Joe's Café reviews

Live show reviews

An oral history, a welcome respite | "Presented as a night of live music at a cafe, the show is comfortable and welcoming. Wates performs his own songs, ballads reminiscent of Billy Joel's in their ability to tell stories. His music offers an oral history of troubled times across America through the years. The gentle music was a welcome respite after multiple back-to-back dramas. The song Days of Mercy was particularly haunting. (Melissa Hall, Indy Fringe Reviews, August 20, 2013)

So many emotions and memories | "I didn’t expect Joe’s Café to surface so many emotions and memories. Wates’ voice is pretty amazing. He hits a huge spectrum of high and low notes, making it look effortless – not to mention this is all happening while he’s playing his guitar. He seems to really enjoy himself and comes across as sincere and honest in all of his songs. I must confess I had not originally planned on visiting Joe’s Café, but per the advice in the First Time Fringers Guide, I ditched my plan…and glad I took a chance." (Katie Pfledderer, IndyFringe Talk, August 18, 2013)

Polish and charm that knocks you out
| "Joe's Café, a series of consciousness-raising and political songs by Rupert Wates, has a professional polish and charm that knocks you out. His songs are clever without assaulting the senses. Wates plays a mean guitar and is supported superbly by Bartosz Hadala on keyboards. This is a sophisticated little entertainment." (Hamilton Fringe Festival Reviews,, Joe's Café, July 2013)

Rupert Wates delivers | "For an hour of beautiful song writing, vocals, guitar and piano, go to Joe’s Café. Anyone who loves folk will delight in the work of Rupert Wates, who writes from the heart about people’s lives. His promise is a cup of kindness and he delivers. Superb piano by Bartosz Hadala." (Patricia Bradbury, Hamilton Fringe 2013 Reviews, View Magazine, Joe's Café, July 2013)

Special, indeed | "Wates is a gifted singer-songwriter whose style of music and lyrics are Gordon Lightfoot-like. His lyrics are rich with social commentary, humour, sorrow, and sweetness, and his music can make you tap your toes or stomp your feet or sit silent and still. Joe's Café is something special, indeed." (Rebecca Costie, Hamilton Fringe Festival Community Reviews, Joe's Café, July 22, 2013)

Enthralled | "The audience [was] enthralled by the performance. You will be delighted." (Hamilton Fringe Festival Community Reviews, Joe's Café, July 21, 2013)

Vividly painted | "This show is for lovers of musical folklore. In a staged intimate setting meant to imitate that of a cozy all-night café, Rupert Wates uses soft melodies and catchy tunes to tell the stories of the American people. The catch, however, is that these are not the stories that you might read about in history books or see in Hollywood films. These stories do not depict the traditional American hero... Rather, these stories highlight the truth of heartbreak, loss and hope that mark the lives of America’s silent heroes... At times angry, sad and hopeful, these stories take you through vividly painted images of life... [An] escape into the quiet lives of others, and there is some sort of comfort in knowing that these lives have not been forgotten." (St-Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival 2013 review, Bloody, June 15, 2013)

Quietly powerful | "This musical café is a one-man operation now, but the charm of the place hasn't been affected much by being downsized. Joe's Café, a folk-tinged musical revue with a gentle message, features the songwriting and storytelling of British-born New Yorker Rupert Wates. Equipped with an acoustic guitar, Wates specializes in earthy tales about crimes, compassion, nostalgia and social commentary. Lyrically, these songs combine the economy of a Woody Guthrie ballad with the intricacies of contemporary singer-songwriter Richard Thompson. Like Thompson, Wates handles an acoustic guitar with deft precision, building his songs on a foundation of fluid finger-picking. This year, Wates performs alone, but the music remains quietly powerful." (Jim Abbott, Orlando Fringe Review, Orlando Sentinel, May 21, 2013)

Kindness and cruelty, heroism and horror—clever, unexpected | "...presents moments of kindness and cruelty, heroism and horror, he’s seeking to capture the demotic spirit of his adopted country. His lyrics are slippery and clever, with unexpected rhymes and details." (Prairie Dog Fringe Festival Review 2012, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada)

