Sunday, March 4, 2012

Places: The Third Street Coffeehouse

In 1988, I was living in Birmingham, Alabama and working for Norfolk Southern.  In that capacity, I traveled to the Roanoke offices once a month.  Burning up I-81and eyes blazing with dreams of singer-songwriter stardom, I searched for venues in which to perform that would match my itinerary.  It was then that I discovered the warm haven in the Star City known as The Third Street Coffeehouse.
This venue thrives in southwest Roanoke City in the basement of the Trinity United Methodist Church, and the space once served as a Boy Scout den.  Church members had renovated it only a year earlier.  Their dream was to build a coffeehouse. The result is the “mother of all coffeehouses”.  It has more simple rustic charm, warmth, and acoustic goodness than 1,000 pricier and more ambitious establishments.  Long before there was a Jefferson Center or a Kirk Avenue, Third Street wrote the book on “listening room”.  It was here that Roanoke won my heart.
For the last 25 years, the little coffeehouse that could raises the roof in song every Friday night.  It is a non-profit operated by volunteers for the love of song.  Open mic starts at 7:30, and the headliner goes on about 8:15 PM.  It is also home to the monthly meeting of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association (
It features hardwood floors, genuine log walls, a little stained glass, and candlelight by teacups.  The low ceiling is printed with the names and bare feet prints of Boy Scout initiates nearly 100 years ago.  Were this in Austin, we might call it a Mecca for the troubadour.  But, in gentle Roanoke, it seems to remain a secret.  Walk down those three little steps at the corner of 3rd Street, SW and Mountain Avenue, and one enters a different world.  Time seems to slow down just a little bit.  People are kinder and gentler.  When performers are performing, the audience speaks in a library whisper.
At intermission, all proceeds from the hat that is passed throughout the room go to the entertainer.  Coffee, tea, sodas, popcorn, and desserts are offered for modest price.  Nobody gets rich there, at least, not in money.  No, the rich part comes in other ways in this unique ministry.  In all these years, no one has bid me come to a service.  No one has preached to me (though musicians are asked to keep it family oriented).  Rather, there is a simple, quiet welcoming and acceptance of everyone.  For the audience member, Third Street offers a relaxing night of song, usually (but not always) singer-songwriter based.  The greatest gift may be to the performer, for the room listens to your every word: your every note.  It is the perfect room to hone one's craft as a teller of stories.  Many of the people who signed my mailing list in 1988 remain on that list to this day and still support my music.
So many performers wish to play there, and it is tough to get a date.  Just some of the amazing songsmiths include; David Simpkins, Chris Shepard, Another Roadside Attraction, Tim Seeley, Dollar & Walker, Greg Trafidlo, David LaMotte, Bill Hudson, Marc Baskind, Al Coffey, Grace Pettis, the late Samuel Thomas Mann, Pops Walker, Bill E. Payne.  All of these and so many more have stood on this stage.  The venue draws touring musicians as well. Last summer, Tim Rice from Portland, Maine performed.  Michigan native Matt Kroos entertained on a double neck guitar in February.
On April 13th, the Third Street Coffeehouse celebrates its 25th Anniversary.  I am honored to be making an appearance.  Of all the venues in eleven states in 25 years, The Third Street Coffeehouse remains home to my musical heart.  You are invited April 13th, and any Friday night.
Sign up for open mike 7-7:30; open mike performances 7:30-8:15; featured performer from 8:30-10. This is a smoke-free, alcohol-free, no cover charge venue!  A hat is passed for donations to the featured performers. For more information, please contact Marian McConnell at 540.309.4707; or email Check them out online at: and also on FaceBook.

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