3rd Street Coffehouse Celebrates 30 Years

Apr 19, 2017

A musical landmark in Roanoke is celebrating a milestone this week.  The 3rd Street Coffeehouse has been welcoming musicians to its stage for 30 years.  Luke Church visited and prepared this report.

That’s Mike Franke, opening his set at the 3rd Street Coffeehouse recently.  He is the president of the Southwest Virginia Songwriters Association: many members of which have found a haven for local and live music at 3rd Street.  Begun in April 1987, the coffeehouse was first envisioned by founder Doug Turner as an alternative to the bar scene; a place to socialize and hear some live music. It was that atmosphere which drew Marian McConnell to 3rd Street.

"Somewhere around probably 1991, the guy who is now my husband, Dan, brought me to 3rd Street Coffeehouse, and I almost fell in love with the coffeehouse almost immediately. It was local musicians, you could get up and play, and I play and so does Dan. As any musician knows, when you get up and you sing and people have started listening to you, when they start singing along with you to a song you've written, that just touches your heart. That's addicting."

Entrance to the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church at the corner of 3rd and Mountain in Old Southwest Roanoke.
Credit Luke Church

McConnell became a board member and began booking acts, including folks from as far away as Scotland and Ireland.

Another board member, Bob Schmucker, grew up in Chicago, hanging out around the Old Town area, listening to Steve Goodman, John Prine and others.  For Bob, 3rd Street proved to be a healing experience.

"Well, about 8 years ago my wife, Denise, she had a stroke and it was a difficult recovery for her. She was having a lot of panic attacks and really couldn't go out in public to too many places. The coffeehouse became part of her recovery. It was a place that we could go and enjoy ourselves and people wouldn't be in your face, but we could enjoy live music. As we went down there more and more frequently, she got more and more comfortable with it, and it really helped her to adapt to going out to other places as well."

Footprints remain on the ceiling of the coffeehouse from the time it was used as a Boy Scout meeting room.
Credit Luke Church

With McConnell stepping back from her duties on the board and Schmucker taking a large role, changes are continuing; including weekly shows with opening and feature acts, monthly guitar pulls and other special events.  Schmucker says the folk music tradition exemplified by the singers and songwriters who play 3rd Street has a strong legacy he hopes to pass on.

"Virtually everybody that comes to the coffeehouse has a connection, has roots to that whole time and place, and I see a real resurgence in that; and we still see now with a new generation coming up of the younger folks that are starting to know and love the same kind of music." 

The 3rd Street Coffeehouse 30th Anniversary Celebration is Saturday evening with featured act Trifokal and members of the original 3rd Street Survivors band from 1987 along with many other local musicians.