'Joe's Cafe better be on your list' | After reading through all the reviews on here of this show I really don’t know what I could possible add. But here it goes. I went to see Joe’s Cafe on a whim. I am very lucky I did. Beautifully written, beautifully sung. All the performers had such a great talent for storytelling, which is something that the majority of singers in the world are lacking. If you are looking for variety in Fringe shows then Joe’s Cafe better be on your list. Heart-Breaking at times, funny at others, angry even at times but always honest and enjoyable. (JayeOfManyHats, 2011 San Francisco Fringe Festival audience reviews)

'Arresting, heart-warming, and soulful' | "Beautiful, arresting, heart-warming, and soulful storytelling set to music. The different vocal styles of the four singers made the various songs seem both fresh and yet familiar. Truly an enjoyable evening, well worth your time!" (Sarah J. Lau, 2011 San Francisco Fringe Festival audience reviews)

'See it.' | "An hour of original music. Two men and two women. Some funny. Some touching. The themes of the songs are from (estimated), 1860′s through late 1960′s. Bring in a glass of wine or some other libation for this show. Then [sit] back and relax... This performance isn’t fringy. It’s just relaxing. See it." (Craig Kensek, 2011 San Francisco Fringe Festival audience reviews)

'Emotionally rich...meaningful.' | "Genuine commitment from all four musicians, emotionally rich original songs with meaningful historical elements, and once you’ve seen the show the CD is absolutely indispensable (and still very much worth having even if you can’t see the show). Moments of celebration and humor, moments of bittersweet melancholy, and everything in between….sometimes all at once. (Greg, 2011 San Francisco Fringe Festival audience reviews)

'Taken back to the rich days of my youth... Indulge your ears.' | "Since we see as many shows as we can (16 in 4 days this year) the challenge is to maximize variety and quality. Joe's Cafe was a rich dose of both. For me, I was taken back to the rich days of my youth when this style of music was called 'folk' and many great artists contributed to the legacy. Rupert Wates and his two excellent singers are a proud extension of the folk tradition with stories that reveal so much about the lifes we as people have led. Indulge your ears and drop in on Joe's Cafe." (Randy Waterhous, 2011 IndyFringe audience reviews)

'Wonderful, masterful, must see' | "This was a very heartfelt show. All singers were really wonderful. The lyrics were masterful. This is a must see show. (Sue, 2011 IndyFringe audience reviews)

'Don't miss' | "Joe's Cafe is a terrific performance by three very talented folks. I enjoyed every minute. Beautiful lyrics, stunning melodies, remarkable vocals, and virtuoso guitar. Don't miss this one! (John, 2011 IndyFringe audience reviews)

'Haunting with simplicity and beauty - Sweet' | "We chose this show at random, and we were stunned by the ability of these three performers to communicate their haunting tales with such simplicity and beauty. Every musical "story" created a clear picture in the mind of the listener, and each was tender in its own way. What a sweet, sweet show. We are so happy we stumbled into it." (Laura Harris, 2011 IndyFringe audience reviews)

'Best musical experience of my life' | "Joes cafe may be the best musical experience of my life. My heart was glowing and breakage at the same time. Amazing." (Tweet from Splanice on IndyFringe 2011 performance)

'Marvelous' | Wow—what a terrific show. The original songs are based on true stories, and the performers sang them with such skill and care. Such marvelous voices...these folks know how to interpret a song! (Mary Armstrong-Smith, 2011 IndyFringe audience reviews)

'Simply breathtaking' | Wow! What a show! I've rarely enjoyed a fringe show as much as I enjoyed this one. It far exceeded my expectations. The songs were beautiful and sung from the heart. Some of Rupert's lyrics were simply breathtaking. They reminded me of the best of Harry Chapin's story songs. [Rupert Wate's] guitar playing was exceptional and the two female singers were outstanding. My favorite song had to be The Skies of South Dakota. Stacey Lorin's near accapella vocals were hauntingly beautiful. [Penelope Thomas'] voice was incredible on Sally's Farm. You should definitely go see this show if you're a lover of music and lyrics. (Mike Smith, 2011 IndyFringe audience reviews)

