When Mychael Wright opened Golden Thyme Cafe almost two decades ago, one of the first reactions he got was a laugh. A group of curious kids had stopped by to see what kind of business was being opened and, when they heard it was a coffee shop, they told him it wouldn’t last long.
“I think our kids couldn’t really identify with a black man opening up a business or a coffee shop, but I had a vision and I had a plan,” Wright said, recalling the days when the neighborhood suffered. “I just went forward and hoped that I would become somebody they could look at and [see] what you can do in life.”
Now, Wright has become that role model. While Selby Avenue has changed as new businesses and housing developments have sprung up, Golden Thyme has remained a cornerstone in the neighborhood. It’s a popular gathering place, even for those who once doubted Wright’s vision.
Wright had a lot to do with that renaissance. On Saturday the cafe will host its 18th annual Selby Avenue Jazz Festival, the community’s biggest event of the year. Located on the corner of Selby Avenue and Milton Street, the daylong festival will feature R&B singer Goapele as its headliner, as well as local artists and groups from Patricia Lacy of Sounds of Blackness to Bossa Soul, Brio Bass, the Jazz Standards, and the Selby Avenue Brass Band.
Over the years the festival has been a big boost to Selby Avenue and attracted thousands of visitors from across the Twin Cities. Wright is a big jazz fan. But although he is excited about the musicians at this year’s event, he’s also interested in the festival’s potential to hook a new generation to jazz.
“I want this to open the eyes of what’s possible for young people in the community,” Wright said. “If you do rap, that’s fine, but who paved the way are the jazz artists of the past.”
One of the ways Wright tries to attract more young people is by making sure the event addresses the community’s needs. There’s a health and wellness clinic, a family fun zone and marketplace for local artists to sell their goods, but what’s most important to Wright is there aren’t any barriers for anyone to attend.
“I remember going up to a kid with a balloon and I said, ‘Hey, you want a balloon?’ He says,‘I don’t have no money,’” Wright recalled. “I said, ‘Well, you don’t need no money.’ And then I tied that balloon around the kid’s wrist. There’s a big, as we say, a big cool a smile on his face because he got a big beautiful balloon free and just enjoyed the day with his parents. That’s what it’s all about.”
Wright now runs the festival with his wife, Stephanie. He wants someone else to take the reins at some point, but for now he’s happy with how the event continues to bring people together and he hopes it will continue to evolve and serve its audience for years to come.
“The number of years that we’ve been in the business and the number of people that we draw for Jazz Fest tells me that we’re doing something right,” Wright said. “I hope that when the wife and I are done that someone will come along and say, ‘I want to take it to a different level.’ That would be very inspiring for me.”
More information on this year’s festival is available on the Selby Avenue Jazz Festival website.
Simone Cazares is a student at Metropolitan State University. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.