Until fairly recently I didn’t get the whole house concert thing; at least I didn’t think it was for me. The idea of going to somebody’s home for a private concert struck me as something akin to a horrible hippie potluck dinner. I figured the performers were typically sensitive folkies, playing the kind of show that makes me want to punch a stranger and then go blast Raw Power at full volume in my car all the way home. This sort of thing is fine for some people, and god knows having more places where musicians play and make some money is a good thing. But house concerts seemed way too sharing and caring and gentle and patchouli-soaked for this old rocker.
Then I ran into The Great Sean Rowe playing last year at the Dreamaway Lodge. My girlfriend Terri was going bonkers over him, naturally, and I mentioned that maybe he’d come play at her house. She damn near passed out. I asked Sean, he was game, we set a date, and voila, we’re doing a house concert. And we just did another one with Sean (who just did a cross-country house-concert tour while waiting for his new album to drop) a couple weeks ago. We invited a bunch of people, borrowed some chairs, put out some wine and beer, Sean rocked severely, and we had ourselves a time.
It appears not everybody understands that a house concert is a thing, and a very different thing than a house party. Lots of people we invited didn’t respond, and maybe they thought it was weird and off-putting to be invited to someone’s house and asked to donate $25 for a musical performance. A number of people wrote back and said they were coming, but didn’t send in their money as they were asked to, and then canceled at the last minute. Like you might do for a party. The thing is, it’s maddening because there are a very limited number of seats (we had room for 30), the idea is to get the musician paid, and these last-minute cancellations screw up the works. They’re unintentionally (giving the last-minute bailers the benefit of the doubt) rude and annoying.
My friend Doug, who’s been putting on the great Billsville house concerts in and around Williamstown for a couple of years, explained it best. He gets acts that he and his wife would otherwise go to see in a club. If they went to a club, they’d have to get a sitter, buy tickets, drive to the club (usually Northampton or Albany), probably have dinner and drinks somewhere, maybe stay in a hotel, and drive home. We’re talking at least a hundred bucks here, and probably more. So instead they have the musicians come to their house, feed them, let them stay overnight, invite a bunch of friends over, and have a totally different, infinitely richer and personal experience than the alternative. Doug told me that often after a show the musicians stay up and jam with his budding-musician kids. What could be better than that?
And for national or regional acts at a certain level, house concerts make a ton of sense. First, you’re gigging at somebody’s house, usually a pretty nice house, with running hot and cold water in the private bathroom. And a nice room to change in. If you’ve ever gigged out in clubland, you know these things aren’t always there. You get fed nice homemade food, not soul-killing road food. You get to sleep in a nice bed, not stuck with your three bandmates in a Motel 6 by the expressway. You’re on at 8, off by 9:30 and you get to hang out with nice people in a nice house. And the money’s good! Figure 30 people at $25 each and figure most of them will buy some merch to remember the night by. You can easily clear $1,000, which ain’t bad scratch these days for working musicians.
The audience is invite-only; there’s no public advertising or announcements, so you’re not diluting the local market (and getting the attention of the creeps at ASCAP). And Sean tells me that usually two-thirds to three-quarters of the people coming to house concerts have never heard the act before—they’re friends with the hosts or are brought to the concert by a date. The people get an intense and intimate experience, and if the performer does his or her job right, the folks at the house concert will talk it up and come out and bring friends the next time the performer does a “legit” gig in town.
So if you’re inclined to do something like this, just do it. You’ll be surprised at the caliber of talent that will gladly come play at your house. And if you’re lucky enough to be invited to a house concert, go, and understand it ain’t a party, it’s an event. And more than likely a very, very special event.
Paul Rapp is an entertainment attorney in the Berkshires who hopes to see all of you at his band Blotto’s gigs tonight at the Low Beat and Saturday at the Cutting Room in Manhattan.