Published in the January 16 – 29, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Photo by Mark Fenichel/fenifoto
Mark Gaetano plays the piano to the delight of the crowd at 88 Keys during the inaugural Chris & Friends Open Mic Night.

The long running (five and a half years) Chris & Friends at the GVA Café came to an abrupt end when GVA’s lounge recently closed as a music venue.  It was a sad day for the many regularly participating musicians and music lovers when the final open mic ran aground on that fateful second Wednesday of December.

A bittersweet day for Renee Carrillo who with the help of one of her long-time friends pioneered the downtown music scene attracting a broad variety of bands to the center of downtown Morgan Hill.  They had a perfect formula where the music was free, a nice selection of cold beer, the wine was local and smooth, and the coffee always the best. Her food healthy, fresh, and bountiful with outrageous desserts tasting as good as they looked. Well at this point, nothing has changed at the café except that now the music is no longer spilling onto the sidewalk.

Due to health issues, Renee had to slow down and gave up the music venue to Tryst, a clothing store that moved across the street taking over the space. The Chris & Friends Open Mic Night had become an institution and had to find a new home quickly to continue the momentum it had built up during the past five and a half years. The most logical choice prevailed when Mark and Susan Gaetano, owners of 88 Keys Café and  Bar, agreed to take over the Wednesday open mic.

Mark, an excellent pianist who personally works the keys a few nights a week, and his wife Susan, a true music lover, took on the challenge and welcomed Chris & Friends to their new Wednesday night home. The venue is the perfect place for an open mic with their full bar, wonderful food selections (and prices) and a much larger space with a PA system and piano already in place.  In case you didn’t know, 88 Keys Café features live music nightly and is open seven days a week. It’s a great place to relax with their weekly happy hour, appetizers, food specials and small plate options.

On Wednesday, Jan. 9, the maiden voyage and second chapter of Chris & Friends Open Mic took off right on time opening with Chris doing his signature first song sound check. There was already a nice crowd of players as a steady stream of guitar toting musicians continued to fill up the place. By 7 p.m. it  was near capacity as a smiling Chris O’Connor happily picked his players one by one.  The music was non-stop and ran for more than four hours with the final act ending at 10:15 p.m.  Stephanie, the only server, miraculously bounced from table to table serving everyone all night long. The bartender worked consistently taking care of the bar as the drinks flowed.


It felt like a family reunion as the musicians mixed and mingled. In the true tradition of Chris & Friends there were many new musicians in addition to the numerous regular and a variety of piano players taking advantage of the house piano. Even Mark Gaetano stepped up during the evening and played a couple of tunes. Chris was constantly working the room, tweaking the sound and enjoying every minute of the evening. He even paid tribute to Renee Carrillo announcing her release from the hospital and nicely requesting donations to her Go-Fund-Me page.

By the end of the night it was apparent that Chris & Friends had found a new home, bigger and better than before, with the same great vibe GVA brought weekly. I was thrilled to be a part of such a big night and look forward to many more successful good times. Chris & Friends Open Mic Night happens every Wednesday from 6  to 9 p.m. (or later if necessary) at 1295 E. Dunne Ave. #100. Visit them at

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On another note, stop by GVA and say hi to Renee. The cafe is at the corner of Second Street and Monterey Road. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, coffee, and desserts like their delicious gelato

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Mark Fenichel

Mark Fenichel

Mark Fenichel is the Advertising/Marketing Director for Morgan Hill Life with more than 40 years of marketing experience. If you're interested in learning more about building your business brand, contact Mark at (408) 410-4782 or email him at
Mark Fenichel