Jason Tabosa’s Venus Vibe Trap ushers in open mic innovation at Bar 35

Jamie Winpenny

HONOLULU—Open mic nights in Honolulu, or anywhere for that matter, have long suffered the stigma of being at best a chance to possibly see genuine new musical or poetic talent, and at worst an exercise in banality. Certainly, most working musicians have had to suffer the indignity of signing up, waiting for similarly aspiring artists to plod through their material before getting the chance to throw themselves to the wolves by opening their songbooks, diaries, and hearts to a crowd that can be warmly receptive or caustically and openly hostile.

Veteran drummer and percussionist Jason Tabosa is keenly aware of what it takes to make an open mic night successful, and he’s come up with Juke Joint Jump-Off: Venus Vibe Trap, an open mic presentation at Bar 35, beginning Thursday, March 24.

Breaking from the traditional format of sign-up-and-wait-your-turn, Tabosa has put together a solid house band that will begin each night (the fourth Thursday of each month). During the first installment of Venus Vibe Trap, Tabosa’s house band will set the tempo and vibe for the evening. Accomplished solo artists Tavana and Kiana take the stage as featured artists in the second set before the night gives way to the true open mic format.

The native Hawaiian Tabosa grew up splitting time between Honolulu and the Bay Area, and he was taken by the vibrant music scene in the City by the Bay. “I noticed a kind of classic juke joint vibe going down at places like the Last Day Saloon and the Rocket Room,” he says, beneath a shock of long, blond hair held perennially in check by a pair of sunglasses. “I realized that I had never seen anything like that in Honolulu.”

A graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music and an accomplished instructor at the Percussion Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, Tabosa’s musical pedigree is impressive. He’s played regularly with the likes of Michael Franti and Ziggy Marley.

Several years ago, Tabosa returned to Honolulu, and put together the jazz outfit Organix, which became a staple at Indigo and other havens for fresh jazz. Local jazz thugs like trumpeter DeShannen Higa and guitarist David Yamasaki were regular session players.

Tabosa then moved back to the Bay Area to start a family (he’s the happily married father of a baby girl). Tabosa was eventually drawn back Honolulu to raise his family. He’s recruited most of his Organix bandmates to hold down house band duties, and with such a strong jazz and world music background, it seems unlikely that Venus Vibe Trap will ever devolve into 20-minute slogs through 12-bar blues mediocrity.

The house band has gotten together not for rehearsal, but to create a musical lexicon from which the members can draw to create something new, but more importantly, something coherent.

“It’s about knowing the musical language,” Tabosa says. He pauses. “It’s like understanding a dolphin,” he laughs.

Tabosa is possessed of an uncommon drive that fuels a variety of passions. He teaches Thai kickboxing at Powerhouse Gym. He teaches a music class at the Children’s Discovery Center in Kakaako. And he’s a tour guide at Kualoa Ranch (where he was married in the fall).

With his experience, talent, and ability to attract some of the best musicians in Honolulu, Venus Vibe Trap is poised to become an important incubator for local talent and a showcase of brave new artists. Tabosa’s aspirations for the endeavor are ambitious, and unique.

“People go to open mic nights to be seen and heard,” he says. “I want people to come to Venus Vibe Trap to see.”

Juke Joint Jump-Off: Venus Vibe Trap
Thursday, March 24 at 9:00 p.m. (and every fourth Thursday of the month)
Bar 35
35 North Hotel Street