In a feature spot, above the fireplace in my living room, hangs an old beat up acoustic guitar with no strings. Its finish, bears the scars of its prior home: a spot next to a wood stove in a farm house in Saskatchewan. It sat there, going from ice cold to red hot a few times a day for years, except for most Saturdays when it would be passed around by a houseful of revelers who wore their fingerprints into the fretboard like the paths through the snow they’d collectively trodden outside. Inside, the house was full of music, warmth, light and life.
The House Concert – Live, Intimate, Private
For much of history, music has been performed in homes. In recent years there’s been a resurgence of homespun concerts in all kinds of abodes, by all kinds of artists, including ones with lots of radio hits and years of playing big places under their belts. It’s surprising how many people can fit into a living room, either on couches, chairs or pillows on the floor. It’s perhaps less surprising that these organic situations can be more conducive to memory-making moments, for both the entertainers and the entertainees.
“Certain kinds of songs are best enjoyed there, sung without speakers directly into a roomful of nearby ears.”
In my musical career I’ve played almost every kind of venue from clubs to stadiums and the house concert is indeed something special. Certain kinds of songs are best enjoyed there, sung without speakers directly into a roomful of nearby ears. The performer enjoys proximity to an intimate crowd that can hear every word of each song and story without the distraction of coffee makers, martini shakers, screens full of sports, pool tables and attendees that aren’t there for the show, all of which they may encounter in a club. Unlike a theatre, there’s no separation between artist and audience. It’s more conversational and interactive, both the performance and the moments between when everyone mingles. There’s a chance to establish real connections with people who enjoy your music and they’ve often come willing to support you not only by buying tickets to the show but also records and merchandise. The deals between host and artist vary, but generally almost all of the money from the tickets goes directly to the performer, and you’re dealing one-on-one with enthusiastic patrons of the arts to negotiate the situation, not an organization beholden to a bottom line.
For the show-goers and the hosts, there’s a night out (or in) with friends, whatever you’d like to imbibe (as they’re usually BYOB), and a chance to hear and hang out with both established and up-and-coming music makers. No bouncers, no overpriced, watered down drinks, no chatty tables of people you have to shush, no screaming over between-band dance music, no late-night club restrooms of dubious condition… If a household decides to start hosting shows with any regularity, many of the same people become, well, regulars, sometimes hosting their own shows that you’ll get invited to. It’s a great way to spend time with the people in your community, away from the screens on which we view each other’s profiles from a distance. If you’re a budding songwriter or musician, you’ll never get a closer look at how an experienced practitioner does their thing, and you may even hear the story behind your favourite of their works.
So, what does it take to host a house concert? Since there’s little-to-no gear required, it can be as simple as contacting a musician – you may be surprised by the level of performer who’d be into it – choosing a date, spreading the word amongst your friends and moving some furniture. The memories you make could last decades, like the fingerprints imprinted onto the fretboard of an old and well-loved guitar.
This guest blog was written by Shaun Verreault. Shaun is the Saskatchewan born lead vocalist and guitarist for Wide Mouth Mason. He was the featured artist at Picatic’s first house concert.