It’s true, the West Shore isn’t singularly known for its stock of chic coffeehouses serving up local music acts alongside Americanos. But in Highlands, a rustic community building has been brewing its own earthy version of the music coffee house for nearly two decades now, leading the way for community-based arts events in the region.
For the past 17 years, a group of volunteers has been organizing a monthly get-together at Highlands’ Caleb Pike House, a quirky old building built in 1883. It is now a venue for community meetings, gatherings and the Highlands Music Coffee house.
Organizer Zhinoos Armstrong has been involved with the event since 1998 and recalls their initial excitement.
“We wanted to create a place where people would get together for love of music, and at the same time, be able to meet their new and old neighbours and friends,” she said.
At first, musicians played at the coffee house for free, with admission by donation. Any profits went toward buying snacks for the audience, with the rest donated to charity, as is still the case today.
As word got out about the venue, the organizers began paying the bands, and asking the audience for a $5.00 cover. But they never denied anyone access for lack of funds, especially kids.
“We especially wanted to promote music and arts among children,” Armstrong said. Indeed, past events have been exclusively geared for young ones to showcase their talents to parents, neighbours and pets alike (Inca Warrior the llama has attended in the past).
These days, the coffee house is still going strong, despite their rural location.
“Because our venue is tucked away, and because we haven’t done much advertising, not too many people from neighbouring municipalities know about us,” Armstrong explains.
But with the charming setting, beautiful acoustics and an increasingly talented roster of bands, it seems likely that once word gets out, the group may have to look for a bigger venue.
“I have been told that they are working on the acoustics of the new hall in the Highlands, so that place is a prospect for us.”
Armstrong said she’d like to see more collaboration between West Shore artists and venues.
“In the Highlands for example, there is the new beautiful hall, where larger music events could be held. Or if other West Shore communities have large venues, we could utilize those.”
She also hopes that a yearly West Shore music event might evolve from such collaborations.
In the end, though, it’s about the music and making people happy.
“The best payback has been people telling us how much the evening lifted their spirits. Just the fact that we get together, talk, laugh and smile, it all helps to lift up our souls and give us energy.”
The Highlands Coffee House takes place on the second Saturday of every month, at 1589 Millstream Rd.
An “Open Mic” begins every evening, with local artists invited to perform.
Shannon Carman is a member of the West Shore Arts Council.