Weird and Wonderful: The House Concert

Have you been to any of these? I hadn’t before. Last Saturday was my first.

I heard about these things back in the late nineties. Indie bands were advised to use the power of the Innanet to organize a series of house concerts in support of a release. The regular venues were getting harder to get into because of extreme competition. Due to rapidly declining costs of producing product, i.e. CDs, everybody and their brother had taken to the road to experience the thrill of being a rock and roll star.

On top of that, most indie bands consisted of minors and naturally their following was underaged as well. The all-ages venue was invented but the take at the door usually went to the door because how else could they make money. Sad reasoning considering the bands were the only ones bringing in people. The venues did jack you-know-what in the way of promotion. They didn’t have to. The stupid kids thought they were going to be famous so they’d play for free, just for a shot at what they thought was the big-time. It wasn’t. It was just a chance to lug your own equipment to a cement hole in the ground (one venue in NY was actually named The Cement Factory), nag your friends to come out to hear you play, all while making little money since the house’s take was 85%.

So house concerts were a viable alternative for someone who took herself seriously as a touring musician. I considered myself a serious indie road musician. But I wasn’t underaged and I was from New York where the homes are tiny, the neighbors grouchy, and the parking nonexistent. Just couldn’t envision performing in somebody’s house, let alone asking a pal to come see me there. I mean, where does the drum kit go? In the kitchen? Bass guy’s over in the bathroom and I’d be stuck somewhere in between? Not in this lifetime.

How ignorant of me.

First of all, not everybody lives as I did in one room with another musician and the performance gear–PA and all–hanging on the wall in a masterpiece of spatial engineering. If one piece was out of place the entire system had to be pulled down and rehung. We had outlines on the walls of where everything went to help us out when we returned home bleary-eyed from a gig over in Scranton.

Most people actually have a living room. And nowadays people’s homes are so large they could fit the Royal Philharmonic in it and if they get creative they can cram the Venetian Boys up on the balcony. People nowadays live in a rock and roll venue to die for.

Second, if you are doing acoustic music, somebody’s house is better than any cement bar and its fighting, slobbering patrons any day.

Acoustic never appealed to me, though. I envisioned Kumbaya singalongs, or worse, original music written in minor keys by teenaged suicidals. I like my music raucous and cathartic. If you sing about suicide I need to see some self-immolation at some point. I’m not talking about punk here. I’m talking about, you-can-have-my-husband-but-please-don’t-mess-with-my-man blues. If the roof isn’t being raised, it ain’t music.

How ignorant of me.

Acoustic music is more than Sunday School or a singer’s tearful recollection of past loves and dogs. It can be about the music itself. It can be raucous without going out of tune. It can be messy without being harsh; clean without being antiseptic. I discovered this last week at my first house concert.

The performer was Ari Eisenberg and the place was a refurbished house in a gentrified neighborhood of Philly. Eisenberg specializes in old blues guys like Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and my favorite old blues guy: Lonnie Johnson. Eisenberg is what I would call a curator. He plays legacy songs note for note and sings in the upper palate, country style voices them ol’ blues boys did so well. If music could be contained in a museum, Eisenberg would be its edifice. If you close your eyes you can believe there’s a ghost in the room playing that old time stuff in some backwoods stop on the chitlin’ circuit.

The house was filled to the brim with about fifty people, mostly fans of his. It was an intimate, yet totally professional venue. There was even an opening act: The Little Brothers consisting of mandolin, guitar, and fiddle. They played old timey country blues. They were fun. I bought a CD.

The whole evening was sensational and better than anything I’ve seen in a bar. A twenty dollar cover charge with all the money, minus the chair rental, going to the musicians was fair. We got our money’s worth, especially since the host, John, kicked in for complimentary victuals.

Things have changed since I was a musician. I’m glad. They sucked before.

Sue Lange
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at Book View Café.

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Weird and Wonderful: The House Concert — 3 Comments

  1. I have always wanted to do this!!! How do you find out about house concerts in your area? (My family room is large, but not that large; I could get in 25 people but not 50).

  2. I think house concerts are more or less a word of mouth deal. There was a guy in Maryland on the old WIW email list who used to put them on monthly, but I don’t remember his name, alas. If you follow certain musicians — especially local acoustic ones — they’ll often announce such things on their web site or via email alert.

    I’ve gone before. They’re nice because not only do you get a good concert, you get a chance to talk to the musician about their work. And the musician makes some money and sells some CDs.

    It’s not a bad format for storytellers, either. And I don’t see why writers couldn’t do a book tour much the same way, with hosts collecting their friends for a reading.

  3. I know this is an old blog post but, in just case someone lands here looking for more info about house concerts…

    To find house concerts in your area, try ConcertsInYourHome.com which lists hundreds of house concert series nationwide. Also, try googling the phrase “house concerts” plus the name of your town or the nearest major metropolitan area. Even if the postings you find are totally out of date, if the old posts give an email or phone number, try getting in touch with the hosts anyway. Even if they are no longer hosting house concerts, it is highly likely that they know who else in the area has started hosting house concerts and they can probably put you in touch with them. House concert people (musicians, hosts, and guests) are friendly people who are always willing to welcome new friends into the community. And it is a FANTASTIC community to be a part of!

    And if you think you might like to host a house concert, don’t automatically assume that you don’t have enough space because you don’t live in a mansion. Most house concerts are held in very normal sized homes. I’ve been to house concerts featuring a single singer/songwriter in living rooms as small as 12 ft x 14 ft. With folding chairs, your space can accommodate more people than you realize and being a tiny bit crowded in just raises the excitement level. LOL! CIYH has some free resources available that will help you organize and plan your first house concert.

    Happy House Concerting!

    Bev Angel
    Arhaven House Concerts
    Cedar Creek, TX