Thursday, January 7, 2010

Zen and the Art of Hosting a House Concert

I love house concerts and they're definitely trendy these days. I get a lot of questions about them from friends and fans. What are they? How do they work? Are they fun? Could I host one?

With a major house concert performance coming up in just a couple of weeks, there's no better time to write about what house concerts are and how they work.

So, what is a house concert?

Simply put, a house concert is a performance that takes place in someone's home. House concerts are usually cozy affairs, unamplified, with lots of opportunity to chat with the musician(s), before, after and even during their sets. I often perform songs at house concerts that I would never pull out in a public venue - songs that are too intimate to share with the rowdy regulars heckling from the bar.

There are many benefits to house concerts - they are family-friendly (no need for a babysitter), recession proof (BYOB) and if you're the host, or a close neighbour, you won't have to go far to get home once the show is over.

Great House Concert Experiences

I played some fabulous house concerts last year, often as one of two singer/songwriters, swapping songs back and forth. Here are just a few of my magical house concert memories of 2009.

At a show just outside Halifax, with Dolores Dagenais, Dol wowed us all when she demonstrated her prolific songwriting abilities: she wrote an entire song during the intermission (the song was about Hurricane Bill which was forecast to strike Nova Scotia later that evening).

At a matinee in Newcombville this summer, Susan Crowe and I shared our ideas about songwriting (illustrating our points with our songs) to an audience of writers, and raised over $1,000 for the Writer's Federation of Nova Scotia.

Outside of Peterborough this fall, I debuted my first ever spoken word piece to a lovely audience, while sharing the stage with Tanya Philipovich. On the drive there and back, Tanya and I brainstormed a bunch of ideas about how to improve our lives as musicians. I came away from that evening a whole lot wiser, as well as richer.

And last, but not least, my penultimate show of 2009 was a Christmas party at the home of a friend and fan; I performed two sets and then a number of us sang together into the wee small hours of the morning. Here's the feedback from that show (reproduced with permission): "My friends are all still raving about you!!!! In fact a couple of them said that unlike most musicians you sounded better live than on CD. And they should know as they listen to your CD every time they come over :)."

What is required to host a house concert?
All you really need to host is a love of music and space to put a enough people to pay the musician for their time and talent. Different musicians will be looking to make different amounts. Maybe you can fit 10-12 people and charge 20-25 dollars a head, or 20 people at 15-20 dollars a head, or 30 people at 12-20 dollars a head. Some hosts arrange for a portion of the door to cover refreshments, or to donate to charity; in other instances, all of the proceeds go to the artist(s).

Upcoming house concert!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have a big house concert coming up in a couple of weeks, on Saturday, January 23, 2010. I'm very excited about it. It is being hosted in Toronto's High Park neighbourhood by Sarah Hopen, the principal of STAR Company. She is running a series of house concerts from January to June 2010, with a broad spectrum of brilliant musicians and writers, so you'll want to get on her mailing list.

More information is available on the Starry Nights Facebook page.

Tickets for my Starry Nights performance ($12/person) are now available through Eventbrite.

One of the easiest ways to decide if you would like to host a house concert is to attend one.

(For more information about hosting house concerts, here are a couple of good online resources: Concerts in Your Home and Acoustic Roof.)

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