Open mic scene, May 2023. / Brynn O'Connor photoOpen mic at Donut Villa in May. / Brynn O'Connor photos

More than two dozen people, from as close as down the street and from as far away as Andover, flocked to Jam'n Java's open mic night May 5 at Broadway Plaza's Donut Villa to enjoy music, food and fellowship.

This was only the second time that the event had been held in person since the Covid-19 pandemic began; the first time was April 7.

Jam’n Java has been an Arlington institution for years; its organizers look forward to celebrating its 14th anniversary in June. It has finally returned to in-person performances, as the event had gone — as so many others also had — onto Zoom during the pandemic.

“It’s like listening to a record [versus] being at the concert.
It’s a whole different experience.” 

-- Mark Sandman

“When we were doing it virtually, we were doing it to ‘keep the music alive,’ ” said Mark Sandman, one of the hosts of Jam’n Java, at the May event.

Contributions welcome ...

However, the Zoom performances came with challenges. “It’s like listening to a record [versus] being at the concert. It’s a whole different experience,” Sandman said.

Jam’n Java has a long history in Arlington. Before the pandemic, the open mic was hosted by Kickstand Café — a restaurant originally named Jam’n Java. It was a beloved and popular event — so much so that when the venue was purchased a few years ago and became Kickstand Cafe, Select Board members requested the new owners continue hosting the open mic.

“It’s a great outlet for people who want to get together and listen,” said Ken Karnofsky — a volunteer and performer at Jam’n Java, “It’s welcoming [and has] a good audience and great friends.”

With the larger community now making a slow but safe return to prepandemic normalcy, the Jam’n Java team believed it was finally time to log off the computer.

“It feels great to see people again and be in person
— you know, the Zoom thing gets old.”

 -- Steven Rapp

“It feels great to see people again and be in person — you know, the Zoom thing gets old,” said Steven Rapp, an Arlington resident and first-time audience member at the event.

Sandman said he appreciates the memories made at Kickstand Café. But when that venue during the pandemic reduced its operating-hours and inside capacity, it was time for Jam’n Java to find a new home, very nearby, at Donut Villa, which opened its doors in February at Broadway Plaza. The restaurant has a cozy feeling, with classic diner foods, a friendly wait-staff and a back room where Arlingtonians now can find the open mic.

On May 5, audience members said it felt as though they were sitting in someone’s living room watching friends play.

Ken Karnofsky, Dennis Deldonno and Kenn Mattson.From left are Ken Karnofsky, Dennis Deldonno and Kenn Mattson.

'Dear Arlington'

“This is a tremendous deal for musicians in the community,” songwriter Mario Pita said. For his performance that night, he prepared an original song, titled “Dear Arlington,” dedicated to the town. He said it was inspired by his appreciation for the town’s beauty.

On that Friday evening, musicians performed a variety of music for roughly 30 people to sit back and enjoy, and many even joined in. That’s something Sandman noticed was new this time around — spectators were singing along. Whether it was to an iconic Beatles tune or a Bob Dylan hit, almost everyone played a part in the performance.

“It’s so wonderful to have an audience and see how people react,” singer-guitarist Doug Greenfield explained, “This is a great community. They’re really supportive.”

Jam’n Java plans to continue hosting the open mics at Donut Villa the first Friday of every month, starting at 7 p.m. Musicians are strongly advised to arrive by 6:30 p.m. to sign up, as acts perform on a first-come basis, and the lineup can get long. Sandman was pleasantly surprised at how many people came to last month’s show, when 26 signed up; this month had a similar turnout.

All musicians welcome

Jam’n Java welcomes every musician (and, of course, listeners), no matter their experience levels. On May 5, there were people who had been performing publicly for decades and others who stood before an audience for the first time.

Instrument caeses at May 2023 open mic

Brigitte Leschhorn from Andover was in attendance that night in support of their spouse; it was the first time their partner had been on stage in Arlington.

“Everyone is creative. If we don’t have community events to have an outlet for that creativity, then it gets repressed,” Leschhorn said, also elaborating on why open mics are essential for artists.

“We work all day. We do our jobs. So few of us get the chance to do creative work for a living, so these events allow for that creativity to come out for all kinds of people.”

Music lovers can stay up to date with Jam’n Java through its website and via social media, and they may sign up to receive a monthly email announcement with updates and upcoming opportunities. Those interested may visit the website >> or the Facebook community. 

The Jam’n Java crew, their audiences and everyone at Donut Villa appeared thrilled to welcome back the town’s cherished open mic. As Pita said, “I don’t know that there’s anything [else] like it in Arlington.”  

This news feature including photographs by YourArlington freelance writer Brynn O'Connor was published Monday, May 15, 2023.