Opening a whole new world

A family-friendly open mic night that has gained a wide audience for nearly two years continues to grow.

It runs every Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Ha Coffee Bar in Lihue.

It is typically a free-flowing jam session that never ends. On nights when there is a large group, they use a sign up sheet.

The event was founded by Juno Apalla and Joey Charles.

“What keeps us going?” Apalla said. “We weren’t told to keep it going, we just do because Ha Coffee Bar Open Mic community brings passionate people together over fun, laughter, love and life.”

Featured performers are as young as a 19-month-old boy shaking his rattlers to kupuna with a lifetime of stories in song.

Kauai musical legends that stop by time to time include Danyo Cummings, Aldrine Guerrero, Casey Kamakane, Aowl Owens, Daphne Sanchez, Dr. Addison Bulosan, and Mark Baldonado, to name a few. More frequent guests include theatre orchestra and stage performers Paul Koulbanis, Mike Odo, Shanda S. Rego, Isaac Worth, Alan Van Zee, and Liz Kauai.

“Others come whenever they’re home from college, like our dear prodigy Kyle Furushio,” Apalla added.

But the heart of the open mic centers around the unknown amateur and the spontaneity of seeing something special for the first time.

A couple visiting from the Pacific Northwest were on the way to their hotel from the airport when they stopped in for some coffee recently. When they saw it was an open mic, the talented couple jumped on the guitar and the cajon (box drum) to perform.

Another couple in ballroom dance recently performed to the groove of Le Professeur’s music. Dance teacher Andrew Alvin Pascual changed the mood again with his breakdance moves.

One family used the open mic as way to perform together before the daughters returned to college.

“The scene attracts an eclectic array of personalities,” Apalla said.

Apalla is a soprano vocalist who performed in musical theater for several years before returning to her Kauai home. She considers herself retired as a performer but still enjoys taking the open mic stage for special occasions and when friends call her out in the spirit of Ha, a Hawaiian word for breath of life and love.

“The idea began and continues to be about love and life,” Apalla said. “It is a community because we treat each participant as a special guest.”

They wanted to create an environment where anyone is free to express themselves artistically. Ha Coffee Bar is designed for that very purpose and so managers Christian Brooks and Jeff Adams were receptive to the idea and left it to Apalla and Charles to get the word out.

“We saw the need to bring our friends to a space where they felt safe to just jam,” Apalla said. 

Apalla started her first open mic as a resident assistant at Pacific University. Back on Kauai, she assisted Film Commissioner Art Umezu build what is now known as Da Jam Room in Kukui Grove Center.

“The open mic is intended for the residents of the town to continually fill the space with love and life,” she said. “It’s a call for everyone to participate in life on their own accord.”

Joey Charles, a singer, songwriter and president of Le Professeur Music, said the open mic has changed his life and given him the courage to launch a career.

Charles began performing at a young age but confidence and ability was hindered by the anxiety of performing in front of large audiences for extended periods of time. While in Guam, he discovered a coffee shop had recently started a Thursday night open mic, and so he began performing and coming back every week.

“Through those two years, I saw so many people come out of their shells just like I had done that Thursday night in 2011,” Charles said. “I started several open mics after that and some are still running to this day.”

Open mics give people the opportunity to grow and improve. A community forms to encourage, to lift, and to push each other toward new heights they never thought possible, he added.

Charles now plays several area venues and special events and has recorded albums available online. This all stems in some way from the encouraging support of the open mic community, he added, and the Kauai open mic is developing that same spirit.

“It was a place that I could play my originals and get feedback,” Charles said. “It’s a place for networking and a place to inspire the creativity of future generations.

Ha Coffee Bar is located at 4180 Rice Street, Ste 101a, in Lihue.

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