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Through thick and thin, Austin's Coffee's open mic nights carry a lovely tune

Yardis first picked up his guitar and started dabbling in songwriting while he was in high school. He spent years honing his skills at Austin's open mic nights and other local hot spots, eventually landing lead vocal and rhythm guitar duties for the ambient alt-rock outfit Mirror Pal. Now, after playing venues like the Social, Back Booth and Hard Rock Live, Yardis has recorded a solo album, Unto You, with his new quartet, the Drew Yardis Project.

“Austin's has definitely bloomed,” he says. “It definitely attracts a lot of musicgoers and people that really appreciate art. It gives an artist a place to come in and play in front of people. I have seen some people come out of here and go on to pretty awesome things.”

Artists can also noodle along to covers on singer-songwriter Tuesdays, but you won't hear much yowling to “Piano Man,” unless there's an accordion or ocarina lurking somewhere in the background. Acoustic romps through songs like R. Kelly's “Ignition” and Rebecca Black's “Friday” are deliciously clever without collapsing under their own self-awareness. The performers brim with genuinely earned verve, running crayons across walls for the sweet mischief of it, for instance, while somehow eluding the snobbish stereotypes embraced at other coffeehouses.

That's because at Austin's, the forum itself, the physical venue, the friendly exchange between artist and audience, is more integral than any single performance or artist.

“It brings everyone together,” Moore says. “It gives a big place like Orlando a small-town feel. You get stranded out there without it.”

Moore himself got lost in the urban din after he moved from his native New England years ago. As a green 22-year-old, he longed for something reminiscent of the cobblestone roads and huddled coffeehouses up north. It took time, but eventually he stumbled onto the little shop on Fairbanks.

“Austin's was in real bad shape then – leaky ceiling, patched-up walls, all that,” Moore recalls. “The place had an energy about it, like it does now, but it couldn't draw the people. Now I feel we've grown our community here.”

Moore is clearly devoted to the city that embraced his endeavor, but he also understands the difficulties of carving out a life here, where the most many people take in is a travel itinerary and some suntan lotion. Family and friends ebb and flow through Orlando like the tourists who flock to and from its amusement parks.

Moore hopes the coffeehouse and open mic night series adds consistency to a transient town.

“Orlando is like a small town trapped in a big city,” he says. “There are so many distractions, but everyone just wants to connect with someone, on some level. Whether you're coming or going, I think we provide a space where you'll be heard.”

The series continues to bring new artists into the fold, adding additional nights and expanding the Austin's family even further.

“Before we added a hip-hop open mic night on Mondays, nobody in Orlando offered those guys a venue to get together and perform,” Moore says. “But it's been awesome to see that scene get tighter over the weeks since we started hosting them. I was hesitant at first, but now it's my favorite night.”

“This place transformed my life,” he adds. “Austin's Coffee is a transparent, complete representation of me: the local art we showcase here, the coffee we serve, the atmosphere we create. It's so liberating to be honest with yourself and those you care about. I just hope we can bring that to everyone else.”

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