It was a Monday night when I landed in Los Angeles, part of an impromptu trip through the West Coast. Jet-lagged and pissed that I'd missed the weekend parties, I decide to walk Hollywood Boulevard. Maybe I'd run into a celebrity! But it was eerily quiet. The only stars out were the ones in the sky and the ones encased in black marble under my feet.
I crossed Ivar and saw a short line of people waiting to get into a inconspicuous club. I stood in line and the closer I got to entering, the louder the live music grew. A beautiful, brown-skinned woman made me sign my name on one of those “Hello, My Name Is” sticky notes. “Well, this is interesting,” I thought to myself. But I wrote my name and entered a space called the Study.
Imagine a Victorian drawing room with a stage and a bar; that’s what the Study looks like. With walls and columns full of books, it feels like a party in your own personal library. Upon entering, I was greeted by a live band and a crowd of friendly people. People were singing from their diaphragm onstage and generally jamming out. I stood in the crowd and clapped. “Who’s that?” I asked the person closest to me, hoping to learn the name of the band. But they couldn’t hear me over the soulful singing and the next thing I knew, they were getting onstage.
My jaw dropped as this continued all night. It seemed as if random people were just getting onstage and performing — and they all sounded really good.
Finally, a slim young black woman with an amazing Afro grabbed the mic and explained that I was at an event called Tha Juice Joint. “Some of y'all might be new to Tha Juice Joint but the main rule is no egos,” said Melanesia Hunter in her Southern accent. “This is an open mic, open jam session. That means we want everyone to get onstage — can I get an amen?”
Hunter, a makeup artist and model by day and event planner and general creative by night, started Tha Juice Joint four years ago with The Komposers, the backing band for Lil Wayne, whom she met while on tour as a makeup artist for the singer Shanell. “Over the years we all became really good friends,” she explained when I caught up with her later that night. “They inspired me so much that naturally when I moved to L.A. I linked with them and decided to bring all of our tour bus talking and dreaming to life. We created our own platform that inspires and activates the light in other people. We created a place of freedom for ourselves and so many other people solely through music and the concept of 'community, not competition.'”
Tha Juice Joint grew out of another event Hunter and her team produce called the Crockpot. “The Crockpot is a live music experience that is fully curated from start to finish,” Hunter explained. “It's more like a concert, and we fuse live art, soul food and this Southern, family-reunion type of essence within the culture of the event.” Hunter decided to always have the Crockpot take place on the 27th of each month, which necessitated moving it around depending on what night of the week the 27th fell on. “For that reason, the first two years we had to do the Crockpot at different venues all over Los Angeles. Each month the venue would change … no two months were ever the same, and we always had the best atmosphere, lineup, soul food and house band.”
The third Crockpot, on March 27, 2014, happened at the Study, and featured BJ the Chicago Kid, Timothy Bloom, the Jazmin Sisters and The Komposers. It was such a success that “the Study said we could do whatever we wanted from here on out,” Hunter said. “Because the Crockpot was so curated, I felt like I had to come up with another event that could actually be inclusive of everybody … especially the people that always supported us. And that's how Tha Juice Joint was born.”
Tha Juice Joint features a rotating house band including Sam Hoffman, Chris James, Elin Sandburg, Budda Foster, Brian Patterson and Ahmad Dawson, along with such regulars as Durand Bernarr, backup singer for Erykah Badu and internet sensation in his own right. It doesn’t feel like an event you’d find while roaming Hollywood Boulevard on a Monday night. It feels like a summertime tent revival on the dirt roads of Mississippi, or a speakeasy club in New Orleans. There’s a lot of call-and-response, chanting and hugs. It’s an atmosphere that seems to be a healing contrast to the sometimes cutthroat nature of the L.A. music industry.
After a few hours of spontaneous performance and jamming, the night's featured artist performs. On the night I was there, the small yet mighty Mariah Maxwell took the stage, opening with a strong funk song and taking us on a musical journey throughout the night. Maxwell has performed with the likes of Mya, Esperanza Spalding, Chante Moore and Smokey Robinson.
Later, the singer had this to say about her love for Tha Juice Joint: “There’s nothing else like this here in L.A. There’s no ego. It’s not pretentious and you have [performers] from professional musicians and artists to people who just want to get something off their chest. It’s a good vibe. You can express yourself and have a good time.”
Tha Juice Joint happens every Monday night at the Study, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. More info via Tha Juice Joint's Facebook page. Follow @The27Brand on all social media to keep up with all the quarterly Crockpots events, as well.
[Correction: An earlier version of this article said The Komposers are still Tha Juice Joint's house band — but while The Komposers helped launch both Tha Juice Joint and Crockpot, they no longer regularly appear at either event. The article has been updated to mention the musicians currently part of Tha Juice Joint's rotating house band.]