Taking a turn to perform are guitarists Gavri Yares and singer Daniel Kotsis, both of Oak Park.
Taking a turn to perform are guitarists Gavri Yares and singer Daniel Kotsis, both of Oak Park. (Esther Allweiss Ingber)

An afternoon program on June 19 enjoyed by 50 at Berkley Coffee was advertised as a Jewish music open mic and jam session.

Kenny Showler intends for his Berkley Coffee to be more than a place to enjoy made-to-order cups of roasted coffee and steeped loose tea. In addition to baked goods, soup, sandwiches, other bar snacks and retail items, something special he’s offering are community events and live entertainment.

The coffee shop, officially launched on April 1, 2022, is at 14661 W. 11 Mile Road in the city of Oak Park’s evolving Water Tower Social District.

An afternoon program June 19 enjoyed by 50 at Berkley Coffee was advertised as a Jewish music open mic and jam session. Several professional and near-professional musicians sang and played, and the audience was invited to sing along from song sheets.

Steve Gilbert of Farmington Hills sings and plays his acoustic guitar, accompanied by bassist Brian Yamstein of Oak Park.
Steve Gilbert of Farmington Hills sings and plays his acoustic guitar, accompanied by bassist Brian Yamstein of Oak Park. Esther Allweiss Ingber

Professional musician and music educator Gavri Yares (“rhymes with Paris”) arranged and hosted the program. He most recently taught at White Lake Elementary School in the Huron Valley School District, and he also is the musician in residence at Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit. His original musical compositions can be found at gavriyares.com.

“When Kenny Showler and I first started chatting about live music events at Berkley Coffee” — they became acquainted on Facebook — “I asked him if he planned on holding any jam sessions,” Yares said. “I offered to host an acoustic music or Jewish music jam session. Kenny loved the idea … and I went with it.”

Starting out, bluegrass musician Grace Van’t Hof of Detroit, Yares’ sometime collaborator on Tot Shabbat at IADS, was the only other professional likely to attend the event. “She sings and accompanies herself on baritone ukulele, banjo and accordion,” said Yares, who himself is proficient playing double bass, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, oud and a variety of percussion instruments.

On the music day, Brian Yamstein of Oak Park “arrived early on and said that he would be more than glad to serve as the ‘house’ bassist,” Yares said.

From left, Dayna “Zemirah” Weber of Oakland County sings during the open mic jam session, alongside Gavri Yares on acoustic guitar and Grace Van’t Hof of Detroit playing accordion.
From left, Dayna “Zemirah” Weber of Oakland County sings during the open mic jam session, alongside Gavri Yares on acoustic guitar and Grace Van’t Hof of Detroit playing accordion. Esther Allweiss Ingber

Other performers volunteered themselves on a physical or online sign-up sheet. “We were pretty flexible with the sign-up portion as this was our first event,” Yares said. He got the concert underway with a nigun, Hebrew for a wordless melody. The musical genres also took in classical, opera, folk, bluegrass, and classic rock and pop. 

Yares will be moving from Oak Park to East Lansing this summer with his wife, Dr. Laura Yares, a tenure-track professor of religious and Jewish studies at Michigan State University, and their sons, Nadav, 5, and Jonah, 2.

Showler is bringing him back in August or September to present another edition of the “11 Mile Jewish Music Jam.” Look for details at Berkley Coffee on Facebook or berkleycoffee.com, and by following the event on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“I’m hoping it will become a monthly occurrence,” Yares said. 

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