It all began with Kaldi the Ethiopian goatherd and his dancing goats. According to a legend whose printed origins date to the 17th century, Kaldi noticed that his goats became more vivacious after eating a certain red berry. A wary monk, after hearing this information, threw Kaldi’s proffered beans into the fire. The bewitching aroma of the roasted beans made him rethink his skepticism, so the two men retrieved the beans, pulverized them, and added them to hot water for consumption. Thus coffee was born.
“Coffee is culture, ever since its creation,” said Todd Spitzer, co-owner of Iconik Coffee Roasters (1600 Lena St.), Santa Fe’s newest caffeinated watering hole. “Politics and revolutions are created out of coffee shops. Music movements, artistic movements, poetic movements, political movements — they start in a coffee shop because people are getting together and talking.”
A lot more than talking occurs in many coffee shops. In fact, while Spitzer was sharing his thoughts with Pasatiempo on a recent Tuesday night, the band Jaill provided a blaring live soundtrack. The Milwaukee-based rock quartet would be a good catch for any small-town venue, being on the Sub Pop roster (one of the biggest labels that can still lay claim to being indie), and the band and Iconik seemed well matched.
The harmonious relationship between music and coffee shops is nothing new. History abounds with examples of performers, both obscure and famous, sere nading patrons as they drink Kaldi’s preferred refreshment. But in Santa Fe, with more and more local bars stumbling in recent months — Stats, The Underground at Evangelo’s, Legal Tender, and Ore House at Milagro have all either closed or are reorganizing — coffee shops are increasingly filling the void left by these more traditional music venues.
Iconik joins the ranks of Betterday Coffee (905 W. Alameda St.) and 317 Aztec (317 Aztec St.) as performance spaces that lie somewhere between bars and house venues. Of the three, Betterday is the most music-oriented, having an actual stage in the back of the room and a track record of multiband shows that extends more than a year. Aztec can claim consistency, hosting a weekly open-mic session on Tuesday nights as well as the occasional singer-songwriter showcase. Iconik, however, currently shows the most eagerness to become a vibrant mainstay of local music.
“We want to get a beer and wine license and actually stay open [later] and serve food. Then the music will be appropriate for the crowd,” Spitzer said. Hosting bands was not part of the original intention for the space. But Spitzer explained that after putting on a weekend of successful shows in June for local band Evarusnik, Iconik was immediately inundated with requests from other people wanting to play or produce shows there.
In this category is promoter and KSFR deejay Alex Pozo, who organized the Jaill show. Pozo has plenty of insight regarding the coffee-shop music experience, having booked bands at all three of the places mentioned above. After arriving in Santa Fe, he spent a few years bemoaning the lack of live music opportunities in town, especially for touring bands. “I felt like a hypocrite after a while, so I thought, well, I’ll try doing something. And it was so easy,” he told Pasatiempo.
Pozo first brought bands to Aztec, where he was working at the time, and then, starting last summer, put on a series of successful shows at the newly opened Betterday. Driven by a DIY approach, he faces the occasional out-of-pocket expense due to the unofficial nature of the work. However, for him this disadvantage is offset by the opportunity to showcase underexposed music. “I never did it for the money. I wanted to promote bands that I felt needed to be heard, like Luke Carr,” a rock musician who was formerly in the band Pitch & Bark but now focuses on solo work.
One obvious advantage coffee shops hold over bars is that people don’t have to be of drinking age to get onstage or even through the door. Pozo stresses that he prefers his shows to be all-ages. “When I started at Betterday, it was the kids from 15 to 18 who were really grateful there was a show there — and also really shocked and surprised.” This demographic continues to be strong at Betterday; during a June 22 hip-hop show, fans under 21 were out in full force.
For some, however, the inherent downfall of all-ages venues is that many late-night music audiences want a buzz from alcohol, not caffeine. When asked whether the availability of liquor impacts the show experience, Pozo seemed to think that the issue was mostly one of expectations. “There’s a stigma between coffee shops and bars already. When people think of coffee shops they’re like: It’s probably gonna be something laid back, semi-acoustic, low impact.”
But shows like the Betterday hip-hop showcase and Jaill’s Iconik appearance overturn the assumption that coffee shops only play host to sweater-clad folk singers or beat poets. Referencing the famous New York City punk club, Pozo joked that his original goal was to turn Betterday into “the CBGBs of Casa Solana; I book for the standing-up audience, not the sitting-down one.”
His is just one approach, however. The underlying reality is that by providing space for performers to set up and space for listeners to assemble, coffee shop venues offer the two most basic essentials for all types of live music. Providing space to sit down and space (for humans or goats) to dance is just a bonus. ◀