Every city has a celebrated venue that provides its neighbors a little musical heart and soul. Los Angeles has the Troubadour, San Francisco the Fillmore, and New York had CBGB. For San Diego, that place is a little coffee shop just east of downtown in Poway. While S.D. natives like Stone Temple Pilots and Blink 182 probably only sampled the coffee at Java Joe’s, for a myriad of singer/songwriters, it offered both a good brew and a launching pad for careers.
The names that passed through Java Joe’s read like a who’s who of contemplative music. It was a second home to both Steve Poltz and Gregory Page of the legendary Rugburns. It also hosted one of Jason Mraz’s first gigs and provided the setting for the live album (Live at Java Joe’s) that thrust him onto the worldwide scene. But the legend runs even deeper; prior to Jewel’s early performances there, she worked as a Java barista. And, of course, it was one of the places where Lisa Sanders first took to the stage.
“All of us who are still around now pretty much started at Joe’s,” explained Sanders via telephone from her adopted home of San Diego. “Either that, or we got noticed there. We’ve all had really cool things happen for us in our own ways and that’s where it started. When I turned up, there was Steve Poltz, Gregory Page, and Carlos Olmeda, and Jewel was just starting to make it. I wasn’t playing out as much as some around that time as I was just kind of getting my feet wet.”
Even before Sanders started performing live, music was her constant companion. It was there during her childhood in the projects of Philadelphia. It was there when she moved with her family to San Diego. And it was what fueled her migration to Los Angeles, where she tried her hand at jingle writing. When the jingles ran their course and an opportunity to write for the Jacksons didn’t quite pan out, Sanders headed back to S.D., determined to write songs for other people.
- When: Thursday, January 8, 2009, 9 p.m.
- Where: Mercury Lounge, 5871 Hollister Ave., Goleta, CA
- Cost: Not available
- Age limit: Not available
“I had just come off of doing commercial jingles and I decided that I would pitch songs for other people to sing, but I didn’t have anywhere to try them out,” she recounted. “One night I stumbled into an open mike at a place in Escondido called the Metaphor and there was nobody there, but I got up and played anyway. After hearing me play, the guy who was running the night said, ‘You’ve got to go to Java Joe’s-that’s where all the action is.’ So that’s where I headed.”
After performing a song at a Java’s open mike night run by local physicist-cum-flat-picker Doug Milward, Sanders was invited to open his next performance. Even though she was somewhat short on material, she took him up on his offer. “I didn’t have that many songs, but I went and opened up for Doug, and he turned around said, ‘Now you go out and get yourself some of your own shows,’” Sanders laughed. “This wasn’t what I’d intended. I was just trying out songs for other people to sing them, but he said, ‘Oh no. You’ve got to sing these songs yourself.’”