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Donkey Coffee Concerts

Donkey Coffee is known for hosting open stage shows and local musicians

Donkey is known for their intimate atmosphere where local musicians can perform a variety of different genres.


Donkey Coffee and Espresso hosts a relaxing and intimate hang-out spot where first-time musicians can perform while listeners enjoy drinking coffee.

The shop, 17 W. Washington, hosts open-stage performances as a chance for anyone to perform on stage for a 15-minute time slot since it opened in 2002.

Troy Gregorino, Donkey Coffee’s booking manager, said musicians, young and old, come to the open stage sessions each week.

“We’ve had everything from (a) local first year student, (who) never played a song in front of people before, to people who are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees and everything in between,” Gregorino said.

Last Thursday, first singer Michael Tobar, a Marietta elementary school music teacher and a long-time performer in Athens, sang a collection of jazzy blues. In addition to singing, Tobar said he can play the flute, piano and accordion.

“I wear a lot of hats in the music field, which I think somebody has to do if they want to make a living,” Tobar said. “You’ve got to be able to do a lot of stuff.”

Former Ohio University student Cory Love sang while playing the harmonica, guitar and tambourine.

“I feel like it’s an environment more for people who like to listen rather than go and have a good time,” Love said. “It’s quiet, and you can contemplate the music.”

Chris Pyle, owner of Donkey Coffee, said each time slot for Thursday’s open-stage nights are filled, but there has been a decrease in musicians for the Friday and Saturday night performances.

“I think it’s one of those waves where (the number of musicians) kind of dipped and now it’s going back up. I was talking with Troy about this and I wonder if some of it is because people are more into DJ and that kind of thing so they’re less likely to learn a guitar,” Pyle said. “Traditionally open stages haven’t been like that, but maybe we’d allow something like that. Anyone can sign up, so if a DJ wanted to go up for fifteen minutes and do his thing, we’d probably let him.”

Gregorino said the current musicians enjoy the intimate venue and the support of a judgement-free audience.

“Maybe it’s the fact that there’s no alcohol here, but everyone’s just so freaking nice,” Gregorino said. “It’s a very historically supportive kind of crowd, which I think is what brings a lot of people back. But it’s also a place where they get the sense that they’re really being listened to.”

Clara Wilson, a junior studying music therapy,performed for the first time at the open stage last week singing covers and an acoustic mashup of “Price Tag” by Jessie J and “Expensive” by Tori Kelly.

“I feel like everyone who’s listening is just very warm and accepting,” Wilson said. “I don’t feel like there’s any judgements.”

Gregorino said his favorite part of his job is to see the potential in people who are new to performing on stage and to watch the improvement.

“I think people like watching the progression of regular acts over time and combined with the unpredictability of what else might come into the fold,” Gregorino said. “It’s fast moving (with) 15-minute sets, (and) with tons of variety on any given night. It’s just a cool place to see something new.”

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Gregorino said Donkey Coffee also acts more like a theater where the performances are not just background noise as opposed to in a bar.

“It’s very personal, and it’s very intimate . . . You get to see people starting out and practicing their craft,” Tobar said. “That’s one of the things that makes this open mic stage very important, for new performing musicians to get familiar with performing for people.”

After Wilson’s first performance, she said she plans on performing at Donkey’s open stage again.

“I feel like everyone loves music and it’s really, at least interesting for me, to listen to somebody interpret a song in their own way,” Wilson said.

Pyle said Donkey Coffee is like a geek music haven where anyone can really listen to the music.

“I always call Athens this sort of make-believe world where it’s like these parallel universes of university community (intercepts) with real people of Appalachia foothills,” Gregorino said. “(Athens) just reaches a density of music, art and freedom of expression.”


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