Obituary: The Acoustic Cafe’s Final Hours


The Acoustic Cafe saw its final Open Mic Night on Thursday 27th March and closes officially as of today. So it is with great sadness that I find myself writing the obituary for this fantastic live music venue and watering hole.

I made my way through the venue for the last time, a cold beer in my hand, squeezing past people occupying whatever space they could find – I had never seen the place so busy before. There was a strong sense of community – there are few venues that can generate this kind of atmosphere. Nodding acknowledgements to some fantastic performers I’d seen and met there in the past, the place was filled with good cheer and merry, though with a distinct tinge of sadness in the air.

Normally performers would have to book a week in advance to play at their Open Mic, however Thursday night’s finale was a free-for-all, ‘sign up and play’ arrangement. With a record 41 acts signed up to play on the Acoustic Cafe’s final Open Mic, the venue surely went out with a bang supporting Melbourne’s local live music one last time.

While it was easy to feel nostalgic and melancholy, the night was also a celebration and tribute to the fantastic music talent our city has to offer.

– The Future –

No one knows quite yet what’s on the cards for the owners Ian & Glenda going forward – staying in Melbourne and hosting other Open Mics in the short term seems likely. Beyond that, Ian & Glenda plan on moving out of the city and potentially hosting live music festivals down near Wilson’s Promontory.

Whatever their ambitions, we all wish them well and thank them for their unconditional love for local live music.

 “Hopefully in over the four years I’ve given enough people enough starts.”
– Ian Beer, Owner, The Acoustic Cafe


0_16Open Mic Night @ The Balaclava Hotel

“Don’t be afraid to not fit the template.”

It’s Thursday night at The Balaclava Hotel and the room is filled with musicians and live music lovers. Sarlin’s magical voice and array of instruments, which make up her a one-man band, brings the room to utter silence.

Originally from Sale, Sarlin moved down to Melbourne to study Exercise Science and pursue music-related opportunities. Aside from focusing on her studies and music, she currently works at a café on Sydney Road.

“I really enjoy the contrast, I love it. Music is really taking over a lot though.”

Sarlin won The Balaclava Hotel Open Mic competition in 2013 and has been invited back to play as a featured act. She also played at the Moomba Festival this year.

Her pre-gig ritual is going for a run earlier in the day. She finds that even a brief run clears her head and warms up her body for the performance.

Drawing inspiration from folk and acoustic music, she’s still experimenting with sounds. Moments of significance and observations fuel her songwriting.

“It’s times when you step out of your body and look at situations; the feeling of hunger/drive and pure bliss – those types of moments.”

Her advice for musicians is to surround yourself with creativity and not to be afraid if you don’t fit the template. Be around like-minded people and get behind a microphone as much as you can.

Sarlin performs at various locations throughout Melbourne, but your best bet at finding her is up and down Sydney Road (Bar Oussou, The Cornish Arms, The Brunswick Hotel, etc).

“I’m definitely going to continue music, but I’m not going to rush.”

Sarlin cautions readers that she has not uploaded the recent material she’s been working on, but when she does you’ll be able to find it all at the following links:

The Cornish Arms

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“You get the opportunity to see some great acts and chat to people who love live music.”

Situated in the musical heart of Brunswick on Sydney road, The Cornish Arms have always supported local live music. Speaking on behalf of the venue, veteran barman Lachlan Lane explains that over the years, the venue has hosted music ranging from 70s soul/funk, local Melbourne grunge, DJs, blues, etc. but these days you’ll find more acoustic acts with afew rock bands thrown in the mix as well.

“The Cornish Arms was the place to go and get your music fix.”


The venue complements its music reputation with a focus on good food. People come down for a good feed and stick around for the music acts. You can expect free live music on Fridays and Saturdays, including their Open Mic on Monday nights – a stage I’ve had the pleasure of playing on myself.

“Every Monday night [since 2009] there’s always been an Open Mic – I can’t remember a single Monday we haven’t hosted one.”

The Cornish Arms stage sees comedians, first-time music performers, travellers new to the area, etc. From a performer’s perspective it is a delight to play there – perfect amount of fold-back and a well-balanced sound for the audience.


Many performers have gone on to bigger things such as ‘Busy Kingdom’ playing the Sydney Road & St Kilda festival in 2014, and even a 70s soul/funk band ‘Electric Empire’ playing the prestigious Glastonbury festival in 2011!

