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January 17, 2013 8:18 AM   Subscribe

House concerts are becoming more popular across the country. In Cleveland, Mechanic Street House Concerts has been hosting six shows per year since 2009, most recently opening their doors to the Shivering Timbers with Tom Evanchuck.
posted by slogger (43 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I first saw David Wax Museum (see also) play at a mutual friend's house. Curious if they had any upcoming now that they're a bigger name, I stumbled across a series in Williamstown, MA that has a show this weekend by Lake Street Dive. I'm also reminded of old-school punk shows in basements...
posted by knile at 8:37 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

House "concerts?" We've always called them shows, and they happen in most cities small and large (they even name their houses too!)
posted by thylacine at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

We have Concerts in the Attic here in Fort Worth that have been really successful. They also include an open jam afterward.
posted by emjaybee at 8:52 AM on January 17, 2013

Small house shows are the best. i've seen David Bazan at 2, a ton of other bands. hosted one for Spirits of the Red City. Amazing to have one of your favorite bands camped out in the backyard when you wake up. Its a great way for bands to tour and make a little money inbetween new releases that require more official tours.

My hometown's local indie scene Off The Air is a mix of cafe and house shows.
posted by th3ph17 at 8:52 AM on January 17, 2013

more popular or more talked about? because as far as i can tell they've always been pretty popular. also, 6 shows a year isn't really a lot, is it?
posted by nadawi at 8:57 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

The old name for this in Milwaukee was basement shows, and there is even at least one song about them.
posted by drezdn at 9:09 AM on January 17, 2013

more popular or more talked about? because as far as i can tell they've always been pretty popular.

In the 80’s and 90’s it was called "played at someone’s house". Now it’s "House Concerts". Totally different thing, try to keep up.
posted by bongo_x at 9:10 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

"more popular or more talked about?"

My great-uncle, when he built himself a house after WWII, built it with "house concerts" in mind. He and his wife were self-taught Renaissance people with wide-ranging interests and hobbies (and no children), and they actually custom-built the home around their cultural interests, with house-length bookshelves and big open rooms with sightlines and built-in windowseats that would let you set up a band that people could see from all over, a wall of full-height windows that splashed natural light over a wall that could be used to display art, etc., and for 50 years they hosted local folk musicians, minor poets, theologians and preachers, college baroque ensembles, student artists, all kinds of things. They were nobody important; he was a structural engineer (who enrolled to finish his GED 30 years after the war! -- he'd left high school to go to war) and she was a housewife, but they were widely-read, interested in the world, and sociable people who loved to talk about ideas and art, so they built a house and their lives around getting to do that.

It was an incredibly cool place to visit as a child, because it was so different from any other house I'd ever been to, and there were dark little cozy nooks for reading and always an easel set up with a painting in progress in the bright, airy living area and strange musical instruments they were experimenting with over by the "stage" area, and always a chess game in progress and the biggest wall of books I'd ever seen NOT in a library and they were all interesting and strange and full of marginalia and newspaper clippings.

Anyway, that was influential for me and as an adult I've thrown "interesting people parties" and joined book clubs and arranged for local musicians to play at parties at a historic home I help out with and hosted meet-and-greet backyard taco parties for local officials. If I ever move, I definitely have my eye on a good indoor party-throwing space (we throw parties outdoors, our home is not well-arranged for parties) so I can do it even more!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 AM on January 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

I've heard some of the very best folk music here in SLC courtesy Magpie. They're sadly taking a bit of a hiatus but there are other locals taking up the mantle. If you can find it for your area, I love them.
posted by msbutah at 9:39 AM on January 17, 2013

Back in my rocking and rolling days, I played many a house show (concert? Are there tickets and assigned seating?) in many a city, and hosted many at a series of houses in Austin as well. At one house where I lived in particular we had shows by Trail of Dead, The Faint, and Severed Head of State, to name but a few (and this is by no means an endorsement of those bands' music - by absolutely no way whatsoever). The house was a pit after a short while, but the shows paid a good chunk of our rent and I got out of there before things got too weird.
posted by item at 9:57 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

All this time my roommates and I were a hip venue in college and I thought we were just drunk students with a party house and friends with a band!
posted by cmoj at 9:59 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

We've been to a number of these things in Houston and Austin and they're a great experience. If I still had a house where I could host one, we'd do it in a heartbeat.
posted by immlass at 10:00 AM on January 17, 2013

Here in the country it's a pretty big thing. I hosted one last Canada Day and a friend of mine runs a full 2-day bash at his place in the summer. We're thinking of turning ours into a 2-day thing too. It's a mix of jam, open mic and regular performance, combined with a BBQ and party. Some people charge for them, sometimes a hat goes round. It's easier in the country because so many people have barns for rain cover, although winter can be tricky.
posted by unSane at 10:47 AM on January 17, 2013

Oh, I get it.. if its preening neo-folkamericantronica tailor made for the Pitchfork set it's a house concert.. if it's the ragged filthy punk band playing their sixth living room in a row in exchange for a bag of wine, it's a house show.
posted by mediocre at 11:01 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who hosts house shows (in a small, country, mostly redneck community where that sort of thing is absolutely unheard of), I'm fairly hardcore in love with this FPP.

