It’s been 26 years since Joe Flammini opened Java Joe’s, one of the few coffeehouses back then that offered live music with your latte.
2611 Congress Street, Old Town
In 1991, Java Joe’s was located in Poway. The shop moved to Ocean Beach in 1994, then in 2000 reopened at a different location in O.B. (where Jason Mraz recorded two live albums). Eventually he moved to North Park for a while, and last year he settled into the newest location at 2611 Congress Street in Old Town.
“When I started this, I saw the correlation between live music and coffee,” Joe says as we chat in the cozy outdoor setting. “Sure, music brings in more customers, but more importantly, it brings people together and offers an alternative to traditional music venues."
Mesh netting lowers the ceiling, hummingbirds fly around, and the aroma of coffee wafts in the air where we sit next to a small stage (venue max capacity about 70 people).
"We’re seeing less 20- to 30-year-olds, and more 30- to 40-year-olds, probably because our artists are getting older, too.”
A few of Joe’s regular performers include Steve Poltz, Jason Mraz, Gregory Page, Billy Galewood, Jeff Berkley, and Berkley Hart.
“Java Joe created a clubhouse and place of work that I wanted to be a part of,” Jason Mraz told me. “But he didn’t just give employment or stage time to whoever wanted it. Artists earned his respect by being a good writer, a good hang, and being driven. He was and still is very selective and that’s important. It means you’ll always see a good show there.”
Singer/songwriter Gregory Page said, “Wow, has it been 26 years already? I’ve always thought of Joe as a magnet for all of us, pulling us into his arms — the stage. So many different levels of friendships have been developed through him, since day one.”
After so many years in the business, I had to ask, what’s been the most rewarding thing?
“The most rewarding thing has been Jason [Mraz] and Jewel getting established” Joe explained, “and just being here for 26 years, meeting so many great people and artists…. I’m not burnt out; I expect I’ll be here for another ten years.”
I prodded Java for some good stories.
“I remember one time Frank Drennen squirted ketchup and mustard all over the audience at the end of his show and they all ran out,” he laughed. “Another time when we were still in O.B., the cops closed the place down because 300 people were there for Steve Poltz, so he played a tailgate show from the back of his truck in the parking lot for an hour and a half....
Has anyone ever come in and surprised you, unexpectedly just showed up?
“Dave Matthews walked into the O.B. store one day while Randi Driscoll was playing,” Java said. “I didn’t talk get to him because I was working, plus I didn’t know he was there until I saw him walking out.”
Up-and-comers he’s got his eye on?
“Billy Galewood,” responds Joe without hesitation. “He knows how to handle the crowd, he knows how to work the crowd, and he’s a great entertainer.”
Almost on cue, Galewood walks in. Formerly known as Bushwalla, Galewood is hosting a music/comedy show that night but is in early for sound check and to have some fun with his fans.
He straps on his guitar, sets up onstage, and logs into Facebook, where he begins live-streaming his rehearsal, asking viewers to call Java Joe's, and he will personally answer the phone. Calls come in from around the world, including the Isle of Man. Some request Bushwalla songs, and he obliges by doing a "ten seconds of Bushwalla songs" bit that is great entertainment.
Java Joe’s 26th Year anniversary show is December 8 at 7:30 p.m. Guests include Jeff Berkley, Billy Galewood, J’Adore (Patric & Jillian), Courtney Preis, Nina Francis, Veronica May, Bobo Czarnowski, David Beldock, Cici Artemisia, Sven Erik Seaholm — and "special surprise guests."