Imagine launching a music venue in the downtown core of a major city sandwiched between a flop house and a bar where people would regularly shoot one another over disputes arising from pool games. Then allow yourself to become really excited about the prospect of relocating and upgrading your facility to a building previously inhabited by a gay bar and tarot card readers, decked out with pictures of witches on the walls and where most everything was pink. Such were the humble beginnings of the now legendary Cup O' Joy in Green Bay, Wisconsin, which regularly plays host to some of the music industry's top Christian performers.
The venue draws artists like Ginny Owens, Monk & Neagle, Downhere, Paul Colman, Building 429, Carolyn Arends and a cast of promising regional musicians. The musical genres are just as diverse as the patrons who attend including; folk, rock, blues, Celtic and pop. Located in what Jan O (as she is affectionately known to patrons) has said the city's citizens formerly referred to as the "armpit of Green Bay", the venue's parking lot is often the site of tailgate parties complete with grills as fans wait for the doors to open. During their sixteen years in the neighborhood the Cup O' Joy has been a partner in helping to revitalize the community.
The Cup's success is due to the approximately eighty volunteers who regularly give up their weekends to ensure that the Friday and Saturday night concerts are staged in a friendly, fun and professional environment. Volunteers like Mark Stankiewicz who when he became the proud owner of a very large house decided to put it to use billeting bands that would play at The Cup. Stankiewicz now does double duty as the sound engineer.
The efforts of the volunteer staff have not been lost on the artists who perform there. Take for instance Sara Groves' comments, "I thought I had a special bond with the Cup until I spoke with other artists about it, and they all feel the same bond! The people at the Cup are what make it work so well, and feel so welcome. I always leave there hoping the community understands what a special gift they have in that kind of venue, with its intimate setting, that kind of music from independent artists to national names. There aren't many places like it in the country."
From its humble beginnings the Cup O' Joy has become a contrast of world class talent ministering in the heart of the inner city. From an establishment whose current building had to be seriously renovated for fear patrons would fall through the floor to the basement it has grown in legendary proportions with artists from one end of North America to the other talking about their experiences to fellow musicians.
Folk artist Bob Bennett says, "Even way out here in somewhat sunny California, I had heard of the place for years. I finally made the trip to Green Bay Wisconsin last fall with a couple of dear musician friends Carolyn Arends and Bruce Carroll."
In the early days of The Cup's existence artists were drawn from an area within an hour of Green Bay. "If we had someone drive from two hours away we thought wow this is really tremendous." She says as time went on they just got more bold in terms of who they approached about performing at the venue.
As musicians started telling their friends about The Cup they would get in contact with Jan about playing there as well, "That's when I started to realize there are a lot of really wonderful people who just want to play music and if we worked really hard for them and did a good job I think they could have a really nice time here. It all worked out and it kind of grew from there."
One of those artists who give The Cup a ringing endorsement is guitar virtuoso Paul Colman," The Cup O' Joy is a wonderful venue for me. In a warm and intimate setting I am allowed to share my music and my story. It excites me to perform in a venue where the teachings of Jesus are honored with genuine warmth and the environment is both professional and relaxed."
It's the ability of artists like Colman, Owens and Groves that have the ability to be transparent, open up their lives and share their life stories with their audiences that are able to connect with the crowd. Jan O says it is this ability to be vulnerable that allows the artist's music to immediately make sense to the listener. The artists that are able to do that are seldom a one time casual visitor but quite often will do return engagements.
Jan O has been booking artists for The Cup O' Joy since shortly after The Cup first opened its doors. "People will say to me how can you still be excited and I will say I am excited all of the time about the artists who come, even if nobody knows who they are because by the time you start printing the stuff (promotional material) I have listed to their music and talked to them. You start connecting with them. You realize these are pretty talented folks in whatever genre they are in."
"We have always had music every Friday and Saturday night right from the very beginning," she says.
"It's always nice when you walk away at the end of the night and you say that's why we do this. When the artists really connected and you look into people's eyes and see that they really got something."
"I'm the one who talks to you but I want you to understand that there is this whole team of people and there has been all through the years," she says. The volunteers do everything from arrange the furniture, cut the lawn and clean. One of the keys to the support they get from the church community has been the approach the Cup O' Joy has taken Jan says, "We go to them and say what can we do for you? We are here to serve you. We aren't here to become a church."
For more on the Cup O' Joy and future concerts you can visit their website at www.cupojoy.com Cup O' Joy does not charge an admission for their concerts however donations are accepted at the concerts. If you are an artist and are reading this, I haven't heard of an artist yet who went away disappointed.
Visit www.cupojoy.com for more information.
Writer: Joe Montague