'Stunning voices, welcoming atmosphere with story-driven songs' | "Folksy and comfortable, the hour-long musical revue features songs about America — from the Civil War through present day — written by British ex-pat Rupert Wates. Based in New York City, the musician invites the audience into a friendly cafe to listen to tales of hope, sorrow, love and loss. Wates, whose guitar skills and vocals are excellent, performs his work with Meghan Lofgren and Tara Stadnyk, whose stunning voices add character to the musical stories. As the trio performs — usually with each singer taking turns with solo pieces — old photos (and sometimes photos made to look old) illustrate the emotions the songs work to invoke in the audience. From interracial marriage in the 1950s to travelling across the United States during the Great Depression, the images quietly add to the experience. A welcoming atmosphere with story-driven songs and lovely vocals..." (Cassandra Kyle, The StarPhoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

'Hearty meal for the ears and the soul' | "Most Fringe shows are one story, or maybe two. At Joe’s Café, Rupert Wates and friends...tell more than a dozen true stories in song. Wates is British, but now lives in the U.S., and while these are songs of people from his adopted home, they ring true for all of us, with tales that are inspiring, sad, and honest. And equally important, the songs, all written by Wates, and accompanied by his skilled acoustic guitar playing, are well crafted and beautifully performed. While Joe’s Café doesn’t serve up traditional Fringe fare, it’s a hearty meal for the ears and the soul. (And you can get take-out: Joe’s Café is available on CD as well.) (Laurie Bursch, London Fringe Reviews, London, Ontario, June 18, 2011) | "Agree entirely. Wates pulled me almost physically into Joe's Cafe and I just sat down and was immersed in the "stories". Stacey Lorin, his wife and fellow performer, has such a lovely voice. The two of them are fine musicians, but, above all, each knows how to tell a story in song. A delightful performance. And I have the CD, so I can re-live the pleasure." (Joe, London Fringe Reviews, London, Ontario, June 19, 2011)

'Voice of the people' | "What folk music intends to do...capture the voice of the people" (Robert Del Medico, Orlando Sentinel Blog, May 27, 2011)

'A breath of fresh air among the din of the Fringe'
| "If you hang out at Joe’s Cafe, you’re taking a relaxing visit to...the era of 1960s folk music, which guitarist/singer Wates and singer Kellie Amend re-create in such an authentic way that you feel transported to a circa-1968 coffee-house in Harvard Square... [Wates is] so masterly on acoustic folk guitar... Throughout, Amend’s light, shimmery voice may remind you of the young Judy Collins, and the sweet combination of that voice and Wates’ guitar draws any tension right out of you... The musicality in this little revue makes it a breath of fresh air among the din of the Fringe." (Elizabeth Maupin in "Elizabeth Maupin on Theater," May 23, 2011)

'Compelling and beautiful...with graceful words and music' | If they told American history in songs instead of textbooks, maybe more people would remember it. Of course, the songs would have to be compelling and beautiful, like the ones featured in the delicate, folk-tinged “Joe’s Café.” That wonderful musical revue features the songwriting of British-born New Yorker Rupert Wates, whose narrative storytelling is superb – even by the highest folk-music standards. These tales revolve around crimes, compassion, nostalgia and social commentary, all wrapped in the exploits of characters that are remarkably well-drawn in compact songs. Rupert sings some, but distinguishes himself more with his fluid acoustic guitar picking. His partner, singer Kellie Amend, handles most of the vocals in a crystalline voice vaguely reminiscent of Joni Mitchell. Her voice was sweet in the gentle “Snow in New York,” then haunting in an a cappella interlude in the tragic “Skies of South Dakota.” Together, Rupert and Amend were joyous in “Days of Mercy,” a Dust Bowl ode that ended the show on a high note. “Here’s to you and here’s to me,” they sang. “Here’s to all we’ve ever seen.” With graceful words and music, “Joe’s Café” offers yet another look at that incredible past. (Jim Abbott, Orlando Sentinel music critic, 2011 Orlando Fringe Festival reviews)

'Moving' | "Loved this show! Beautifully written and performed." (Patrick, SF Fringe 2010 Audience Reviews)

