House Concert Craze

We’ll put the living-room table in the garage but keep the couch
and chairs in here for seating,’ my husband, Patrick, suggests. I
nod and simultaneously imagine how the carpet dimples created by
the table and chairs will soon share company with new impressions
from a microphone stand and a drum kit. We are preparing to host
our first house concert. It’s hardly a new concept, but it’s
gaining momentum.

According to the do-it-yourself Web site
www.houseconcerts.com,
residential live shows are now taking place in 36 states as
frequently as once a week before crowds of 30 to 125 guests.
Besides appealing to fledgling artists, these private venues also
appeal to well-known performers like Tim Easton, Jeff Tweedy, M
Ward, and Lucinda Williams.

‘I prefer playing at homes because there’s no stage, so there’s
no distance between our audience and ourselves,’ says Two Gallants’
singer-songwriter Adam Stephens. ‘It’s cool because I’ll be playing
guitar and actually bumping into sweaty bodies and elbows right
beside me.’

In addition to giving musicians a chance to perform close to a
devoted listening audience, house concerts can yield higher profit
margins than a traditional bar or club, especially for those who
have more of an underground following. ‘You definitely sell more
CDs at a house concert than at a bar,’ says Darren Schlappich, lead
singer of Pennsylvania’s alt-country outfit Frog Holler. ‘Plus, at
all the ones we’ve played, there’s a potluck dinner beforehand, so
you’re eating and hanging out with the guests and then you play.
The environment encourages people to support your music.’

‘All of the performers like the better pay [compared with bars
and clubs],’ says Tom Yeager, who hosts a house concert series in
Houston. ‘They often make over $1,000 in donations here and have
never taken less than $500.’

Motivated by the cozy atmosphere and financial rewards, Pat
DiNizio organized a five-month, nationwide ‘living-room tour’ for
his band, the Smithereens. Austin resident Paul E. Barker held some
house concerts in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and was fortunate
to host Lucinda Williams. Lizzie Wann of San Diego boasts, ‘Tim
Easton performed in the first year of our series.’

Following the release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco’s
Jeff Tweedy played for 50 people in a neighbor’s home. ‘Jeff sat in
front of the fireplace,’ recalls Dave Kresl. ‘There was no
amplification except for a mic plugged into a small amp for vocals
and harmonica. A few songs that were requested he declined to play,
partly because of obvious arrangement problems that couldn’t be
translated to acoustic guitar, like the song ‘Jesus etc.’ But he
did play a lot of requests. I think he played two 45-minute sets
with a smoke break in between. It was neat and weird at the same
time because I got to hear songs in a different, stripped-down
arrangement in a living room.’

Stories like Kresl’s are enough to get music aficionados
daydreaming about turning their living rooms into concert halls,
and other than a few washable carpet stains, there’s little
downside to hosting a show at home.

Still, a wannabe host should do some homework. ‘Houses are
tricky to play because most of the time the host doesn’t know
anything about sound, monitors, or engineering,’ says M Ward. For
$15, the creators of houseconcerts.com will send a 34-page booklet
explaining how to book artists, find an audience, and plug in the
amps (if you live in Canada, Arm Chair Entertainment Ltd. will
organize a show for you). There are also dozens of homebound
promoters on the Web who are happy to dole out a little free advice
— and encouragement.

‘I know enough about the business to understand that, unless
they’re one of the lucky few in the upper echelon, musicians
desperately need two things: exposure and cash,’ says Mary Ann
Werner of Washington, D.C., who has hosted shows for the Brindley
Brothers and Rosie Flores. ‘These people work really hard to
sustain themselves, and even if they have a record label, no one is
handing them big chunks of cash to pay the rent and put gas in the
van. So these parties help a little.’

Excerpted from the music magazine Harp (May 2005).
Subscriptions: $19.95/yr. (8 issues) from Box 99050, Colingswood,
NJ 08108;
www.harpmagazine.com

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