If you want to understand the mix of styles and sensibilities that drives Human Experience – the open mic poetry, spoken word and live music night that happens at The Beat Coffeehouse every Monday, from 7 to 10 p.m.–you should begin by meeting its founders. Miss Joy is a club DJ with global cred—she’s performed at Rain, Bond, Drai’s and a number of other local clubs, as well as a few clubs in Thailand—while Jeffrey Bennington Grindley pours intoxicating chemistry at the Downtown Cocktail Room. She’s stylish; he’s rumpled. And that’s pretty much the extent of the differences between them. Talk to them for more than five minutes and you discover they share a brain: They’re both passionate about art and are big believers in its potential to improve lives and forge community bonds.
That’s what Human Experience has been about since it debuted in October 2008. It began at venues in Chinatown==Black Label, Forbes KTV–before landing at The Beat in September 2011. But one thing has remained consistent from one venue to the next: It’s been a place for the born performer and the shy first-timer to step up to the microphone, speak (or sing) from their hearts, and be met with encouraging applause. It’s a revelatory experience, and almost five years on, Joy and Jeff are still excited to be part of the community that makes it happen week after week.
What is Human Experience? Define it for us.
Jeffrey: Human Experience is a community of artists, writers, musicians and like-minded people who come together once a week for an open mic. We use that space and that time to connect creatively, but we also use it as a way to get people involved with the community–to raise awareness of different non-profits, lead people to volunteer opportunities or just encourage people to just get involved with their community through the things that we support, or they can bring up their own stuff.
Joy: We’re pretty open with whatever projects that people bring our way. If someone has any type of event that’s involves charity, we’ll make announcements. Right now we’re working with Southern Nevada Children First at our other night, the all-ages night. That’s on Friday nights, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Beanz Coffee Café at Blue Diamond and Decatur.
Much as I enjoy having a beer during the Experience events at the Beat, I gotta say that’s pretty terrific. What’s the all-ages reading like?
Joy: It’s really awesome. That’s where a lot of my passion is going right now. It’s not that I don’t love the Monday event at The Beat, but I really think that the all-ages community is so important.
Jeffrey: Yeah, Las Vegas has always been a place where an all-ages venue never stays open very long. We’ve been involved with some all-ages open mics before, so it’s nice to bring that element back.
What inspired you to create Human Experience?
Joy: Well, I had this idea based off the fact that I work in the nightlife industry. I found it hard to connect with people when there was loud music–and people are often in different altered states (at clubs), whether they’re drunk or like, on a mission to do something other than have deep conversations. I was inspired when Jeffrey and another friend did an open mic over at Café Espresso Roma; I wanted to create something of that nature, but more community-oriented. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without Jeffrey; he’s been so supportive and amazing.
What brought you to The Beat?
Jeffrey: We just sat down with Michael Cornthwaite and told him, “This is what we do. We have music, we have DJs, and we have poetry.” I don’t think he was really on board at that point, but then when we started talking about how we bring people together with the open mic, but we also give back; we just wanted to just grow the community. I think that once he saw it as more than just an open mic, he said, “OK, we’ll try it out; we’ll give you guys a couple months and see how it goes. If it’s right, then it’s right.”
And it was right.
Jeffrey: It was right. There’s a centrality to Downtown, I think, that makes it accessible to a lot of people around the Valley. So we see a good core of regular people that come out every week, which is great. But we’re also seeing new faces all the time.
What do you love the most about Downtown Las Vegas?
Joy: Hmm… The food. I’m so hungry right now. Once I get food in my mind, that’s all I think about. (Laughs) But I also love that lot of the people down here are local, so when you come down here and you always see people from all walks of life mingling together. This place is a hub for all kinds of great collaboration and it’s beautiful.
Jeffrey: I love the potential that’s always bubbling.
Do you two still perform at Human Experience?
Joy: Yeah, I still perform, poetry and singing. It’s very seldom that I sing. I love this community; it’s helped me to grow as an artist and a musician. People go up there and they kind of just bear their souls and I’m like, “I’m the host and I’m going to do it, too.”
Jeffrey: Only every once in a great while. When I started hosting I was like, “You know what? I’m going to take it down.”
Joy: Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to prepare for this. You have to share your week through your writing, but maybe you don’t want to write; maybe you just wanna go bike riding or something. It affects us all differently. For me, it’s seasonal; by the end of the summer, I’m pretty burnt out.
Joy, you’re a club DJ; Jeffrey, you tend bar. You’re both deep in the 21-and-over realm. How do you stay connected to the 21-and-under crowd?
Joy: What keeps me connected, since I don’t have my own kids, is the non-profit charity stuff that I do. I’m the music director for Jump For Joy Foundation, and I’m working with Southern Nevada Children First and volunteering with Shade Tree. Ever since I was little I always felt really connected to families and children and pure expression, and that doesn’t have any age lines.
Jeffrey: I’ve been (to under-21 events), and I don’t want to lose touch with that. You don’t need to have alcohol to have a good time, to hear good music and to be positively influenced.
Lastly, if I appointed both of you Supreme Ruler of Downtown on consecutive days, what’s the one thing each of you would change?
Joy: Parking! I have too many tickets down here. (Laughs)
Jeffrey: I would wave a wand and “gentrification” would be a good word that involves bringing social problems to the center of all creativity. All of the problems that people are afraid of in our poor areas would be handled creatively. It would never be perfect, but it would be amazing to see.
Joy: You win.
Jeffrey: And then parking!
PHOTO BY GEOFF CARTER