History of the Ripton Community Coffee House
– according to Richard Ruane
The idea of the Ripton Community Coffee House began at a house-warming party/jam session at Richard Ruane and Andrea Chesman’s house in November 1994. Andrea and Richard had moved up from the valley to a house in Ripton the previous summer (though Richard had lived in Ripton back in 1982-83). Some of the people gathered in the dining room included Sallie Mack, Ian Pounds, Tim Price, Su White, Mark Mulqueen and Beth Duquette. Tim started a conversation about how great it used to be (a favorite topic of conversation anywhere in Vermont) in Ripton. Life was better in the old days, he said, when there were regular community gatherings at the Ripton Community House. Several of the musicians at the party had played at the Community House for one event or another and spoke highly of its acoustics. But by 1994, the Community House no longer held regular spaghetti dinners hosted by the volunteer fire department or the semi-regular contra dances. It was only used for the annual town meeting and the occasional wedding.
Wouldn’t it be great, we all agreed, to have a regular community gathering to give people a chance to see their neighbors and hear some good music? The Community House was the perfect place for it and it was just sitting there unused!
Over the course of the following winter, several of us continued to discuss the idea and came up with a format of an open mike followed by a featured performer. We would charge only a small amount at the door to cover expenses and still make it accessible to the entire community. We would sell refreshments to help pay our expenses as well.
We approached the Town Select Board and they were very supportive of the idea of a once a month concert series at the Community House.
The coffeehouse officially started on May 6, 1995. The first coffeehouse had an open mike with Andrew Marks, Nelda Clemens and Tim Price, Rodger Hamilton, Hannah Cohen (step dancing to a boom box) and Jonathan McDonough. The featured act was Rick Klein, Sallie Mack and Richard Ruane. It was a benefit for the coffeehouse. Over one hundred people showed up and (at $3.00 for adults and $1.50 for children and seniors as well as all the money for the baked goods and beverages) it managed to raise $473 to get the Ripton Community Coffee House going.
Quite frankly, the expectation at that time was that we would have sixty or seventy people showing up for the first few concerts and then the novelty of it would wear off. We figured in eight months we would be down to an audience of twenty or thirty. Luckily we were wrong. Our June concert with Womensing drew more people than our opening show. The July and August shows didn’t do all that well, but attendance picked up again with the fall. As we went through the cold months, we continued to draw more and more people. The audience was a total mix of ages, from babes in arms to the over-eighty crowd. Whole families came with all their children and students showed up from Middlebury College. There was one coffeehouse where the upstairs balcony resembled a nursery, with six babies less than two months old in attendance.
Soon we decided to have the refreshment sales be fundraisers for area non-profit organizations. A local non-profit organization would bring in their own bakers, run the kitchen for the night and keep the money they made. We do this for a few reasons: first, we have a strong community focus and want to support the local non-profits; second, it keeps our volunteer cookie and brownie bakers from burning out too quickly; third, it brings in people who might not have come to the coffeehouse otherwise, thus continuing to build our coffeehouse community.
After over twenty years the price of admission has gone up. We now average a little over one hundred people at our concerts. It is folding chair seating, so a number of people bring their own cushions to sit on. The format is pretty much the same as when we started.
The coffeehouse has been helped by a changing band of volunteers over the years. They have set up and taken down chairs, helped with parking, putting up posters, taking money at the door, hauling equipment and sweeping floors. It really is a community event.
The baked goods continue to be a treat, so to speak. Over a decade ago the Vermont Coffee Company started donating their delicious free-trade organic coffee to the Ripton Community Coffee House and we never fail to get compliments.
Of course the performers are the primary reason people come here. We have continued to present wonderful performers from our great state of Vermont as well as amazing performers from all across North America and even the occasional musician from across the sea. It is a joy searching out great musicians to present here. For the last several years that delightful tasks has fallen primarily on Beth Duquette’s capable shoulders and ears.
As of mid-February 2017, we have presented 245 concerts, featured 1045 open mike performers and provided a place for non-profit organizations’ bake sales 153 times. Throughout this time we have been generously supported by a continually evolving audience of music lovers, willing to brave the drive up the mountain in the winter and the occasional mosquito in the summer. It has been a great time so far and we thank everyone who has helped make it so.
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