During the day, Tin Bins in Stillwater might seem like your typical locally owned coffee shop. Patrons stop in for a cup of joe to go on the way to work, while others stay for a while for a lunch meeting or to curl up in a chair with a good book. But come evening every weekend, the brew house transforms into an intimate venue for quality live music.
Musicians perform in the fireplace room from 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday and Saturday, and the café puts on open mic nights on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Most of the music is acoustic, but manager Lars Carlson says genres range from folk to rock to jazz to gospel. The lineup features new artists every month, and while there’s never a cover charge, tip jars are put out on every table.
Setting itself apart from the downtown bar scene, Tin Bins is focused on being a space for active listeners. During performances, the lights are dimmed to create a cozy, laidback environment geared toward enjoying the music.
“There are [other] great playing rooms, where people are talking and having a good time and drinking beers, but this is a listening room,” says regular Tin Bins performer Tony Ortiz, adding that people come for the music and to be a part of a special shared experience. “Without that atmosphere—without that room—you wouldn’t get that.”
Ortiz was the lead singer of The Monroes, which put out the one-hit wonder, “What Do All the People Know?” in the 1980s. The 27-year Minnesota resident has been performing at Tin Bins for the past couple of years, “as often as they’ll allow me to,” he says. While he’s played at a variety of venues in his many years as a musician, he loves the unique ambience and acoustics of the Tin Bins listening space. “That’s just the greatest room ever for music, and if I ever get a chance to record something live, it’s going be in that little room, because it just has such a feel to it,” Ortiz says. “It has an intimacy that you can’t find in many places anymore.”
Carlson, who is also a musician and performs at Tin Bins often, says the family-friendly live entertainment evenings draw a diverse crowd across generations. High school bands frequently play the venue, which has been a great way to showcase younger talent and allow up-and-coming artists to cut their teeth and connect with mentors. While the performers each month vary widely in genre and age, Carlson says the different crowds at Tin Bins all “see this as their place.”
As for popular foods during live entertainment nights, appetizers like nachos, quesadillas and margherita flatbread sell well. In addition to coffee drinks, the café also has a full bar with specialty cocktails and other unusual options, such as keg wines.
Carlson encourages any musicians interested in a spot on the event lineup to stop in to Tin Bins and chat with him. Everyone is welcome to sign up to perform on open mic nights. Both Carlson and Ortiz express a fondness for the Stillwater and greater St. Croix Valley area arts community, which they’ve both found welcoming and supportive.
For local musicians, Tin Bins has been a great hub to play gigs, meet other artists and engage with live music fans in a warm and inviting setting.
July 1: Karen Folman (Folk/Pop/Soul)
July 2: Tres Leches Trio (Jazz/Funk/Blues)
July 8: Nici Peper (Americana)
July 9: Sharisse Derby (Pop-rock/Soul)
July 15: Jorgensen Tagg (Americana Soul)
July 16: Ross William Perry (Blues)
July 22: Colin Campbell (Blues)
July 23: Lars Carlson’s Mighty Tin Bins Band (Soul/Roots Rock)
July 29: The Salt Vine (Indie Folk)
July 30: Curtis and Loretta (Traditional Folk/Roots)