At the same time, the venue has played host to some… interesting acts. A notable one that Lachlan recalls was a musician who would plug his iPod in his ears and play along to songs that only he could hear in his headphones. All the crowd could hear was monotonous singing and 2 notes on the guitar over and over. Some comic relief though surely for the audience, but as Lachlan rightly states:

“Good on him for having a crack”

Musicians need to be sensitive about adapting their style for the venue or choosing venues with a crowd who appreciates their style.

“Here [Brunswick] you wouldn’t really put a cover band on.”

In closing, Lachlan expressed concern about Melbourne’s dwindling live music scene:

“It’s all about getting to the gigs. I know budget-wise it’s easy to get blind at home and then go to the gig, but it doesn’t support the pub. They’re spending money to put the band on.”


Sarah-Rose McIvor

Sarah-Rose McIvorOpen Mic Night @ Bar Oussou

“Whenever people ask me this question I always say depends on what day of the week.”

The one that almost got away – I missed out on interviewing her the first time I saw her playing at the Great Britain Hotel but luckily was able to catch her playing live another time. Well worth the wait, this charismatic and highly talented performer rocked the electric piano with some soul/folk/blues/ indie originals.

She’s a piano and singing teacher by day at several primary schools, does admin work for another school, finishing her Diploma of Education, writes all the songs for her band “Dash” and also writes songs for other bands!

Basically, a wonder-woman of the music world!



When it comes to writing songs, she draws inspiration from people and how they interact with each other, as well as the natural environment. In terms of style, she’s a big Feist fan – great stuff check them out. Some of her music is crafted around phrases or hooks:

“Someone said to me ‘the day the rain comes down’, and I thought that there was so much imagery in that one line.”

She’s trying to make a go of it with her band and their goal is to be financially secure. After only 18 months, they’re well on their way with some visionaries in the band, complemented by her left-brain logistical thinking:

“My brother would be like ‘in two years time we’re gonna go record in France’, while I’m freaking out figuring how we’re gonna get to France.”

It wasn’t always smooth sailing – she recalls one of her most scarring experiences performing solo at her Grade 6 graduation with the whole school and parents watching. She steps to the microphone for her one line and unknowingly bursts out laughing the whole way through. Everyone stares and she thinks it’s because she just sucked – she didn’t sing for really long time after that!

Her tip for musicians big or small is to set a goal and achieve it!

“Even if that goal is to finish a song – you’ve got a million half songs, but finish one and perform it.”

Check out her band, Dash (I’ve been hooked on their music lately!): &

Sarah-Rose will also be playing with guitar accompaniment at The Thornbury Local on the 2nd of May!



Open Mic Night @ Bar Oussou

“Every musician wants world domination!”

Bringing his own brand of psychedelic folk rock to Melbourne, Tomislav is a uniquely vibrant performer well worth keeping an eye on.

“Psychedelic folk rock?” I imagine you asking. “One must hear it and feel it to truly understand”, I respond aloud and mysteriously, drawing puzzled looks from other train commuters.

The term was coined by one of his friends during the recording his work-in-progress album, and it seems an appropriate description of Tomi’s eclectic style.

Psychedelic folk rock. I like that. People always ask me what kind of music I play – I don’t know – Music. Whatever feels right. Now I actually have a term for it.” 

Tomi is a seasoned and accomplished lead guitarist having spent many years playing with rock bands. His technical musicianship is obvious when you hear him play.

“You gotta put the hard work in. Practice, practice, practice. It’s a cliché, I know, but it bloody helps!”

However, it’s his big personality and charisma that makes him stand out from the crowd. Playing nothing but all original material, Tomi knows how to engage an audience from the moment he takes the stage.

“It’s not just about getting up there and playing the notes […] if you can put a show on, people are gonna dig it.”

Like a friendly Tom Waits, he oozes stage presence and showmanship. He’s a compelling storyteller whether backed by his bluesy, toe-tapping funk-rock grooves or more contemplative, Dylan-esque folk musings.

True to blues traditions, Tomislav’s lyrics are usually true stories, inspired by his life experiences. Growing up in former Yugoslavia, he has resided in the Brunswick area for around eight years playing in various bands, busking, and hitting Open Mic events.

While calculating his strategy for music world domination, he can currently be found most Tuesday nights at Bar Oussou.

Check out his Facebook Page

Robbie Phillips

0_6Open Mic Night @ The Balaclava Hotel

“I never thought I would ever get to play Spice Girls in a setting like that.”

