Coffee House: Holy Family’s Unique Stage Delivers Unforgettable Performances
Prince unleashed his one-of-a-kind talent in 1981 to a sold-out show at Sam’s, now known as First Avenue, in Minneapolis. That single performance revealed the unlimited boundaries of Prince’s musical gifts. For him, it was a place of comfort where he could be himself.
Holy Family Catholic High School also has a stage that has been the launchpad for unforgettable performances. It’s called “Coffee House” and gives students a comfortable venue to reveal their inner talents, on their terms.
“Kids are different after a Coffee House performance,” says vocals teacher Annelise Brown, who co-organizes the event with instrumental teacher Laura Boillat. “It’s a chance for students to finally show themselves for the rest of us to see. They have a chance to be genuine—it is something that is unique to our school.”
Held twice each year (fall and spring) in the school’s Performance Center, Coffee House is a hot ticket. Yes, it’s free to everyone, but for a seat on the comfy couches that encircle the stage, students show up 45 minutes early. It has become the can’t-miss event at Holy Family. The packed house provides energy, fueling performers to step into the spotlight, confront their stage fear and show their true personality.
“Unless you go, you can’t understand Coffee House,” Boillat adds. “It’s really special. It’s an experience. Other schools may have talent shows, but this is way more than that. This isn’t karaoke. And we literally have coffee!”
“Kids get to express themselves in a nonjudgmental area,” adds Brown. “Even if they have mistakes, those are the performances that get thunderous applause and encouragement. It helps get kids through it. It’s where we see the best of our kids.”
A renewed year-end event—Alumni Coffee House—has been added on Friday, May 24 at 7 p.m. The Alumni Coffee House features Holy Family teachers, alumni and 2019 grads, who get to leave on a drop-the-mic moment.
“It’s such a rewarding, ongoing tradition,” Brown says. “It wouldn’t happen if no one showed up or signed up. Now, we’re adding more because Coffee House is so loved. There is nothing else like it out there.”
Celebrating Individual Moments
This past fall, junior Jackie Uhas performed at her first Coffee House. She brought her backup band, friends she met several years ago at the former Minnetonka Music in Excelsior.
Uhas’ gutsy performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” brought the crowd to its feet. So did the vocals of sophomore Marie Fahey, who sang “She Used to be Mine” from the Waitress, with junior Logan Radick providing piano accompaniment. Senior Shannon Hickey, a regular at Coffee House, breezed her performance solo. Each performance left one impression. Wow!
“I think Coffee House is all about fun,” says junior Carson Liebeg, who plays drums and guitar for several performers. He and sophomore bass player Anthony Olson back up several students who need musicians to deliver their best performances.
“We may play for 60 or 70 percent of the acts,” Liebeg estimates. “The way I look at it, if I wanted to do a song and someone wouldn’t help me, I wouldn’t like that. So I try to play for as many people as I can.”
That’s the coming together and support that makes Coffee House unique.
“There isn’t a winner or loser. Coffee House is just for fun,” says senior Eve Breimhorst. “Sure it’s hard work. But the payoff is you get to do this cool performance for whoever wants to come. And most of the school is there.”
Liebeg describes it this way: “It’s like game day for arts. It’s a chance to show off your talents like others do on the field or court.
“I think more people should come out and do magic, card tricks or maybe a standup act. If you have an idea, talk to Ms. Brown or Ms. Boillat. It would be great to see even more creative freedom.”
Rooted in the Music Department
Between individual student performances, Holy Family’s Jazz Band and Voices of Fire make regular Coffee House appearances. It’s their chance to take the stage and share some favorites in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Without Voices of Fire experience, Breimhorst admits she may have never found the courage to take the stage to perform at Coffee House.
“I definitely was shy and didn’t want to do solos or participate in Voices,” Eve admits. “Then I tried out (for Voices of Fire) and had my first solo. I loved it and wanted to keep performing!
“I like Coffee House because I get to pick my own songs and music that reflects who I am. I think it is interesting to see and hear music other people pick and how it reflects their personalities.”
Brown has her own experiences that have shaped what Coffee House is today. A 2004 graduate from Holy Family, Brown remembers the early years, before there was a Performance Center with proper acoustics.
“I was in the first Voices of Fire that started Coffee House,” she recalls. “We held it in the ‘cafertorium’ and it was very jazz-focused. We learned music has to be fun. So we stopped being fancy. Now, it’s a chance to enjoy, sit on couches with your friends and have fun.”
Your Chance to Be a Star
About a month before each scheduled Coffee House, Boillat and Brown post a sign-up sheet and conduct auditions. Students perform a small sample of their act. You’ll be slotted into the program if your performance is ready for prime time. The rest is up to you. Practice and polish come on your own time.
One week before Coffee House, students can take to the stage, perform a sound check and discuss lighting with the student-led stage crew. Before you know it, it’s GO TIME!
Each Coffee House starts at 6 p.m. That way, most students can attend after sports practices or other after-school events and still get home early enough to finish homework.
“We pack the house every time. Kids will stop in after basketball games and other activities,” Brown says. “That’s the way it should be. It’s put on for everyone to enjoy. It’s our gift to you.”
Boillat adds this final thought: “It takes personal strength to get up in front of peers and perform. High school is not the easiest time to express yourself. We love how loving and caring other students are here to let you do that.”
Join us for our next coffee house on Friday, April 26, at 6 p.m. in the Performance Center.