BY: TARA CAPEL
Nestled amongst the charming eateries, art theatres and vintage clothing stores that are naturally associated with Long Beaches local hot spot, Fourth Street is the essence of freshly brewed Arabica beans and the sound of live music flowing from individually owned coffee shops. One in particular is Viento y Agua Coffeehouse. It is hard to pass by with its array of cosy couches and indie vibe. This local hang out lounge offers a great place to study or catch up with a friend. Viento y Agua Coffeehouse, however, is particularly known for its open mic nights, held on the second and fourth Thursday of every month where everybody is given an opportunity to shine.
When entering Viento y Agua, your senses are usually drawn to the counter where coffee is being made, and freshly baked goods and sandwiches alike are placed on display. However, inside the darkened cafe on these open mic nights, you are instead drawn to the left, where a small concert room stands focused on a single wooden stool. Inside the dimmed concert room the audience sits, stirring their coffees and sipping smoothies out of jars. The stage is lit with blue undertones and curtained with red velvet drapes. A rustic piano sits off to the side creating the tone for the mic night.
First time performer at Viento y Agua’s open mic night, David Tucker, mentioned how much he enjoyed performing at the coffeehouse. “I like how everybody felt comfortable,” he said. “Usually at other open mic nights, not all the performers look comfortable when on stage.”
Host and performer for the open mic night at Viento y Agua, Alyssandra Nighswonger, mentioned that a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere is exactly what she tries to attain for each performer on stage. “I try to establish a very open and warm atmosphere with this open mic night, I feel like that’s very important,” she said. “I want people to walk in and feel like there is no judgement, it’s a very diverse audience but people can come and feel like they can just give whatever they’ve got to give and just feel comfortable, you know.”
The first open mic night for the coffeehouse was in 2005 and has been attracting aspiring musicians and poets since. Nighswonger has been hosting the mic night for almost five years and noted that she loves seeing what people have to offer.
People from all walks of life fill the coffee shop to perform or to sit back and listen to what others have worked on. “ Old musicians, young musicians, different genres, people who have been playing forever and people who need the pep talk to get up on stage for the first time; it’s really something special,” said Nighswonger.
Cal State Long Beach student, and frequent visitor to Viento y Agua’s, open mic night, Rachel Hall, noted how much she enjoys listening to local talent. “I frequently go to Viento’s to study, and on Thursday’s I allow myself breaks to sit back and listen to original music,” said Hall. “So many people are talented and quirky; it’s nice to get away from the drone of overplayed popular music.”
Another frequent visitor to Viento y Agua, as well as numerous other open mic nights throughout Long Beach, Cody Hess, noted how much potential he frequently sees getting up on the stage. “It’s actually surprising just how much talent is walking through the doors of these open mic nights,” he said. “People should definitely not underestimate the quality of the performers who sign up each week.”
Nighswonger mentioned that the open mic night frequently attracts anywhere from 15 to 25 performers each night. “You have the regulars who will come in day after day and then there will be a turn over, there are always new people that I have never met before coming up on stage,” she said.
Long Beach is quickly becoming a mecca for open mic nights as other privately owned coffee shops employ the concept. Coffeehouses such as Portfolio Coffee Shop and The Gypsy Den are also offering similar experiences by hosting open mic nights throughout the week. Similar to Viento Coffeehouse, these coffee shops prepare a simple stage, hand out a list for anyone to sign up on, and let the night flow accordingly.
So the next time you find yourself walking throughout the vintage stores on Fourth Street, stop in for a freshly brewed house coffee and listen to original music. It will definitely inspire more reasons to frequent Fourth Street and its growing culture.
Portfolio Coffee Shop
Every Wednesday at 9:00pm
2300 4th St Long Beach, CA 90814
The Gypsy Den
Every Monday and Thursday
125 N. Broadway Ave Santa Ana, CA 92701