News/Thoughts

House Concerts

Every so often, we here at Americana Rhythm like to break out the topic of House Concerts. It appears to me to be one of the most underused options available for listeners to experience live entertainment. Artists are eager to play music—it’s what they do. And when it’s cold outside, the outdoor opportunities are greatly limited. You might be surprised just how much fun you can have at a house concert. For this issue, I invited Gene Bowlen of BeARcade Music Production to offer his experience with house concerts. Gene hosts a regular house concert series in Port Republic, VA. – editor

I inherited the house concert series from Andi Arndt who had started it several years ago at her house in Harrisonburg, VA. She was getting very busy with her work doing voice-over for books-on-tape and asked me if I would consider taking over the series. She had seen my live-room in the recording studio and thought it was the perfect place to host a small musical event. It turned out she was right. The live-room measures 24 by 36 feet and has an 18-foot post and beam ceiling. It is chapel-like in appearance. It has large windows on three sides that have panoramic views of a large part of the eastern half of the Shenandoah Valley and the Massanutten Peak—hence the name, Concerts with a View.
I also inherited my first performer from Andi as well. That person was the singer/songwriter, Ben Bullington, from Montana. Ben was a very interesting guy. he wrote and sang very personal songs about the wide open spaces of Montana and about his childhood near Lexington, VA. Ben had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer several months prior to coming to perform at that first house concert. He had retired from his role as a small-town doctor and had taken to the highway to share his music with anyone who would listen. (You can refer to http://benbullington.com/bio.php for more details if you wish.) Nevertheless, that first show was a great success with about 30 people in attendance, including Ben’s friend Robin Williams of the Robin and Linda Williams folk duet. The next month, I hosted one of my favorite local artists. That being Kat and the Travelers, fronted by Kathy Kraft., Kathy is co-owner of Laughing Dog T-shirts in Harrisonburg, VA. We recorded that whole session with the hope of releasing it as a live CD. I am now into my third season of concerts.
Not That Difficult
It’s really not that difficult to produce a house concert. We’re not talking about a theater room for 300 patrons here. That is not the point. A house concert is meant to be intimate. And there are a whole host of performers who dig this kind of setting. – editor
To produce a house concert, you begin by inviting a musician to come play in your space. Your space could be your living room, basement, deck, or even your carport. After you’ve found your musician, you then invite all of your friends to come listen to her, him or them perform. Ask your friends to bring a snack to share; and plan to have a great time. This food and drink is shared with all who intend. As the host, you should provide a start to the snacks and provide some non-alcoholic beverages as well.
A typical house concert performance space provides an intimate listening environment for 20 to 50 people to listen to an acoustic performance up close and personal. You can mention to your invitees that there is usually a suggested donation to be given to the performers but be sure they understand that it is a suggestion and not a requirement. The good taste and integrity of our audiences has always led to a reasonable amount of money in the donation basket. While any money is given to the performers, I get to bask in all of the well wishes from the audience who have had a great time and are usually eager to come back again.
Finding Talent
Finding talent to perform at a house concert is not difficult. There are several house concert organizations and networks to which you can refer such as
www.concertsinyourhome.com. These organizations provide guidelines, advice, and referral networks to help you get started and to help you obtain information on artists from outside of your area who are interested in your type of venue. Many artists prefer the house concert venues because the audience is friendly and are a the concert specifically to listen and very often also willing to buy merchandise. If the performers are travelling, the concert host typically opens their home for the night so the artist can save on hotel costs and get a decent meal.
At our house concerts, we have also been able to offer afternoon workshops with several of our artists. For a recent show, we featured the Sunny Mountain Serenaders. This trio features three highly acclaimed musicians, and each one is providing a workshop in the afternoon before the evening concert. Interested attendees often get a small discount if they attend both the workshop and the concert. Typical suggested donations for a show vary from $10-$15 depending on the artist, and workshops in the $25-$35 range.
Exposure
A great way to survey talent options is to attend festivals where the type of music in which you are interested is being offered. In my case, I am a life-long musician and have been deeply involved in old-time music for the past 25 years; therefore, I attend a number of music festivals on the east coast each year. Also, as the sound guy for events such as Blue Ridge Old-Time Week that is held each June at Mars Hill University in North Carolina, I get to work with the faculty and their performances all week. This means that I have been able to expand my circle of friends to include a good many highly talented musicians. I’ve had folks here at my house concert from much of the East Coast and some of the Midwest. Currently, I’m working with a couple of West Coast groups to try to get them here as well.
Almost all of the music at my house concerts has been acoustic, although I do usually set microphones for the musicians as well as do some slight sound reinforcement. I do this mainly so I can balance vocals and instrument levels to the live-room space. Taking this step, has also allowed me the opportunity to record several performances, which I have used in a few subsequent recording projects.
How Often
My house concert shows are typically on Saturday night and occasionally on Sunday afternoons. Sunday afternoon concerts can be a great option in the warmer months as folks can stray outside during breaks or come early and have a picnic. I strive to provide one show each month of the school calendar year but I have missed a couple so I have now removed December from the schedule. Doing this has really de-stressed my holiday season quite a bit. I shut down the concerts through the summer months because of my music festival attendance and my work with BeARcade Music Productions.
Reaching Out
I make use of email lists, social media, and other web-based methods to reach out to interested folks. For example, I have converted my band’s email distribution list to include the concert events. Anyone who asks can and will be added to that list. This insures that they receive two to three e-mails per month that details all that is going on in the studio. I currently have nearly 400 people on this list. This really helps get the word out to people who are already interested in this type of event.
To find out more, you can visit the web site www.bearcademusic.com. The web site has the most detailed information about the concert and is often linked to other electronic media.

 

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