The Keynote Cafe
by Karen Fetter
Many people are passionate about Jeannette, PA, some for its great history as the “glass city” and others for its High School sports, particularly football (go Jayhawks!) However, over the last five years a new significance has been attached to this Westmoreland County town. It has become a haven for local musicians and artists, all thanks to Jill Sorrels, the owner of the Keynote Cafe.
The Keynote Cafe can be found at 416 Clay Avenue in downtown Jeannette. Through showcasing local talent and because of its easy, “laid-back” atmosphere, it has gained popularity throughout Westmoreland County and beyond.
“This has evolved into so much more than what I anticipated. It was never about making money; it was about making music. Every night has been amazing,” explained Jill.
The Keynote Cafe is open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night beginning at 7 p.m. Because the Cafe doesn’t serve alcohol, it is not under any restrictions to close at a certain time. Therefore, the closing time varies depending upon the musicians and if they are in a groove.
Open Mic Nights for Local Talent
Each night begins with an open mic (microphone) where musicians can sign up for a half hour time slot and play in front of the crowd. All genres and ages participate, including such favorites jazz, blues, country, under 21, 20-somethings, and the list goes on. Then at 10 p.m., the stage opens up to a joint jam session where everyone plays together.
“It’s about making music and having fun. It is amazing to see the young learning from the old and seeing friendships evolving,” said Jill. “We have had kids as young as four years old and adults over 80 who play here. How can you beat that?”
The only fee is a cover charge at the door which is $4.00 Thursday night, $6.00 Friday night, and $8.00 Saturday night. This usually includes pizza, subs, and soda drinks. Everyone always brings extra food and drinks so people eat and drink all night long.
Bands, Trios, and Solo Acts
Friday night features an acoustic showcase where bands, trios, or solo acts play. The building is three floors with a balcony, which makes the acoustics perfect. The first floor holds the cafe, while the balcony overhead has a lounge. The basement features a stage where the bands perform. Almost all musicians are amateurs, but there are some underground professionals that come through.
“The young kids usually know who the bands are that come here. Promoters will book the Cafe on a Sunday for a show,” said Jill. “Some of these bands will break through and some don’t want to because they like playing on a smaller scale.”
The biggest joy Jill gets is from seeing the children perform. “I see them go up to the microphone for the first time and then all the sudden they open their mouths and magic comes out,” said Jill. “Many of our young kids have gone on to become big talent. It is bittersweet to see them grow and go away, but then they come back just to see us and play music with us.”
Visit the Keynote Cafe on YouTube
To see the excitement for yourself, visit www.youtube.com/ourkeynotecafe. The videos are chosen from the monthly song crafters night that takes place the last Thursday of the month. Performers can come in to play two songs, be interviewed, and then play a third song. Each person is recorded and the video is placed on YouTube.
Despite the fact that some musicians have moved on, Jill constantly fights to keep the Keynote Cafe pure. “Money is the root of all evil and I fight to keep it pure. If it ever stops being fun then I will close the doors. We opened because there was no place to go to play music. But now this idea has caught on and it’s everywhere.”
Jill’s idea to open the Keynote Cafe came from her love of music. Her ex-husband was a gifted musician and would have friends over on the weekends to play songs, eat, and have fun. After their divorce she realized how much music was a part of her life. She started going with a friend to an open mic night in Pipetown at a VFW and always had so much fun. That is when the idea occurred to her.
“I like music and musicians and wondered what would happen if I opened a little place for them to play in. I never would have imagined that this is where it would be now,” said Jill. “If someone never gives a musician a place to play, how do they know their talents? Old faces meet new faces and we keep creating our own entertainment.”
More than Music – the Keynote Cafe Supports the Arts
The Keynote Cafe does not just explore the art of music. It also gives local artists a creative venue. When the Cafe first opened there was a lot of wall space so Jill invited local artists to hang their work. The artists get exposure and the Cafe has beautiful artwork to decorate the walls.
Also, for the first time on December 2, the Cafe will host two local authors who have published works that will be signing books and performing readings. All are invited to attend and experience another form of art at the Cafe.
“When people come through our doors, they will feel protected. There are magic moments that happen here and the juices are always flowing,” said Jill. “If people have experienced playing music in our Cafe then I know music will be in their lives forever.”
Experience the underground world of local music and hear musicians play by visiting the Keynote Cafe in Jeannette.
The Keynote Cafe
416 Clay Avenue
Jeannette, PA 15644