'A musical oasis' | "An engaging and refreshing respite: good for the spirit and for the soul. Harkens back to the earlier days of folk cafes with acoustic guitar and enchanting and moving ballads. You really do leave here feeling renewed. Definitely worth seeing." (Ed, SF Fringe 2010 Audience Reviews)

'A thoroughly enjoyable evening of toe tapping music' | "Joe's Cafe is the first and only concert show I've seen thus far in the 2010 IndyFringe. Singer-songwriter Rupert Wates presents an evening of original compositions based on tidbits of news and historical information he has collected over the years. Paired with two outstanding female voices, Wates picks away at the guitar with incredible skill. From an homage to the late great George Carlin to a dangerous retelling of police brutality in Queens, NY, Wates creates an experience that hearkens back to the hay day of folk music...a thoroughly enjoyable evening of toe tapping music..." (Katelyn Coyne, Bravo Indianapolis)

'Strong...haunting, powerful' | "Wates writes songs with strong melodies based on true stories...haunting and powerful" (3 and a half stars)
(A.C., The Victoria Times Colonist)

'A wonderful diversion'
| "This was a wonderful diversion from typical fringe fare, and a much needed respite. The simplicity of beautiful song punctuated by intricate guitar work and truly angelic voices made this an honest and refreshing performance." (GS, Indianapolis Fringe Festival audience reviews, August 25, 2010)

'Warm, witty, tender, poignant' (4 1/2 stars) | "This warm, witty, tender, poignant program of fifteen songs cuts across the U.S.landscape to share stories of ordinary people and fleeting moments made memorable by Rupert Wates' razor-sharp, insightful touch as a composer and lyricist. Emotions in the songs, and their delivery by Wates, Stacey Lorin and Valorie Miller, are nuanced. It's a welcome respite to sit in Joe's Cafe, feeling the strong melodies in your bones and absorbing the messages in your gut. You'll take something powerfully important away – we connect best when we feel the story. Take time for Joe's Cafe." (Fringe review by Rita Kohn of Nuvo, Indianapolis, IN)

Indianapolis Fringe Festival audience reviews: 'Run to see it' | "Joe's Cafe was a wonderful musical experience. A 'concept album' of the first magnitude...touching songs, wonderful guitar work and angelic voices...truly memorable and ... run to see it!" (Bill Bourus, Indianapolis Fringe Festival audience reviews, August 24, 2010)

'Bought the Album, Too' (five stars) | "Ready for a Fringe change of pace, I found this a great evening of well-penned, intelligent songs about real lives. Each song story was complete, and several were especially terrific, leading me to buy the CD. Don't remember the titles, but toasting the lion and the lamb is an anthem we need this political season, as is the one about the mixed-race marriage, and the tribute to George Carlin. Between-song patter was minimal in this driven set, but maybe one less song would have allowed us more time to mull after each song ended. Four voices, guitar, keyboard, even a hint of Joni Mitchell." (Jon Skaalen, Minneapolis Fringe Reviews, August 13, 2010)

'Solid Singing and Story-telling' (four stars)
| "I didn't know what to expect from this show, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It is not a play, but rather a band combining storytelling with music. There was just one guitar player and one keyboardist, and two other vocalists; all four of them took turns singing lead and back-up vocals. The stories are based on real people in America; many of them were quite sad and upsetting, while others were sweet and uplifting. I was almost moved to tears a couple of times, for different reasons. The lyrics were clear, well-written, and captivating, but the best part of the show was simply the music itself (especially the vocals of the two female singers). I just sat in the theatre, letting the music wash over me, and I absorbed it like a sponge. The Garage's acoustics make it the perfect venue for this show, and it's one I definitely recommend." (Heather Baldwin, Minnesota Fringe Reviews, August 13, 2010)

Four stars | "I recommend you listen to the music carefully. Great voices and amazing true singing stories." (Perry Smaglik, Minnesota Fringe Reviews, August 11, 2010)

'Riveting stories, told in song' (five stars) | "Within the cozy confines of the Theatre Garage, 'Joe's Cafe' serves up an interlude of impeccable story-telling, set to music. Rupert Wates' song-writing is elegant and spare. Delivered by musicians who've mastered their craft, it is exquisite." (Roberta Parker, Minnesota Fringe Reviews, August 10, 2010)

'Sung so beautifully' and 'Strong performances' | From Sandra McDonald, Minnesota Fringe Reviews, August 10, 2010: "Simple stories that might have long been forgotten.... sung so beautifully!" From Amelia Kritzer, Minnesota Fringe Reviews, August 10, 2010: "Joe is a talented chef."

