It is open mic night at Roots Miami Kava located at 4400 NW Second Ave. just north of Miami’s Wynwood area. Hip Hop artist Rashied Sabir steps up onto the stage. The socially distanced and masked crowd quiets down. Everyone’s attention is turned to the stage as Sabir directs the crowd to clap to the beat, which builds up to Sabir’s exclamation: “Bring the thunder!” electrifying the stage.
Even during a pandemic, the Kava bar and vegan eatery seems to be making headway with exciting shows that turn newcomers into regulars overnight. However, co-owner Paola Lopez admits that it has not been easy for the venue to stay afloat.
“I think it was the community that was the glue that held everything together,” she said. “[Due to the pandemic] the open mic stopped and I was really concerned about that. We had to reinvent ourselves and that was the most challenging part.”
The pandemic has presented most businesses in the area with unique challenges, and some have been less fortunate than others. Most recently the famous Wood Tavern closed in light of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions and rising rents.
Damian Maytin, who runs the marketing department for Roots, shares the sentiment that fresh ideas were needed to keep their brand relevant.
“We definitely took on new challenges,” he said.”But it made us stronger as a team and it made us learn different strategies to survive during the pandemic. So even though a lot of other places closed, we maintained the spirit of Roots, and so people kept on coming and supporting the business because they wanted us to survive. I think that the pandemic gave us a chance to market in new ways. We even did an open mic from home.”
The open mic at-home performances last fall featured local acts like The Uncanny Reservoir, Psychic Dove, Richy You, and Beniyah and can be found on the venue’s YouTube channel.
Sabir said the venue opened a door by allowing him to connect with a new audience and develop his craft.
“When I first came to Roots, it was a whole different vibe,” he said. “I felt like I was in the jungle for the first time. I felt like it was something that ushered me towards a new space or a new position as far as my own way of expressing myself towards the audience. So being at Roots performing every week, it almost feels like it’s part of a culture to me. I love being there, it’s like a safe place for me.”
Another Miami native and veteran of the Wednesday open mics is Pablo Grand. The Spanish trap and lo-fi hip-hop artist said that there seems to be something different in the air about the venue that grabs people’s attention from the moment they come in compared to the other bars and venues in Wynwood.
“Something that separates Roots from other venues, it’s kind of like a safe space that they focus on creating. I think the fact that they chose not to bring in alcohol after testing it out kind of gave them the position to elevate people and put them in a higher space of mind. You’re not going there for alcohol but you’re still going so there’s obviously something that attracts you,” said Grand. “I think that’s something that separates them aside from giving the chance to a lot of artists in the community and highlighting different talents. A lot of places don’t do that, nor do they care about that.”
Lopez believes that without the creative energy of the artists who come to perform along with the ownership’s commitment to a sense of community and family, the venue would not be the same.
“There’s magic in the air,” he said. “There is just this energy that starts from the top down to the customers. [The artists] are key because, if we wouldn’t have them, it would just be a regular restaurant and we wouldn’t have the special energy you feel in this place.”
Roots also hosts Super Smash video game tournaments on Mondays, a comedy and improv show called La Caldosa on Tuesdays, open mic night on Wednesdays and ladies’ night on Thursdays. Fridays and Saturdays are open for special private events for artists, and vendors and Sundays are saved for yoga classes.