In the comforts of the Balaclava Hotel, the dim lighting sets the scene amongst the warming audience and an old man dancing in the corner, the room is filled with eager listeners as Robbie Phillips hops up on stage and delivers a gracious performance.

“The whole set up here is just awesome. I reckon it’s one of the best Open Mic dynamics that I’ve played at. This one is so supportive and so natural.”

Originally from Western Australia, Robbie has been a bank relationship manager by day for the past 6 years. He loves his job because he brings colour and life to traditionally tense setting. After two years of playing live in the cosy spots of Melbourne, Robbie admits he’s still figuring things out when it comes to music and identifying the sort of musician he intends to be in the future.

“I like to travel to places that are scenic, just chasing that horizon. I think that’s evident in my songs.”

Robbie is inspired by Leonard Cohen and lyrical artists that represent the truth and storytelling in music. Growing up playing classical music, he became more intrigued by the lyrical aspect of music and how it can be a pursuit of self-discovery.

“My life can be very exhilarating – the stuff I do.”

Playing regularly at gigs just for the experience and for his passion for music, the commercial music scene isn’t high on the aspirations list – although he wouldn’t mind performing on the big stage if the time was right and the opportunities presented themselves.

“Music never fails; sort of spiritual I guess. It’s very therapeutic.”

Entertaining people with his music and capturing the attention of an audience is what encourages Robbie to keep doing what he loves when he’s not at his day job.

“Motivation for me is figuring out my voice and what this is about.”

One of his more memorable experiences playing live was at one of his first gigs at a gallery where he had no idea what to play for an hour and decided to light up the mood and get everyone moving to his version of ‘Stop Right Now’ by the Spice Girls.

“I never thought I would ever get to play Spice Girls in a setting like that.”

His advice to local musicians is to make sure you have stage presence and if music is your virtue then play to entertain.

Robbie performs at Open Mic nights once a month at The Balaclava Hotel and also at the Eugenius Café in Windsor (he’s playing there this Sunday, *hint hint*).

Check out Robbie’s latest music and adventures by heading to his Facebook page

Marcel Altena

Marcel Altena
Open Mic Night @ The Acoustic Cafe

“I picked up the guitar because of a female I really liked…”

A candid and friendly musician, Marcel’s style has a distinct blues tinge to it, seasoned to perfection with some jazz elements (yes this is now a cookery blog). An interesting combination and complemented by a voice that brought the crowd in closer at this already intimate venue.

Playing guitar for 3 years and singing for just around 2 years, all self-taught, Marcel admits that:

“I picked up the guitar because of a female I really liked who was also playing the guitar and I wanted to learn with them. They fell off the radar, but I just kept going with it.”

Whatever the reason for taking it up, we were all glad that he continued with it!

He’s been busking for about a year now but he plays Open Mics to gauge how he sounds and get feedback from the audience.

“[I play music for] Self-expression; at the moment it’s just to play, but if people thought I was good enough, then may as well [take it further].”

Working a couple jobs in hospitality, Marcel is a bar man, barista and wait staff, spending his time outside of work playing music. Busking for about a year – hunt for him in the inner city suburb shopping centres and supermarkets.

As a local musician:

“Don’t be afraid of judgement. Do what feels right. That’s more complicated than it sounds; knowing what actually feels right.”

For (potential) live music fans:

“Don’t come just for the Open Mic. Come for a good time; the social atmosphere and meet like-minded people.”

Interview Bloopers:

Marcel, being of Dutch descent, has a very long name (shortened on this blog to Marcel Altena) which he jokingly says may inhibit his ability to attain fame:

“Famous musicians their names have an even number of syllables; you have like E-ric Clap-ton, Ji-mi Hen-drix.”

The Acoustic Cafe


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“Hopefully in over the four years I’ve given enough people enough starts.”

Run by a musician for musicians, everyone’s encouraged at the Acoustic Cafe: A Cappella, xylophones, harps, poets, but the majority are singer/songwriters on acoustic guitar.

Ian Beer, a down-to-Earth singer/songwriter himself, owns this fantastic venue on Johnston St Collingwood, decorated with beautiful acoustic guitars on the wall.
Prior to The Acoustic Cafe’s launch in 2010, the place was known as the Ilk Bar and lacked the emphasis on live music that the venue has today. Ian had played a gig there and, impressed by the acoustics of the space, offered to buy the venue!

“Everyone talks about the Acoustic Cafe’s sound. I take a lot of care when I’m doing the mixing and I put the sound system in myself, but I have to say it’s mainly the room.”