'Strong performances,' Minnesota Fringe Reviews, August 9, 2010, Minneapolis, MN | "The musicians were excellent and the songs well-written..." (Jenna Papke, Minnesota Fringe Reviews)

'Highly recommended,' Minnesota Fringe Reviews, August 5, 2010, Minneapolis, MN | "The songs are simple, clear and poignant with lovely melodies and the musicians are very talented. Each song has a single lead singer (they take turns) with the others sometimes performing backup harmonies. All the singers have strong, sweet voices..." (Sharon Kahn, Minnesota Fringe Reviews)

Fringe Reviews 2010, Hamilton, Ontario | "A pleasant way to spend an hour visiting Joe’s Cafe. Every song tells a story and the music and harmony are delivered expertly." (Rozz Woodstock, Fringe Reviews 2010,

View Magazine Online: 'Truly magical,' Joe's Cafe at Theatre Aquarius Studio, Hamilton, Ontario, July 22-28, 2010 | "This show would fall under the category of musical revue; however, expect some top-notch storytelling as well. Rupert Wates, Stacy Lorin and Valorie Miller create lasting images with their songs. Let go and follow the journeys they fashion with their music. It is truly magical when voices come together and the particular chemistry of this trio is undeniable. Some might say this isn’t theatre, but it certainly isn’t just for music lovers. Try it out!" (Katie Penrose, July 22-28, 2010, Hamilton Fringe Festival 2010 Reviews from View Magazine Online)

Joe's Cafe at Theatre Aquarius Studio, Hamilton, Ontario, July 20, 2010 | "Rupert Wates; [Valorie] Miller and Stacey Lorin, are all about as professional as it gets, with voices and momentum that project the story behind each varied offering... There was one offering sung a cappella by soprano Lorin- chorus line …‘in South Dakota’, that left the audience so spellbound that applause was both hesitant and delayed. If you are a Folk fan, or even if you are not…this is a fast-moving one hour of accomplished entertainment." (Reviewer: Danny Gaisin -

"Joes’ Cafe is an American journey in song and story," by Tom Mackan on Joe's Cafe at Theater Aquarius Studio, Hamilton, Ontario, July 18, 2010 | "Rupert Wates is a musician and song-writer and plays a mean guitar. Flanked in a simple setting by his two songstresses Stacy and Valerie (I think I’ve got their names right, as there’s no programme) the group takes us on an American journey through the 20th century. It’s a seamless and smooth trip, with only minimal intros by Wates, and a word or two from his partners. Val has the look and sound of the sixties, singing her ballads in the kind of defensive detachment we remember from seeing US TV and films of the period. She has a clear and convincing delivery. Stacy is warmer, evoking recollections of her country’s folk tradition, of snow falling in New York and tragic love in South Dakota. Wates takes centre stage with more of a poet-balladeer to his stories, touching on disparate subjects from George Carlin to the emotions of the American experience in their several wars. One senses his quiet leadership of the group, of the gentle director, like a leader of a commune. It is a real pleasure to hear and feel the sounds of our southern neighbours, and sense the genuine affection they have for their century of troubles and tendernesses. The less than an hour it takes seems too short. Highly recommended for a change of pace and of heart. It has five more performances to go, and the next is today, July 18, 3:30 pm at the Studio Space, Theatre Aquarius." (2010 Hamilton Fringe Reviews)

