The Capitol Heights

After Action Report – St. Elmo’s Cafe

Posted 11-18-2014

Photo credit Joe Holt

In our everlasting commitment to the Open Mic Challenge, today we’ll be discussing St. Elmo’s Cafe. A friend of ours used to work there, and I’ve been there many of times. Pipin’ hot coffee with some fancy eatings and they even have quiche. This boutique coffee shop is in the heart of Del Ray, which is located in Alexandria, Virginia just over the VA/DC line. (Note to readers: That’s just like the Florida Georgia line but with smaller belt buckles.) St. Elmo’s is very supportive of local musicians and there’s live music there every darn week from Wednesday through Saturday. They have an open mic on the last Wednesday of every month and we decided to stop on by in the midst of a stormy summer evening.

At this point, we’d normally begin talking about the open mic, and sharing details about who runs it and such…but this evening was special. We had a friend stop by to perform with us. And it made for a sirenic evening punctuated by the thunderous fingers of our friend Jeff Farias. That’s right, Jeff. He was all up in there with us. He contacted us a few weeks before the performance. I don’t precisely remember how we started talking about playing together but his opening email’s subject line should’ve read “About breaking it down” because that’s EXACTLY what happened. But more on that later.

Jeff Farias looking menacing
Photo credit Bill Goodman

The doors open at 7:30, but as St Elmo’s says on it’s website “The fun begins at 8.” It’s worthwhile showing up at 7:30, because even on a rainy evening, the open mic was quite packed. A gentleman named Rob Keelin runs the show and he shares the responsibility of running the event with another person. Rob said he’s been running the open mic for two years, then took about a two year break before splitting the hosting duties with Bobby Lake. It’s quite impressive and we admire his dedication to local music. Here’s Rob sharing a smile:

Robert Keelin

Rob commenced the event by introducing himself and many of the others in attendance, and it seemed like many of the people were regulars. Rob played a couple of tunes, and it became apparent that this place seems to favor singer/songwriters and oldies. Which was great because I went away with LOTS of sweet tunes to listen to on Spotify. There were other performers playing similar types of music and we even got to hear a 12-string and then a gent with one of those harmonica holders on his neck (which we’re finding pretty common in our music journey.)

Fast forward 30 minutes and we took the floor. Jeff and Kenny had never met each other and therefore, we’d never played together as a trio. We had delivered Jeff a list of 4 songs to learn and like he a pro he learned ’em all stone cold. We ended up playing 2 of those (Wagon Wheel and Take Your Momma). And here’s the thing about Jeff – he’s a big dude, he makes bigboy music, and he lent ample class to our endeavor with his upright bass. But it ain’t no normal bass. It is a giant aluminum upright bass that glistens silver.

Specifically, Jeff says that it was made in Czechoslovakia at end of WWII, most likely from aircraft war wreckage because train lines were disabled. He said he waltzed into the basement of a music shop in Europe and there it was on the wall for his taking. Here’s a pic of the instrument in all its glory!

Jeff being a basshead

Did he make a deal with the devil for this instrument? Maybe. But with the devil in tow we played a couple tunes and I remember almost laughing after the first downbeat because it sounded so FULL. The change in our sound was stark as I remembered what it felt like playing in a full band. We put on a great show and Jeff even lent his deep voice to the chorus on Wagon Wheel. Apparently everything about him is bass-ey, causing me to wonder if he “gets low” when he dances. It was one of my favorite performances so far in our open mic journey.

Another interesting thing that occured that evening was the St. Elmo’s barista that was eyeing the floor throughout the evening. I thought it was cool that he was so interested, but nooooOOOooooo…he was waiting his turn to play. When his time came, he walked out with a giant red Casio keyboard and we were ready to hear some casiocore. From Urban Dictionary:

Originally a project called Casiocore, it became it’s own genre. Casiocore is music made completely with Casio keyboards and other Casio products.

The guy was a master of his art, but it was like something I’d never heard before. He started playing the type of music that Stephen King goes to sleep to. There were very little vocals and there were samples of the sounds old toys from your childhood made (e.g., Speak & Spell.) He was pitch shifting and really slowing down the samples intentionally making it sound soooo eerie. The music his keyboard made could of easily been the soundtrack to a live re-enactment of Toy Story performed in the style of Nightmare Before Christmas.

As a final set of thoughts, acoustics in the performance area were pretty good and the PA system (owned by Rob) sounds nice. We ended up playing acoustically, which works great in their cozy venue. The place is longer than it is wide, so the sound shoots down the corridor making it easy to hear. One of the only drawbacks was that with all the performers in the same side of the cafe, there wasn’t much room to put the instruments – which can be difficult to accommodate when you have 10 guitarist with their cases. Therefore, moving from one side of the cafe to another was sort of like playing that “the floor is lava” game when you were a child. I was silently hoping Kenny was going to trip and fall.

See y’all next time this thang erupts.

Artist Info

Rob Keelin
Rob was a wonderful host and has asked that we promote the Songwriters Association of Washington. Click the link below and go visit their site!
SaW logo

It looks like a great organization and we’re going to look into joining. They seem to have a lot of open mics on their site that we weren’t aware of…

Mickey Partlow
Mickey is the unnamed barista we mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any of his music on the internet to share. Beware Mickey! Next time we’re going to make a video of you playing!

Jeff Farias
Jeff used to run a radio show and plays in a band with his wife. Here’s a link to their music and website and a Spotify embed with a link to one of Jeff’s songs.

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