Enjoying cuisine, conversation and live music in complete darkness may sound like a slightly strange way to spend an evening, but for attendees of The Blind Café Experience it proves to be a highly enjoyable night, where other senses are heightened and deeper connection blooms.
The Boulder-based organization that specializes in creating thoughtfully curated events in a blackened-out venue is providing a run of intimate dinner concerts at University of Colorado Boulder’s Wesley Chapel starting Thursday and running through Oct 23.
“Wesley Chapel is our home venue, meaning it is the first place we ever did a ‘Blind Café Orchestra: The Music in the Dark Experience’ back in 2010,” said musician Brian “Rosh” Rocheleau, The Blind Café Experience’s founder and executive director. “So very excited to be back and to be rebooting from our original spot.”
While the unique concept was born in Boulder, Rocheleau has taken it on the road with Blind Cafés popping up in Seattle, Austin,Texas, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.
Pop star Katy Perry — while on tour in 2017 — took her crew to a Blind Café Experience pop-up in Chicago, just days before her 33rd birthday.
The unusual offering is also sought out by businesses and individuals looking to provide something in place of a standard team-building exercise or retreat.
“There is something powerful that happens at our Blind Café events that’s beyond just a cool, unique experience in the dark,” Rocheleau said. “When we lose our sight entirely at The Blind Café, there is a relinquishing of control that must happen. The attendees don’t have their cell phones to habitually check every few minutes. They have to trust in their fellow attendees and our blind staff to navigate through the experience.”
Tickets for the Boulder dates at Wesley Chapel are $85 and all attendees must provide proof of full vaccination prior to admittance. Vaccination card photos can be emailed to email@example.com during the ticket purchase process. Masks must be worn when appropriate.
“The attendees have to learn to listen better, be more acute with their presence in the moment and dig deeper inside themselves to communicate with each other,” Rocheleau said. “All their little habitual habits are interrupted and there is a window there — while they are in the dark — to touch in on a different way of relating to their world.”
The experience proves to be somewhat meditative and Zen-like. When folks emerge from the pitch black, it almost feels like they have awoken from a dream. This is often done subtly, with the lighting of a candle at the evening’s closure.
“There’s something about being in pure 100% organic darkness with others, with guide dog puppies, dark chocolate, really cool sighted and blind musicians and artists performing live music that gives the audience the experience of feeling music on a fully embodied level,” Rocheleau said.
The fare has not been revealed yet for the upcoming Boulder dates, but a “mystery meal” is part of the fun. Vegan and gluten-free options will be available.
“I met Rosh on Sept. 11, 2001, and we have been close friends ever since,” said Dango Rose, founding member of Elephant Revival and a Blind Café Experience artist who will be performing at the Boulder dates. “He invited me to perform in the dark with him back in 2018 and I found it to be quite the heart-opening experience. Being in 100% darkness catalyzes the active listening experience as it fosters an adherence to true presence in each passing moment.”
The experience proves to be an impactful one for attendees and musicians who are looking to play in a completely opposite environment from a typical spotlighted venue.
“Without our regular visual social cues, a whole new world of relating authentically opens up that’s hard to describe without having first experienced it,” Rose said. “Conversations take on more depth and meaning and music is heard and integrated in ways which have been lost in our modern screen-oriented society. True personal and interpersonal connection occurs at The Blind Café Experience in ways that are deep and meaningful.”
The nuances and flavors within food and the elements of the live soundtrack truly pop when visibility is restricted.
“Much like when you were 16 and you really felt music — every lyric, every melody meant something because you’re entirely focused and embodied by it,” Rocheleau said. “Experiencing loud music in the dark creates that experience — to some level — that most of us can’t get back to on our own.”
Before establishing his organization, Rocheleau discovered a blind café while on a tour through Reyjkavik, Iceland. He later made a blind friend at Naropa in a diversity class and started to ponder the ways in which he could bring sighted people and visually-impaired individuals together through the arts.
As a musician, he has always sought out opportunities to unite people and the staying power of his award-winning social impact organization is a testament to that.
Over 50,000 people have experienced The Blind Café program to date and with new dates being added as COVID restrictions somewhat loosen, that number is only increasing.
In addition to providing attendees with a sensory-rich evening, it also allows participants to feel what it is like to navigate the world — at least a slice of it — without sight.
“They are offered a new perspective,” Rocheleau said. “We have seen from hundreds of letters from our guests how it changed the way they see the world, how they relate to blind persons and people of disability and how they just experience a deep sense of gratitude.”
Richie Flores, The Blind Café’s lead blind ambassador, is one of the group’s lead performing artists as well. He’s a songwriter and musician who will be playing for the Boulder dates.
There will also be a positive social impact Q&A with Blind Café’s legally blind ambassadors and a certain amount of proceeds will go to initiatives that help puppies become certified guide dogs.
“My favorite moments come from recognizing when the audience has no longer been caught up in the ideas of what the future is going to be here,” Rocheleau said, “they’re in the present moment,”
The Blind Café also holds events at The Dairy Arts Center and will host intimate blackout dinner concerts there in the spring from April 14-17.
“There’s something about sharing and revealing experiences with each other through conversation, plus breaking bread together, along with actively listening to live music that just hits the body, mind and soul,” Rocheleau said.