non-smokers too.

I’ve blogged ad nauseam about Bookophilia – it’s one of my absolute favourite places to be when I’m in town. How can I not love a store whose staff has loud discussions about a certain Time Lord from Gallifrey? Conveniently sitting on Old Hope Road, only a taxi ride away from where I live, it’s got an impressive selection of fiction, non-fiction, Caribbean and international bestsellers. Plus coffee, cookies and comfortable couches.

They introduced Open Mic Night last year, much to the delight of the alt-teen crowd, first displaying poetry and occasional musical performances. Then somewhere along the line it turned into a kind of basement jam session (if you can call a brightly lit parking lot ‘basement’) for up and coming reggae-indie blend artistes.While I miss the poetry, I can’t complain about the quality of the performers. Most of time. I’m particularly delighted to have discovered Runkus (aka Paula son), a talented and entertaining Campion grad who performs his own self-styled genre of music called, of course, Runkus.

The last two sessions of Open Mic Night were vastly different. It’s like they read my review. Aside from the concert segment they allocated time to invite performers up to the stage giving them five minutes to share their art. No one really volunteered, but it’s the thought that counts.

They also stuck like glue to the time limit despite starting late, but I think it was poor judgement on the part of the MC. The last artiste was angry, rightfully so, (but also a little over the top) because they limited his set to one song.

Bookophilia: time is valuable, both the patrons’ and the performers’, so it’s only right that you treat us both fairly. Start on time (regardless of crowd numbers!) and that way you can end on time without ruffling feathers.

As it pertains to bring poetry back, every time I ask a member of staff they suggest I take to the mic myself. Perhaps one night I will. But until then, keep feeding us good music, coffee and literature.

Thanks.

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Open Letter to Bookophilia on your Open Mic Night

Dear Bookophilia,

I love your Open Mic nights. I look forward to having them fill my (otherwise depressingly empty) Friday evenings. But the last one I attended didn’t quite sit well with me. Here are some of the things that rubbed me the wrong way, and some handy tips for next time.

Tamo J.
Tamo J, stirring the audience.

1. Punctuality

We were waiting for 45 minutes before anyone came to explain the delay and then another 15 minutes before something actually started. If part of the problem was an absent first act, then just use someone who’s already there. It would really help if all the performers showed up at least a half hour before showtime, which is just being professional.

Twisted Minds
Twisted Minds, creating Jamaican hip-hop.

2. Set Limits

Sometimes there are really good performers whom we wish would keep going for the whole night. Sometimes there are really bad ones who just need to stop, please, and sit down. (Just FYI, everyone in these pictures was really good). In either case, having a maximum of two or so pieces (maybe even one if the piece is really long or really bad) can only be a good thing.

Saraya, song-writer & guitarist
Saraya, song-writer & guitarist

3. Be Flexible

With an already late start and a really long show the limits thing I mentioned gets really important. Which brings me to flexibility. Be open to shifting acts around and cutting them short. Be open to not repeating performers you promised a repeat act. Be nice to your older audience members (like me) who just don’t have what it takes to stay out past 11PM any more.

Exile de Brave & de Yard Drive band.
Exile de Brave & de Yard Drive band.

4. The Vibe

This is a conflicting point. On one hand, I expect a certain kind of atmosphere when I go to Bookophilia: a bookstore/coffee shop vibe. The kind of vibe that doesn’t involve Vybz Kartel and people DJing (badly) about life being all about money and wining girls. That kind of vibe kills my vibe.

At the same time you’re a business, I get it. I get that I have never seen so many people at Bookophilia since ever. I get that you guys probably sold more muffins and coffee Friday night than you have sold in a long, long time. So that’s plenty of encouragement to keep doing what you’re doing.

Runkus, who defies genre.
Runkus, who defies genre.

But I think the spirit of an Open Mic is less about crowd-pleasing and more about creativity-sharing, less popularity and more community. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. Maybe I’m a bad business person. Or maybe I just miss the intimate line-up of indie poets and songwriters that made me feel like part of something special.

So, please, make money. I expect Bookophilia to be around long enough for me to take my unborn children to your Saturday readings. But, please, don’t commercialize your product (too much). You’ve got a good thing going (what with the Doctor Who geeks who work there and make me feel like less of a crazy person).

Hold on to that independent-bookstore-coffee-shop vibe. I need that.

Sincerely yours,

A Bookophile Saxophonist.

If brevity is the soul of wit, does that mean short people are really clever?

Hello, friends. Today I come bearing gifts. Mostly gifts to myself. But sharing is caring?

My blog turned three years old on Friday May 2.

Yay.
Yay.

For me, it is still Friday May 2 because I’m still awake at one in the morning on Saturday May 3. At my ripe age of 22 I am too old to keep these hours. It’s taken me almost every day of those three years to finally figure out the purpose of Well Read Robin, which is vastly different now from what it started out as.

I started with Project 52, a misguided plan to write once a week for an entire year that crashed and burned fairly quickly. My content was all over the place, I had no unifying theme and every time I sat down to write I’d draw a blank because I just couldn’t figure out what I needed to say.

I’m happy to tell you that I have finally found that purpose, which I think aligns well with the name of my blog (big plus). As my default, go-to question whenever I am stumped on the content of a post I will ask myself “What did I last read?” and then talk about that. Not review style (not always) just talking about how it made me feel and my response to whatever it was. Of course, there will still be posts about life here at UWI Mona because I think the world needs to hear about that too.

I wrote a thing.

Bookophilia’s marketing manager (I do not stalk these people, I swear) has a blog and he started a writing competition which I have entered. My short story can be found here – Mind Manifesting – and I’m somewhat proud of it. So if you can, please go over there and comment so I can feel all warm and squishy inside. You guys are good at giving me warm squishy feelings.

That’s all for now, but stick around to check out my post later today on surviving 4th year.

Thou shalt not be fresher than . . .

It is amazing that I balk at spending $1500 on a novel, but don’t bat at eye at $3000 textbooks.

Last week, I went to Bookophilia’s Open Mic Night with my best friend D and had a great time. There was poetry and music, and musical poetry and pretty boys who could rap and play the guitar. As in pretty boys who could rap and pretty boys who could play the guitar. No multi-talented pretty boys, I’m afraid. But the guitar-playing pretty boy looked like jailbait and anyway I’ve already got one handsome, charming guitarist in my life, and let me tell you: they are a handful.

Anyway, I came away from that night with a few conclusions:

1. Spoken word is meant to be spoken, not read out of a book. Note to self for future (performing?) purposes.

2. Aeropostale-wearing, Standard English-speaking boys singing about hustling is kind of hilarious. I mean, really, hustling? In Barbican?

3. Someone needs to give a headband to the boy who kept flipping his dreads back the entire time he was on stage.

4. If a boy starts a love song with a certain girl’s name then spends the entire song looking soulfully at every girl in the audience except her, it is safe to say he is not a Good Fellow.

5. Unrequited love looks both tragic and poetic from the outside. Perhaps moreso when the guy comes off as a total player (tragedy) while the girl looks sweet and completely besotted (poetry).

6. And finally, the best bookstores serve coffee. On couches. With ambient lighting.

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Check out Bookophilia’s Open Mic Night every first Friday of the month. And their Facebook page here.