Kane County Chronicle

Live at the Limestone Coffee & Tea

I had been to Limestone Coffee & Tea only once before, years ago, to visit poet Frank Rutledge’s informal writers group. Leah, co-owner with Joy, remembers him “at a table with other local writers, creating and sharing his gift. He had a warmth about him that radiated like a halo. We were honored to display the plaque in memory of Frank above the table where he often sat.”

Plaque and photo of Frank Rutledge inside Limestone Coffee & Tea in Batavia. (for Rick Holinger column)

The coffee shop, in a Batavia neighborhood surrounding the Wilson Street bridge, once a “ghost town, a death sentence for businesses” is now “so cool and uplifting to see,” said Kim, a barista serving at Limestone for six months. “Limestone is such a welcoming place. It’s a woman-owned coffee shop celebrating its fifth anniversary.”

Leah said she and Joy were drawn toward coffee shops “in our travels abroad and in the United States.” Five years ago when she was a regular Limestone customer, she heard it was for sale and thought, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted to do. And I want to do this with Joy.’ ”

“We know about 75% of our customers’ names,” Joy said. “And our customers know us – and each other.” Online comments rave not only about the friendly atmosphere but about the drinks. “Our menu features the Hope latte and our Pride drink, proceeds donated to Suicide Prevention Services in Batavia and Youth Outlook in Naperville, respectively.

“We also provide a place for artists to share their art, including music.”

Which is why I am here on a warm, early November day to listen to Dylan Beck and Matt Matson of the Third Rail Ramblers play a set of original tunes.

“Dylan has had a relationship with Limestone for years,” Joy said. “He brings a great stage presence and collaborates beautifully with other musicians.”

The show lasts more than an hour, Dylan on guitar and vocals, Matt on electric piano. Dylan’s lyrics offer humor, irony, pathos and a whole lot of poetic imagery. From “Honky Tonk Arms”: “I might never look like a brand-new dime, but that don’t mean that I can’t shine.” In another song, he riffs on the word “last”: “You’re the last of the last of the last of the lastin’ kind.”

Someone who introduced me to songwriter James McMurtry told me, “every one of these songs are like short stories.” So are Dylan’s.

Some lines read like a cross between Mark Twain and Ben Franklin: “You don’t need nothin’ you don’t understand.” When Dylan sings “Merle Haggard on the Moon,” I faintly hear Arlo Guthrie and Loudon Wainwright III.

My favorite song, “The Bride Wore Black,” Dylan wrote the year his father died and his sister got married. It’s a wryly comic song, but when it ends, I’m fighting back tears.

After the set ends, relaxing at a table outside, Dylan shares his thoughts about Limestone and music.

“I like the vibe here at this little neighborhood coffeehouse. I used to sing solo here. Loneliest job in the world. Worse than a lighthouse keeper.”

“That or a poetry reading.”

He laughs.

“I often compare songwriting to knitting sweaters. It’s a craft and if one keeps on knitting, sometimes you’ve knitted something that’s cool enough to wear.

“Music supports our emotions, fills out our experience,” Dylan muses. “With my antennae out, I might catch a couple lines of a song coming to me. If a third line comes in, I really pay attention. Songwriting is just paying attention to the universe coming through me.”