“Dedicated to the One I Love” is a classic love song, originally recorded in the 1950s by The “5” Royales and remade by numerous artists who wanted to put their own spin on it. On Sunday, Actual Café in Oakland decided to take the theme in another direction with a musical event called “Dedicated to the One I Love” during which customers could make a request or a dedication to friends and loved ones. Listeners were invited to bring in their favorite songs or choose from the musical collection of KALX’s DJ Poindexter, who hosted the event.
“We wanted to put something together that resonates with people,” said café owner Sal Bednarz. “We’re trying to make it as interactive as we can by encouraging people to bring their own records and request particular tracks and write dedications to people.”
The café is on the corner of Alcatraz and San Pablo Avenues in what for many years was a fishing tackle store. Three years ago Bednarz turned the space into a coffee shop. There are two huge windows in the space, and high-backed wooden booths sit in front of one wall of windows near long tables set up for communal dining. There is a bar-style counter, a space on the wall has a panel covered with decals and just above it are hooks where customers may hang their bikes. In the corner is a nook for those who want a little privacy.
On Sunday evening, the turntables and speakers were already set up in front of the picture window near the door. Just before 5 p.m., a young woman with a short haircut and a pink 1950’s-retro style dress came in carrying a crate filled with albums. This was the debut live public appearance for the KALX Radio’s DJ Poindexter who has worked at the station for five years. (Her friends refer to her as Lindsay Melnyk; when she is not on deejay duty she is a hairstylist at a salon in the area as well as an artist.)
“I don’t really ever deejay out in the real world, so this is the first night we have done this,” she said, smiling as she sat down at the table near the deejay stand. “I have no idea how it’s going to go but hopefully it will be OK.”
Melnyk knows some of the people who work at the Actual Café, who asked her to participate in the dedication night event. “We will see if this will be the first of many or the only one,” she said as she got ready for the show.
Since it was the first time the café had tried offering live dedications, Melnyk said she would most likely make the selections until people caught on. She started the three-hour session with “Walking in the Rain” by the Ronettes and proceeded to move smoothly through the decades from the ‘1950s to the ‘80s without a pause in the music or a glitch in the musical combinations.
As she predicted, at first many of the song choices were her own choice or suggestions by her best friend Liz Nutt, who came to the event to show her support. Nutt’s picked “Louie Louie” and “Mr. Pitiful” by Otis Redding—the latter because it reminded her of her parents’ cat, who is constantly beaten up by the cats next door. “Just a pitiful cat,” she said laughing.
Nutt suddenly became more serious. “My mom had tickets to see him before he died,” she said of Otis Redding. “Can you imagine how much good music we would have in the world if he hadn’t died?”
After a while, the room filled with friends from KALX, and people started to warm up to the dedication theme, selecting songs to dedicate to the ones they love or to the world at large. Erin Prunchak brought in the Elvis Presley classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to have DJ Poindexter play. “It isn’t dedicated to anyone in particular,” Prunchak said. “I chose it because it’s a beautiful song and because I love Elvis.”
Amy and Bryan Kilgore were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary. They often stop by the café because they are friends with the owner and Bryan’s band sometimes performs there. He dedicated a Townes Van Zanzt song to Amy. In turn, his wife asked the deejay to play “You Send Me” by Sam Cook.
Across the table from the Kilgores were Ben and Laura Speelman. Ben decided to surprise his wife with “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. He thought she wouldn’t know it because she it not a country music fan, but he was wrong. “I recognize this!” Laura said when the song started to play. “Thank you honey!”
The group around the table leaned in close to each other so they could hear over the sound of the music coming from the speakers nearby. “This is a great time to do something like this. The setup is great and so is Lindsay,” Laura Speelman said, nodding her head toward the deejay.
As the evening grew late, the audience continued to make requests—Sam Cook, Wham, Mary Wells, The Shirelles, Jay Hawkins. The crowd in the room laughed and talked while ordering food and drinks. Customers placed to-go orders. Some stopped to ask what was happening, others listened quietly to the music before moving on.
Overall, the audience seemed pleased with the event, and so were cafe’s staff. “For the first one, it was a good turnout for a lazy Sunday afternoon,” said café staffer Celeste Turconi, who had suggested the idea to Bednarz after seeing a similar event on a trip to Vermont. “Maybe later we can get a record store involved, partner with a local business and fine other ways to make it more inclusive. Anything that gets people out and hanging with each other is good for everyone.”
As for the deejay, she thought the musical selections by the customers were pretty good. “Some of them were things that I would have picked, too,” Melnyk said. “Some of them were things that I wouldn’t have, so it was just a matter of trying to fit them in. … I was really nervous at the beginning because there were so many different styles going. Hopefully, I managed it.”
As the evening came to a close, customer Melinda Wiggins took to the floor to dance to Michael Jackson’s “PYT,” which she chose because she and her sister had the album when they were kids. “I did a dance number in the third grade to this song,” she said, swinging her head from side-to-side, her hands on her hips as she bounced to the beat.
The session came to a close with what Melnyk described as the “ultimate song to end with”—“Purple Rain” by Prince.
“It was my parents’ song,” she said.