Many years ago, I would spend my Friday nights in a dimly-lit room over a pub in Yorkshire, England, listening to acoustic guitar and old musicians at least twice my age (I was 15) singing English folk songs, early Bob Dylan tunes, original compositions or cover tunes of American bluesmen such as Howling Wolf. We sat on hard wooden chairs on a floor of bare boards; a peddler would stroll through selling paper cones of winkles, a type of shellfish. Every so often, the pub owner would duck his head in the door and, ignoring our youthful under-age faces, he would accept orders for a pint of ale or a cup of milky coffee. What is it about coffee house music? The chairs were hard, the coffee was foul, the singers ranged widely from rank amateur to very good, but the atmosphere was everything. We loved it and we were a receptive audience. On Jan. 9, the ARTesia Cellar held the fourth of their monthly coffee houses at Rockwood in Sechelt. The room was packed, even more so than the previous three, and fans had to be turned away. The atmosphere was just right: hard folding chairs, faintly musty smell of an old building and plenty of musicians in the audience ready to jump in and jam with the performers. "The whole thing is about ambience," says coffee house organizer Linda Williams who, along with John Marian, scouts the acts, books them and manages the stage. "The musicians have to click together, and the audience is part of that magic." It recalls the days of the Inner Ear Coffee House that operated for 13 years in Roberts Creek until the doors closed last May. "We had audiences of 80 to 100 people show up, all by word of mouth," remembers former co-ordinator Betty Inksetter. "What makes it work is the buzz. When it stopped being magical, we closed it down." The couple now runs yoga classes and retreat space at that location. Like the ARTesia organizers, Inksetter believes in ambience as being key to a successful coffee house but also professionalism and a good sound system. Friday night's ARTesia show opened with original piano music from Angela Johnson who filled the room with non-stop melodies. Coffee house regular John Thompson played the next set, along with former Ten Bear musician Steve Schwabel on harmonica and Sheila Williams on spoons and sax. It was music we might have heard in the folk nights of yore: depression blues, sharecropper work songs and old favourite bluegrass selections. Ron Campbell from Powell River was up next - a man who has been inspired by the Mississippi delta blues. But it was an interesting set that involved Dominique Geneau on bass and vocalist and songwriter Gaetan Bergevin from Quebec that captured the thrill of the coffee house. The very professional Bergevin had arrived early and was so taken with the rehearsal sounds from the other musicians he invited Campbell and Thompson on stage to accompany one of his own songs for a finale. As a Francophone, Bergevin has played music in the bars and restaurants of Quebec for nearly 20 years, but he says he grew up with English lyrics in his head. He performs equally well in French and English. A newcomer to the Coast, Bergevin is setting up a recording studio in Davis Bay to produce his own albums. A tentative line-up for the next coffee house on Friday, Feb. 6, includes Ten Bear (Barry Taylor and John Thompson), the jazz vocals of Verna Chan, a vocal trio including Patti Pollack, Brian Corbet and Billie Corbet and something a bit different. Alcvin Takegawa Ramos is new to the Coast and lives in Madeira Park. He was born in Japan where he trained with masters in the art of making and playing the shakuhachi flute. The instrument is a Japanese, vertical, five-holed, bamboo flute. The practice of "blowing zen" is the practice of playing the flute as a means of attaining self-realization. Although monks once blew shakuhachi for their own enlightenment, it has evolved into a music that is profound and beautiful. That's Friday, Feb. 6, at Rockwood in Sechelt. Fee is on a sliding scale with 20 per cent of proceeds going to the Coast Cultural Alliance and the remainder of the door split among the musicians and sound technician. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. For more information, phone ARTesia at 604-740-8288. Performers can call Marian at 604-885-1015.