May 1, 2008

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Starbucks soundtrack changes at night
Manch, Concord stores host weekly live music; in Nashua, it’s movies
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

Most of the time when Mike Ginsburg is in Starbucks, he’s slinging coffee. For the past few Thursday evenings, however, he’s been slinging his acoustic bass with two other band members, bringing music to the South Willow Street café.

He’s still in his uniform, and regular customers recognize him as they walk in for their caffeinated beverages of choice. He waves and smiles in the middle of a song. The trio, who call themselves the Three Old Guys, are a part of a quintet, A Twist of Fate, which plays out on the town.

Ginsburg, a supervisor at the store, which opened in October, organizes and books the music at the store. He’s always looking for other musical acts to showcase. He says upfront that the store does not pay any money for the gig. The musicians do, however, get free coffee.

“It’s an opportunity to play for fun and get a little bit of exposure,” Ginsburg said after a two-hour set last Thursday. Though there will be no music this Thursday, May 1, he has the next six weeks booked, with acts ranging from jazz to singer-songwriters. Heavy metal bands need not apply, as the store’s atmosphere is not suited for that type of music. Also, musicians don’t need to wear a Starbucks uniform to play.

Bringing in music one night a week, Ginsburg hopes, will bring more customers as well.

“What can we do to make the nights more interesting?” he said. It’s challenging, as the store is located in a strip-mall with regular retail hours. Business tends to drop after 7 p.m.

While Starbucks stores are corporate-owned, individual store managers and employees have leeway in what kind of activities they host. At the Starbucks on DW Highway in South Nashua, there’s a movie night every other Friday for young kids, and there are plans for an open-mike night on summer Saturday nights.

At the Starbucks near the Nashua Mall, there is no music yet, though there are plans for it. “We’re trying to get a music night here, probably on Monday and Thursday nights,” said store manager Dianne Desrosiers; it will probably not start until June. She’s also working on a book club night.

The Concord Starbucks appears to be one of the few, or perhaps the only one, to offer to pay performers. The store hosts events once a month. On May 16, Boston-based Kellie Lin Knott will open for Chicago-based Stolie. Employees at the store are thinking about bringing a Thursday open-mike night, but nothing is set yet.