Rick Towles at the Twice Told

By Victoria Moon

In 1994, when I first moved to Louisville, I remember wandering around Bardstown Road, looking for a little artistic inspiration (and possibly a job!). I went into this little coffeehouse called Twice Told, with a neon cup of coffee in the window and the promise of cappuccino. It was dark and weather beaten, and the rainy afternoon outside made this coffeehouse seem the most perfect place in the world to write about life, the universe and everything while drinking enough caffeine to keep several elephants awake.

Twice Told was also one of the few local places to have a weekly open mic night, for terrified new musicians like me to go and find encouragement, and a place to learn how to hone one's skills as a musician. Sure, the stage was the size of a postage stamp, and you were never sure if the rickety PA system might blow up right in the middle of your song, and the thick cigarette smoke would give you instant laryngitis -- it was a chance to play. It couldn't get any better than this, right?

Wrong.

Twice Told Coffeehouse is under new ownership and management, and from the minute you walk in the front door, you know this is a different place. It seems brighter, more open, and there are bookshelves lined with everything from Dr. James Dobson's Dare to Discipline to Nabokov's Lolita. There is still an authentic coffeehouse feel here, though. It's one of the few coffeehouses in Louisville that manages to keep that too-hip-to-be-cool feel.

There's a new look to the food, too, an all vegetarian menu that has been garnering quite a few compliments around the area. But the biggest difference was the reason that I stopped by: to interview owner/manager Rick Towles.

Twice Told Coffeehouse, where I played all those open mics back in 1994, had booked the Kennedys, a national act, to play in their back room. My first and most pressing question was, where would they possibly play?

Well, it seems that the back room has been renovated, and the ripped crimson-vinyl booths have been taken out to make a bigger, more workable stage area. There's even room for a piano onstage now, and the result is an intimate setting that's perfect for musicians and audience to connect and enjoy the music. It's non-smoking back there, too, which is a welcome switch, especially for jazz musicians like Jamey Aebersold, a regular act at Twice Told.

And the Kennedys booking is no fluke event, either. There's some great music coming out of this back room, and after talking with Towles, there are plans to get better.

Much of the impetus for these changes can be credited to Towles, a visionary of sorts. Owning Twice Told is a dream come true for him, something, he said, he "has wanted to do all his life". He learned the business from the ground up, going to work for the former owners and eventually buying the coffeehouse from them.

Towles says many of the improvements made at Twice Told are the result of employee suggestions, but it is his own passion for supporting the local music and arts community that gives this coffeehouse its energy. Rick told me he was "overwhelmed and amazed" at the amount of music coming from the Louisville area, calling this area "a hotbed for music".

Mentioning musicians such as danny flanagan and Aebersold, Too Wet To Plow and Java Men, his face reflects his enthusiasm for their music, and his determination to have what he calls a "homey, intimate" place for them to play. He takes his job seriously, too--he has even gone into the back room during a performance to silence some noisy audience members.

"If people want to come in and talk and laugh and drink coffee, we've got the front room for them to do that," he said, insisting that music deserves to be listened to carefully, and appreciated because "music has a spiritual message--you learn a lot about life in music."

A look at the December line-up reveals the exciting changes going on in this hip Louisville institution. Along with the Kennedys, Towles has booked Cosy Sheridan, a folk singer with a growing critical reputation, Beeblebrox, a Bloomington jazz group, danny flanagan (for a Bardstown Road Aglow party), Jamey Aebersold, Sue Connolly, Too Wet to Plow, Union Tree, Java Men, Gyrogenics Quartet and the Brown School Jazz Band.

Along with this eclectic assortment of musicians, there is the Monday night Jazz Jam, which is, according to Towles "taking off" and becoming a high-energy mix of seasoned players and vocalists as well as talented newcomers to the music scene.

Also, there is a Songwriter's Night, a new and promising addition to the coffeehouse music lineup, taking place on December 14th. And then there's a New Year's Eve party planned that Towles promises will be "eclectic and alcohol-free", and jam-packed with popular local favorites.

The response that Towles has been getting to his new focus on good music played in a great atmosphere has been a little overwhelming -- "the phone's been ringing off the hook since I booked the Kennedys," he confessed -- which just proves that Towles is on to a great idea.

When asked about his future plans for the coffeehouse, he said "keep learning," and that he wanted to continue his "quest for bringing in good jazz and folk music," as well as continuing with some cosmetic area renovations.

In short, Towles wants to make this coffeehouse a "spiritual coffeehouse," a place to feed both body and soul.

As I left the cool, colorful atmosphere of Twice Told, buzzing a bit on a cup of perfectly-brewed Kenya AA coffee and interesting conversation, blinking in the bright Saturday morning sun, I thought that maybe, just maybe, Rick Towles' vision was already here.

See y'all at the New Year's party...