A.J. Evers has become something of a fixture at the Depot Coffee House in Hopkins, at least on Tuesday nights, when it hosts an open mic.
For Evers, a regular since he was a high school freshman in 2008, it’s a good time to try out new material, be it rap, spoken word, poetry or just philosophical ramblings, depending on his mood and the vibe of the room.
Whatever he decides to do on a given night, “I get a free cup of coffee or tea and I get to see people who I don’t see otherwise,” he said, adding, “I’m surrounding myself with positive vibes.”
Evers has come a long way since he first took the stage at the Depot — he remembers being “super nervous” — and it has given him a platform to share his talents, connect with other artists and simply hang out.
That ties in with what the Depot is all about: It’s a place for youth all over the west metro and beyond to “learn, relax, and have fun while directing both a coffee shop and an entertainment venue” in a chemically free environment, its website states.
The Depot, housed in a tiny former train depot along a bike trail, is distinct in that a youth board of directors oversees things, with adult guidance. The city, Hopkins School District and Three Rivers Park District are partners in running the Depot.
John Guertin, the youth coordinator, said it strives to be welcoming to everyone, though “our main concern is that those in high school have a place to feel safe, hear great music and perform live.”
The Depot, which originated in 1998, is one of few all-ages venues around. “That’s our niche,” he said.
The coffee shop has a busy calendar that features live music, open mic nights, community meetings, fundraisers and often in the summertime, graduation parties.
For starters, on Friday nights, high school bands get preference, and they can play for the whole evening or bring in a couple of other groups to do complementary sets. Their styles and genres vary wildly. Live music is also scheduled for Saturday nights, which is a relatively recent addition.
Old Tyme Stringband Music Jam and separately, a classic guitar meetup, are open to anyone and happen monthly at the coffee shop. Seasoned players lead the jam sessions, Guertin said.
On Friday, July 3, an all-ages hip-hop show, “Rhapsody,” will help raise money for the Depot. Max Taylor, a high school student who is a regular at the coffeehouse, organized the event, Guertin said.
On Saturday, Aug. 1, Drelli’s Night Out, a rap group, is performing, while on Aug. 22, thrash metal bands will be showcased, he said.
A welcoming atmosphere
Tuesday open-mic nights are a draw for stand-up comedians, spoken word artists, singer-songwriters and more. They’re a chance to “check out talent. We get a lot of the same characters showing up, which is pretty fun,” Guertin said.
People get 15 minutes to try out their acts. “We give people a great format, an easy location and the chance to try out stuff and feel supported,” he said.
The Depot also records players, so “we’re expanding our horizons into mastering,” which can be a big help for emerging artists, especially since it has state-of-the-art sound equipment, he said.
The setup is ideal, and players can hone their craft in front of an audience that’s very welcoming, he said.
To maintain that kind of atmosphere, the Depot has some house rules. “We don’t encourage moshing or explicit language,” Guertin said. “When things are crossing the line or inappropriate or alienating to people, we’ll pull the plug on that.”
He encourages people to come and “hear some live music and celebrate life and beauty in a welcoming atmosphere.”
Samer Bakri, a recent graduate of Jefferson High School in Bloomington, played acoustic guitar mainly at home over the past year. It was a new instrument for him, but he seemed to catch on quickly.
Eventually, the singer-songwriter got brave enough to perform in public somewhere, not just for his family and friends.
The Depot had been on his radar thanks to a couple of musician friends. He booked his first-ever gig at the place several weeks ago, returning to participate in an open mic night shortly thereafter.
“It was good practice, to see how the current generation reacts to my music,” which he describes as a pop and hip-hop fusion, adding that it was inspiring to watch others perform, too. “You pick up on what others are doing, see their style and learn from it.”
For more information about the Depot Coffee House or its full schedule, go to thedepotcoffeehouse.com.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.