Joe's Café at Theater Aquarius Studio, Hamilton, Ontario, July 17, 2010 | "The moment Rupert Wates strikes the first chord on his guitar and begins to welcome you, you will know you are in good hands and are in for a real treat. Wates, along with his two friends, Stacey Lorin and Valorie Miller, spend the next sixty minutes telling stories and creating poetry with music. Wates has a true poet's gift to create images that leave lasting impressions. How wonderful to encounter lyrics that tell stories again. They have been absent far too long. The other element of this wonderful evening is Wates's virtuosity on the guitar. His fingerpicking is mesmerizing, as are his melodies. His two friends display their own virtuosity as well, Ms Lorin with a haunting rendition of 'The Skies Of South Dakota', Ms Miller with the moving 'Darkness, Darkness'. When all three sing together the magic goes into overtime. Don't miss this show." (Reviewer: Tim Koetting)

Album reviews

'A brilliant album all told'

"The new record by Rupert Wates has a neat, sometimes jazzy sound and some inspired songs. The ambitious album shares stories of ordinary people in the U.S in the last century. He runs the gamut from comedians to serial killers and never wavers once. The vocals are handled by Wates himself and guest singers. Gretchen Witt acquits herself well on "Sally's Farm" and Ashley Gonzalez is superb on "The skies of South Dakota." It's a brilliant album all told."

'Unreservedly' recommended

"Rupert Wates was born and bred in London, a full time musician since 1992. In 2001 he moved to Paris, and in 2006 settled in the USA. In London he worked mainly as an accompanist for Jazz singers. During his time in Paris he emerged as a solo artist, bringing out CDs regularly. This is his fourth.

"We are dealing with a concept album. Here in 'JOE'S CAFE,' Wates issues a welcome and himself takes the role of Joe. There follow stories typical of a cafe in the '60s, about the people who frequent the cafe, and taking inspiration from Paul Auster's True Tales Of American Life.

"Wates has a soft voice which suits his gentle folky material. His voice is reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot. But he assigns the roles of the different people to other singers. Thus twelve different vocalists perform the songs, making for some variation while still preserving unity. Wates himself sings three songs. Among the names of his collaborators only that of Craig Bickhardt rings a bell.

"Some numbers stand out by means of their different flavors. There is 'Snow In New York,' a jazzy number sung by Cassendre Xavier, a lady with a voice recalling that of Cassandra Wilson. Also in a jazzy vein is the powerful 'The Voodoo Doll' sung by Safiya Fredericks. 'Dick And Delores' is the story of a white man who marries a black woman, who cannot accompany him to cafes, leading to a legal battle. This story is accompanied by some great violin and recalls the work of Tim O Brien. I may mention also that the cover comprises an illustration of a lighted cafe window, with a mixed race couple outside (and presumably forbidden to enter).

"The best number is 'The Skies Of South Dakota', sung virtually acapella by an assured Ashley Gonzalez. Next best is a close fight between 'Dick And Delores' and 'Days Of Mercy', notable for beautiful harmonies and an infectious rhythm. The songs go from introspective to swaggering, from sad to happy. As examples the sad tale of 'Stand Up Comedians' and the gypsy swing of 'A Sunny Afternoon In The Bronx' are polar opposites. The album ends with a very accessible song of cheer raising a glass in toast to friendship.

"Wates has given a concert performance of the album featuring all the musicians at the Metropolitan Room in New York City. This concert can be seen on YOUTUBE, so you can check out the quality for yourself. I myself can unreservedly recommend the CD to anyone who likes to bask in beautiful stories set to music."

'Burrows deeply into the heart and mind'

"From the moment you lay eyes on the reverse-Norman-Rockwell cover of this mellowly beautiful but surprisingly dark CD, you know you're in for a quiet storm. Be prepared to shed a tear or two. Wates doesn't withhold his powers as a poet, tearing through the veneer of consensus reality to bring listeners the raw truth...Joe's Café burrows deeply into the heart and mind. This play of seemingly innocent musics with stark reality is something not often attempted in popular music."
Mark S. Tucker
Folk And Acoustic Music Exchange
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'Succeeds brilliantly'

"This impressive album...succeeds brilliantly in conveying the warm atmosphere of Joe's Café. In my opinion (Rupert Wates) will quickly make a success from this disc."
Johan Schoenmakers

"The visit to Joe's Café is well worth it."
Karsten Rube
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