house concerts

So you think you might be interested in hosting a house concert. It's good, then, that your first question is: Um, what the hell exactly is a house concert, anyway?

It's a perfectly reasonable question -- and I'll try and answer it, clear as I can -- so you can make a more informed decision for yourself whether or not you'd like to host such a thing.

A house concert is a concert hosted in a house or an apartment or a community room, as opposed to being hosted by a regular public venue (like a bar or coffeehouse). Beyond that broad distinction, there are no hard fast rules for what makes for a house concert and what doesn't. But here's what's typical . . .

Depending on the available space (and the comfort level of the host), house concerts range quite a bit in size and scope. Some are as small as a dozen people in a little living room. Others are 50 people in the basement. Others are 100 people in a backyard. 20-30 people in a largish living room is probably about average.

There's usually some sort of mingling period, for a half hour to an hour, wherein folks begin arriving and sipping on a little bit of wine, munching on treats and socializing. I personally like it when house concerts are BYOB and potlucks of sorts. But you can handle all that however you are most comfortable.

Whenever there seems to be a critical mass of folks in attendance, or whenever "start time" rolls around, the concert commences . . .

Everyone settles down in the living room on chairs and on couches, and on throw pillows, and however they can find a comfortable nook for themselves -- and then the music begins. The music is usually completely acoustic and unplugged and unamplified. Au naturale. Depending on the space, once you start getting bigger than about 35-40 people, you need to start thinking about having a small PA system to help supplement the natural acoustics. But usually they're smaller, and they're unplugged.

I usually play two 45-minute sets with a short potty and cookie break in the middle. But shorter or longer sets are easily accommodated, as well. And I'm happy to play whatever songs you'd like to hear most (provided I still remember how to play them).

Enthusiastic word of mouth is by far the most affective way to get folks to come to a house concert you are hosting. Share some CDs around among your friends -- talk it up big and urge folks to visit the website and check out some more tunes. I've got lots of promotional materials available (photos, quotes, MP3s, and other stuff in the "Presskit" section of the site) to help you put together an enticing invitation to send or email to your friends and family and coworkers. If you're excited about the house concert -- then spread that excitement among your friends. They'll be intrigued, at least. It's my job to win them over -- it's just your job to make them curious enough to give the music a try.

One note -- it's important to make sure, in the promotional process, that your guests understand that this will be a house concert -- and not just a house party that has some music going on in the background.

It's usually a good idea to have some sort of RSVP system in place -- to get some idea of how many folks to expect. Especially, if there's a second tier of people you'd like to invite. Some folks, more recently, have begun using Evites to keep track of their guestlist. That seems to be a pretty good system.

Also, if you're comfortable with it, I will post the house concert date on my website schedule -- and ask that if folks are interested in attending, that they email for more specific details, and to RSVP. This way you stay in control over who you are inviting into your home. And how many people you're inviting in.

I like to keep everything sliding scale, myself. I know that everyone's in a different situation financially. Typically the host will collect a suggested donation from the guests -- either at the door, or during the break, or however. The suggested amount ranges from between $10 to $20 per person -- with $15 being pretty typical. I tend to leave it up to the host how much is an appropriate amount to ask of their guests. And I never begrudge any guests who are unable, or choose not to, contribute.

I know it's weird to have to be explicit with money sometimes with your guests -- so I've found that it's best to just be as upfront and clear as possible from the start. For instance, state it from the beginning (in any invitations, etc) that there's a certain expectation that money will be involved in a more formal way than just "passing the hat to help pay for gas". Having the money basket at the door is a good idea, and actually seems to make things less awkward.

I don't ask for a guaranteed minimum -- but it's good to discuss with me if you think the attendance will be smaller than about 20 people -- because it helps me to decide what other gigs I may or may not accept on that leg of a particular tour.

Here's what's wonderful and unique about house concerts -- there's no bright lights or raised stages to divide the artist and the audience. We are all sitting together in a room sharing and listening and connecting. There's a bunch of songs I'll only play in this sort of setting. And a bunch of stories and song explanations I'm only comfortable sharing in this intimate sort of setting.

And just in general, there's something very real and tangible and human about the whole set up that can be very moving and touching and inspiring and invigorating. And that goes for me as much as for any listener. Probably moreso.

Thanks for considering the notion of hosting a house concert. Whether or not you're still interested, or able, to host one -- I highly recommend that you keep your eyes open for some house concerts of your favorite artists -- and that you attend some of them. I think you'll enjoy the experience.