Ian has been hosting Open Mic Nights at his venue for over 4 years:

“I like to nurture talent. I know what it was like when I did Open Mics; you’d play two songs and then ‘alright, off you go’. I thought, when I do it I’m gonna give them half an hour and make it more of a showcase Open Mic; one that they can learn and grow from.”


Some notable examples of musicians going on to successful careers in music after The Acoustic Cafe:

  • Gena Rose Bruce –  2012 Telstra Road to Discovery winner  –  acknowledged the Acoustic Café’s contribution to her own learning and growth as a musician
  • Michael Waugh – multi -award winning songwriter

Ian recalls a notably unusual experience he’s had hosting a live music night:

There was a drunk performer from Frankston who slurred his words and ignored hints to finish his set – to the point where Ian was compelled to cut the PA system on him. The performer retaliated some time after by throwing a cup of water all over the venue owner. Rock n roll, right!?

According to Ian:

“Open Mics provide valuable learning opportunities for musicians; they should stay a little longer and watch other performers! Musicians and their supporters need to understand that it’s a two way street. Venues won’t keep going if they get 12 acts in; 10 of those 12 don’t buy drinks and half of them walk out right after their sets. Where else in Melbourne can you get 12 fresh faces performing for you?”

Unfortunately, as of March 31st, the Acoustic Cafe has closed its doors for good – Read the Obituary blog post.

Readers of Heartstrings Melbourne are also invited to Ian Beer’s own live performance – Sunday 30th March, 1-4pm, Tylden Harvester (43 Trentham Road, Tylden). See you there!


Cailan Smith

Open Mic Night @ The Acoustic Cafe

“I’ve played around with instruments since I was young.”

Playing a vibrantly red semi-acoustic electric guitar, Cailan’s unique sound with vocals on reverb stood out from the sea of straight acoustic guitars.

Still getting the hang of performing solo (this being his second open mic night), Cailan finds it very different being up in front of an audience without the presence of his band.

“Singing and doing the whole thing by yourself is so different.” 

Originally from the regional of Victoria, Cailan is new to the chaotic and loud Melbourne scene. Working in software development for five years, he found that he had no interests in the business and left to pursue opportunities elsewhere. He passes his time playing music throughout the day, while exploring and travelling to forests and ranges just to add some adventure.

Fuzzy 70’s Rock, country and Wild Craft are styles of music that influence him as a musician.

“Be yourself. If it feels right, play it. Don’t put something across that isn’t yourself.”

Final thoughts on the dwindling live music scene:

“Music’s everything, what are they going to do once it’s gone? More buskers on the street? It’s a massive tourism thing – people come to Melbourne for the music.”

You can check out Cailan busking the busy streets of Melbourne in Essendon/Moonee Ponds and Ascot Vale. With two live solo performances under his belt now, be sure to catch him doing what he loves at Brunswick’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ Bar as well as the Acoustic Cafe on Thursdays.

For Cailan’s latest head to and to

Lee Greens


Open Mic Night @ The Acoustic Cafe

“I’ve gotta try and write some happy songs; it’s easier to write sad songs, isn’t it?”

No live music night is complete without a rendition of Wonderwall, Lee delivered! But not just with a classic cover, but with his ‘mellow melancholy’ originals which were unique and heartfelt.

“What I love the most in life is being on stage and playing music. I’ve had a few different jobs but I think [music] is the most fulfilling.”

Fronting a band for 7 years, Lee has performed across the UK and in Croatia (The band is called Orange Room and they’re well worth the look up!).

“The amount of times we got called The Orange Room, or Orange House…”

This being Lee’s first solo gig as an acoustic singer & guitarist, he was a bit nervous being up there by himself.

“When you got a band behind you you’re more confident. You have a couple beers together before you go on stage, it’s like a little army.”

“[As a solo performer] I can get my personality across more, whereas with a band it’s more of a formula; does the drums fit with the bass, etc. If it’s just acoustic you’re literally just telling a story with your guitar.”

By trade, Lee is a barista (“it’s a bit indie I know”) & a trained locksmith.

“I can pick your locks and also make your coffee.. I make a nice latte!”

For the local musicians:

“Don’t get disheartened if you feel that the crowd don’t get into it. As an audience people here are alot more self-conscious but they’ll probably go home and look you up on YouTube.”

Check Lee out at the Acoustic Cafe Thursdays or at The Evelyn in May – Details at