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Music And a Cup of Joe

It's the relaxed nature of musicians in a coffee shop that creates an atmosphere where the espresso machine hisses, business is conducted, and the beat goes on without a hitch. Jimmy "Jam" Wilson, on guitar, even confessed to the audience of a few people on the couch, one in front of the fireplace, and a few other onlookers that the Eagles’ cover tune, "Duelin' Dalton," wasn't perfect. It was off his song list at Caribou Coffee in the Kings Park shopping center in Burke.

"It needs a little practice," he said.

Wilson has been playing at Caribou for the past six months. Although the crowds wax and wane, Wilson has used the audience to hone his act.

"I do this kind of as a hobby. Some Friday nights it's jammed-packed. People aren't always there initially to hear the music. It just fit well for where I was at [talent wise]. I just needed an outlet," Wilson said.

The music was a backdrop to conversation for Caribou regulars Alex Cuccaro and Antonia Naglieri, who are students at George Mason University.

"It creates a nice atmosphere," said Cuccaro of the music.

Naglieri described it as soothing.

"It's better then having really loud rap music like places in the mall," she said.

For Natalie Wilson, 7, who acts as roadie for her father's performance, sitting in a coffee shop after bedtime, sipping on a frozen drink, was just like being a teenager.

"I get to listen to the music and drink coffee," she said.

Shaela Linn of Woodbridge just started behind the counter at Caribou. It didn't take long to appreciate the live music on Friday nights. Although Wilson is a regular, other musicians have performed there as well.

"I think live music is wonderful," Linn said. "It certainly brings life to an atmosphere like a coffee shop. We always get more business on Fridays when [Wilson] plays."

Wilson played originals "What Am I Waiting For," "Walk through the Fire" and "Life Worth Living," to name a few, mixed in with some cover songs. In addition to the Eagles, he played Better Than Ezra's "This Time of Year." He also had one about one of his children, called "Wild One." Natalie liked that one.

"I just learned part of his song," she said but admitted she was shy and would rather sip the frozen drink than get up there and harmonize with dad.

"That was written for my youngest daughter. People request it," Wilson said.

AT BURKE PRESBYTERIAN, the coffee house-music combination sets a relaxing scene every Saturday evening. It's a regular church service with a featured musician, coffee, snacks, and parishioners seated around tables in a communal fashion instead of pews. In addition, the coffeehouse features a sermon, prayers and a weekly religious experience.

Jennifer Elcano plays guitar and viola in Random Act, a band that is regularly scheduled at Burke Presbyterian.

"I came here for their coffeehouse and I fell in love with their church. People are sitting around tables instead. There aren't many coffeehouse-style worships around here," Elcano said.

Rose Mahan was behind the counter, slinging cups of hot java.

"It's an informal service, where we serve coffee," Mahan said.

"This church happens to be very open to innovative ideas," said Elcano, crediting the Rev. Beth Braxton.

The coffeehouse service is popular among the children especially, said Elcano.

"The little ones love it because it's less formal. People get up and get coffee in the middle of the service," she said.

In December, Cletus Kennelly and Lori Kelley played the first weekend. Orange Line Special played the following week. Coming groups include the Burke Presbyterian Church (BPC) group followed by the Returning College Kids, a group of students that grew up in the church, said Elcano. The students will run the service that week. too.

Other "working musicians," which are full-time musicians that play at BPC, include Steve Key, Randy Barrett, Roger Henderson, Gregory Lygon and pianist Carrey Creed.

"They're singer/songwriters. Most have acoustic instruments that have grassroots appeal," said Elcano.