The center of Hollywood is not the famous intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Vine Street, at least not for musicians. It is actually a small alley off of Selma Ave between Sunset and Hollywood Blvds. This is where you will find the entrance to the Hotel Café, which is neither a hotel nor a café. It is the one venue in LA that every upcoming local and touring musician really, really wants to play at.
Originally started as a coffee shop below a hotel by Marko Shafer and Maximillian Mamikunian – 23 years old at the time with no experience in running a coffee shop – the “HC” has helped launch careers that define music today. Artists like John Mayer, Adele, Sara Bareilles, Katy Perry, Laura Jansen, Meiko and many others honed their sets at the Hotel Café early in their careers.
So when I see a talent that I don’t know – or even one that I do know –on the calendar at the Hotel Café, I pay attention. Not only because I know the artists will be good, but because going to the Hotel Café is a kind of family affair.
Touring artists whose agents manage to get them booked into the HC are often surprised. Despite the fact that it really is on an alley (cleaned up in the past few months – the rat traps and garbage cans have been replaced with potted plants and twinkle lights), it is not the dive bar they often expect. There are two venues, the “Main Stage” with a capacity of about 200 and the “Second Stage” with a capacity of 85. Both rooms are high quality, with good stages, polished dark wood walls, green rooms for the artists, high end sound systems, top notch engineers at the board, and a musician-friendly, we-are-family-atmosphere. This is the way music should be heard
The family feel was in full swing Wednesday night, starting with the 7 pm opening act, country rock singer-songwriter Haleigh Bowers, and stayed warm and happy through the closer, folk-country artist Thomas Gardener Jr., who came on at 10 pm – early in Hollywood time. The family really expanded with James Bradshaw, the golden-voiced Sam Smith-like balladeer from the UK who followed Bowers, and again with my dear friends Peter Anthony and Maddie Elyse, the duo known as Polaris Rose, who played after Bradshaw.
Bowers’ family – and what seemed like their entire neighborhood – was out in force. Even her classically-trained piano-playing pre-med student twin brother was there to help out on the keyboard. They all knew each other and by the time Bowers’ set was over, they knew just about everyone else in the room.
James Bradshaw and LA powerhouse publicity agent Sera Roadnight came into the HC early with a gaggle of friends and others from the music industry. They hung out at the bar, settled into tables and traded stories with the Bowers family after her set. Polaris Rose and their buddies joined the Bowers/Bradshaw/Roadnight conversations and the talk was so animated that Bradshaw had to extricate himself to squeeze 8 people on stage and sing. But he did it and it was worth it. There is nothing like a handsome young man with a mile-wide smile, a British accent and a golden voice to quiet things down,
The conversations started all over again when Bradshaw wrapped up and Peter and Maddie started plugging in to deliver the unique melodic rock they are famous for. Kicking off with songs from their up-coming album, Maddie’s precise base playing mixed with a Cajon beat and Peter’s masterful guitar and modulated voice in new songs that often carried a message. By the time their last note faded away the room was so packed that people had spilled out into the alley.
The music industry in Los Angeles is very competitive, but music itself is a collaborative family affair. When music families are given a space, whether at the Hotel Cafe or a festival or small club with regulars and residences, it flourishes. Musicians do not live and work in a vacuum; they have relatives, childhood friends, mutual aid networks and mutual love networks. These networks and the energy in them are what nourish artists and what keeps many of them playing on top of their day jobs. The Hotel Café last night gave musical families a space, the way it does every week and as other special places in other cities do. To me that is family values in the center of Hollywood.