Coffee meets creativity on Café Salon night

Alex Rhea at Buon Giorno
Alex Rhea at Buon Giorno Special to the Star-Telegram

When looking to get my live music fix last Saturday, I happened on a post from the elusive Deanna Valone. She’s been doing something called Café Salon at Buon Giorno Coffee (my favorite caffeine dispensary) for almost a year now, and on Saturday she would be performing with the wonderful Alex Rhea. I couldn’t miss that, so I headed down to see what these two could do together.

“I started in August of last year, 2016, and I wanted to have an intimate setting where songwriters could play all of their original songs,” said Valone. “Buon Giorno is the right place to do that because it’s so small and there are lots of regulars. This was really cool, a really cool thing because it was really casual.

“The idea was that it would be a musician-friendly song exhibit or showcase — not only play the songs but explain the inspiration behind them and how it was written,” she continued.

Buon Giorno is not a traditional music venue. Coffee shops have long been a place for singer/songwriters to ply their craft. But songwriters need to get paid, and the way songwriters get paid for other people performing their songs in a live venue is through music-licensing organizations like ASCAP and BMI.

This leaves small venues like Buon Giorno in a tough place. They don’t make enough in increased sales from the music to justify the licensing fees, so they usually stop doing music once they get that dreaded demand letter. You can still have live original music, but if just one musician sneaks in a cover and you get caught, the fines are severe.

So Buon Giorno is selective about who it lets play there. It takes a level of trust. Valone already works for Buon Giorno, and classical groups like Open Classical perform only public domain classical pieces. That Buon Giorno will risk it at all shows a high level of commitment to the community it serves.

When I got there, Valone was singing and the pair was live-streaming the show on Valone’s Facebook page. Valone is an amazing force for sonic good, a musician who should be a household name around here. Her guitar playing is flawless, and she has the voice of an angel. Somewhat introverted, she doesn’t do a lot of self-promotion and her gigs can be hard to find.

“Some days I think of it as ‘I’m going to see the new people — what people I end up meeting today,’ ” Valone says, “They are somewhere, they just need music — they need someone to fill that space. And those are fun ones to just go and people-watch and let people watch you and see who comes and says, ‘Hi.’ And some days as an introvert that feels best for me. It’s still social, but it’s an unknown kind of social. Sometimes that feels safer.”

Valone is contemplating putting together a full band, once she finds the right people. If you get a chance to catch one of her performances, you don’t want to pass it up.

Soon the mic was passed to Alex Rhea, who just released an EP last year called “Naked Soul.” Alex is an amazing talent, with a soulful voice and a charming delivery.

I could listen to either of these performers all day. She’s been back in the studio recently with her co-conspirator Maria Demus. The two perform together regularly, and the last time I saw her (at the Grotto), they were together.

“We had a minor falling out,” said Rhea. “I don’t know what it was — I know she wasn’t liking what I was doing but neither of us were saying anything about it. Most everything was pffft. It just exploded.”

“I was there,” added Valone. “It was a silent thing, but it was a tangible thing.”

“You learn more about each other though,” continued Rhea. “That’s how you know someone is going to stick around. Performing is totally different than recording, especially with someone. She has a different approach. There’s nothing wrong with her approach but I didn’t realize she was going to have a different approach and I’m a big ol’ baby. I’m impatient, and I want things to happen my way, all the time, right now.”

No word on when the new album will be out, but I’m looking forward to hearing it. Half the songs will be Rhea’s, and half Demus’s — with the two collaborating on one.