PENOBSCOT, Maine — It’s a coffeehouse with a mission.
The Penobscot United Methodist Church is using the tired and true venue of a coffeehouse to raise funds to help area residents with fuel costs.
Once a month, the church hosts the “Music Buffet Coffee House,” that combines an open mike segment for area musicians followed by a featured performer. A red salad bowl sits on a table to accept voluntary contributions to the church’s Community Fuel Assistance Fund.
Although church members say it started out as an experiment, the monthly coffeehouses have become a popular Friday night community event that regularly attracts an audience of about 35 people.
The coffeehouse grew out of a few informal music nights at the church.
“Some were successful, some only had the performers jamming and having a wonderful time,” said church member Dot McMahon. “At the same time, we were trying to find a way to raise funds for the church’s community fuel assistance fund.”
They turned to two Penobscot residents, Skip Bean and Lin Parker, to see if they could help to turn those informal music nights into a regular coffeehouse.
“They’re in charge of the music, we open the church and provide snacks,” said Trish Robertson, one of the church organizers. “It’s a good collaboration.”
Bean and Parker, both musicians, are regular performers during the open mike sessions and also serve as the emcees for the evening. The format, they said, provides an opportunity for anyone to perform early in the evening, and, after a brief break for snacks, there will be a longer, set by a featured performer.
At a recent session, open mike performances included guitars, hammered dulcimer and mandolin. The featured performers were the Trinity Chicks, a Christian group from Castine.
The audience is mostly local as are the performers and that accounts for some of the popularity of the coffeehouse.
“It’s nice to have something to do in town,” Parker said.
Some in the audience are church members, some local residents and some are friends of the performers, he said. But each time, there are one or two people from out of town.
The musical variety is also a draw for music lovers. Over the months, there has been folk, jazz, gospel, blues and even some poetry reading.
“You know that you’ll get variety in a venue like this,” Bean said. “You never know what surprises you’ll get. Plus you know that the featured act will provide a quality performance.”
The coffeehouse started as a three-month experiment, but proved so popular that it was extended through the summer. The popularity also has added to the coffers of the fuel assistance fund. Since January, the donations from the coffeehouse events have totaled more than $700.
According to McMahon, the church has an arrangement with local fuel dealers. If someone is having problems paying for heating fuel, the dealers contact the church, which draws on the account to help.
“We don’t want the people to have to come and ask for help,” she said. “We don’t want to put anyone in that position.”
Parker and Bean have booked featured acts for the coffeehouse through September and they anticipate continuing beyond that. There is no shortage of local talent, they said, and they could broaden the search for featured musicians if they need to.
For now, they said, they’ll keep it a once-a-month event.
“It gives you something to look forward to,” Parker said.