Java Joe’s: A San Diego Music Icon

Back before I had notion of what a Starbucks was, let alone Pete’s Coffee or The Coffee Bean, I had a favorite place just down the road in the Target Shopping Center in Poway, California called Java Joe’s. Tuesdays were open mic night and  I would spend my afternoon memorizing songs I could sing play on guitar and then head down to Java Joe’s for my 15 minutes on stage. Java Joe’s has seen the launch of music careers for artists such as Jewel and Jason Mraz.  I once had to follow Jewel on an open mic night… not really what I wanted to do. At the time I had a recording studio and I think I actually gave her a card but never did get to record her.  It seems like only a few months later I was hearing her on the radio. Not long after my encounter with Jewel, Java Joe’s moved down to Ocean Beach and has been in several locations since. Now,  26 years later at his new place in Old Town, San Diego, Java Joe’s is still a favorite place for live music, good coffee, and good friends.

The atmosphere at Joe’s is always a bit eclectic and fun. This incarnation of Joe’s is largely outdoors and seems perfect for a city like San Diego.  Of course there’s a shark, and a stage set for music.

On this night at Joe’s, Randi Driscoll, Zach Freidhof and Veronica May all took the stage to entertain the guests.

Independent singer-songwriter Randi Driscoll performs with a presence that lifts everyone around her. She often jokes about the number of breakup songs she’s written over the years, and that now that those days are over for her, she’ll “gladly write about your breakups too,” but really her music always highlights the positive turn, the faith in goodness and passion, and reflects her positive spirit. Her voice and style keep her fans coming back for more. When you hear Randi, you can’t help but wonder why she isn’t a household name. (I’m sure she’d laugh at that and say something like, “yeah I wonder too!” Listen to her song “Lucky” for more about becoming an overnight success.)

Randi performs with her long time musical partner Noah Heldman who holds down both guitar and percussion duties for the duo.

As Randi often points out at her shows, Noah essentially IS the band!

Here, Veronica May accompanies Randi as they perform Randi’s song “What Matters,” written in response to the death of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Music is Randi’s way of working through pain, and this song is one she says she’d “hoped she would no longer need to be singing, and yet here we are and I’m still singing this song.” All procedes from sale of this song go to support the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Veronica May is a new artist to me. Her guitar playing is sharp and percussive with great energy and rhythm. Notice the sandpaper on the guitar top? Veronica truly pulls sound out of the whole instrument in ways I hadn’t heard before. Though playing acoustic at this show, Veronica is also right at home slinging an electric guitar backed up by her band. Their CD release party is May 27th at the Casbah in San Diego.

I first met Zach Freidhof 5 or 6 years ago when I was doing sound at another of Randi’s shows , and was immediately taken with his energy. Randi likes to tell a story about a time Zach was staying at her place and she was feeling under the weather. Zach suggested they write a song together but she was in no mood for writing but then concludes, “Finally we did write a song together, after all, how to you say no to that?” (Pointing to Zach’s smile.)

Zach has branded himself a “Troubadour of Peace,” and his music reflects a passion for this calling. “Music is so powerful. It can touch a soul at such a level as nothing else can,” Zach says. (

One thing about Zach on stage is that he is always moving. Dancing, headbobbing or spinning around, his music and dancing are infectious. I can promise you, if you go to one of Zach’s shows, you will have a good time!

I know this post is supposed to be about Java Joe’s and yet I’ve spent most of my time talking about these particular performers. But that, in a way, is just it. At least for me and the myriad local performers who have taken the stage at whatever incarnation of Java Joe’s they’ve found themselves, It’s all about the music, the artistry and all the people who spend time together at the shows. Joe has a knack for setting things up so everyone from seasoned performers to aspiring musicians giving their best for 15 minutes at the open mic feel welcome and relaxed. Every town needs a Java Joe’s.  If you are in San Diego, make sure you stop into ours!

Java Joe’s 2611 Congress St, San Diego, CA 92110



7 Replies to “Java Joe’s: A San Diego Music Icon”

  1. This seems like something that’s ancient, but pulses with new energy of music and fun, which is my kind of thing. Java Joe’s is a place that will be that landmark everyone will know because of this blog.

  2. Streetmuse is a creative way to experience a venue as if you were there too. The images and the commentary are well done and bring the whole event to life. I am a huge Jewel fan. I think it is cool is it that she got her start at Java Joe’s. What a beautiful place for artist to go and become a part of history.

  3. Hosted the first open mic in Poway, was first act at Old Town opening, and performed myriad times at various locations in between. Java Joe’s is and always has been simply the best acoustic venue extant in San Diego. A boon to creative artists all!

  4. Streetmuse, you have captured the essence of why audiences and performers seek each other out–it is a relationship of communicating emotion and ideas. Music transforms our lives and an intimate venue, like Java Joe’s, fosters this transformation. Love!!

  5. There is something very special about live music in a small venue. I am grateful to know Java Joe’s is back in business!

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