I can't explain in just a few words what they're like if you've not been present for one but by God, they are the most glorious part of music for me. Our shows usually have about 30 people, no one pays for a ticket, and there's a mess of homemade barbecue and home brew beer. I've seen the reddest necked dude in an MFA hat and overalls with no shirt dip into his wallet and hand $70 to a touring folk band because he was blown away. I've seen my parents beam with pride because, while at one of our shows, they see that all the time spent on this isn't a waste after all and is indeed something truly beautiful for everyone involved.

Even bigger than that, our shows are a chance for someone who will never ever, without a doubt, encounter the bands we bring around. In the end they love it, follow them on facebook, devotedly purchase their new albums, and talk them up to all their friends (in short, they become their biggest and best fans and you'd never peg them as such).

House shows / concerts, whatever the shit you want to call them are amazing and one of my favorite things about getting to be a human that's alive and occasionally does stuff. Seriously.

Knile: The fellow that runs Billsville is a lovely gent and I adore him. Name's Doug. YOU SHOULD GO SEE THAT SHOW THIS WEEKEND (though, isn't it sold out?)!

AND! If y'all are into this and wish to see more house show awesomeness and get a feel for what it is, I'd suggest checking out what my lady pal Heather at Fuel/Friends does, both with her house shows and Chapel Sessions (in addition to our own fancy, schmancy house show vid I added up there).
posted by youandiandaflame at 11:12 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I got to see Charlie Louvin at a house concert about a year before he died. He still had the fire. Great show.
posted by notsnot at 11:27 AM on January 17, 2013

This is now Jane Siberry's preferred mode of touring as well, although she calls them salons.
posted by mykescipark at 11:35 AM on January 17, 2013

Hey, I'm the Billsville guy!

Seriously though, we've done 40 shows in just under two years. We bring in nationally touring bands to play in either our house or a bigger venue if the show demands it. We average about 40-50 folks per show although we did a triple-bill this summer with Spirit Family Reunion, Hurray for the Riff Raff and The Broken Wing Routine that drew about 175 people.

I can guarantee you that 95% of the people who come to our shows do not even know what Pitchfork is so to assume that "preening neo-folkamericantronica tailor made for the Pitchfork set" would be, well, off-base.

We change either $10-$15 a show and give 100% of the money to the musicians where possible. Sometimes we have to rent a venue of pay for "more sound" so we take a bit off the top. From a monetary standpoint for the hosts - it's a money losing proposition. From the standpoint of the experience. Holy cow it's worth more than I can say.

Check out the list of artists who have played at our Billsville shows and I think you'll see lots of up and coming folks who deserve to be heard. Not by in the know hipsters, but just by folks who love music. That's the thing for us. A band like Spirit Family Reunion gets a huge buzz because THEY ARE JUST THAT GOD DAMN ENTERTAINING. We had Dan Mangan just kill it for 40 people and who were bowled over with his talent who cared less that he left our house (after eating copious amounts of lasagne) to play for 11,000 people in Vancouver the next week. As far as they were concerned they just got a great show and they're supporting musicians and coming back for more.

Oh, and we're doing the Lake Street Dive show with 125 seats and it's been sold out for weeks!
posted by dhacker at 11:38 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was doing house shows in my university town fifteen years ago, mostly touring Canadian pop bands. Super Friendz in the backyard, Elevator to Hell in a basement, Mooney Suzuki by a friend's pool, Thrush Hermit in our living room which had fortuitously just been cleared out after the previously evicted crackheads came back for their furniture.

Fastforward to this decade and the most interesting rock shows are still going on in houses. A few years ago I saw Metz (now on Sub Pop) in a tiny basement bedroom. In the middle of summer the basement was sweltering; per house rules someone shouted "MARTIAL LAW" and everyone (guys and girls) peeled off their sweat-soaked shirts.

The only difference between then and now is the rise of social media - you can find out about shows a lot more easily now, and things are actually documented. Every show now appears on Facebook and Instagram before the first song is done. Meanwhile, I wish I had even one shot of Joel Plaskett shredding where my couch used to be.
posted by Gortuk at 11:47 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

And six shows a year is not much (although still admirable)... here's the archive for one of the now-defunct concert houses in my town - I count 33 shows in 2008 (with 2-3 artists per show).
posted by Gortuk at 12:11 PM on January 17, 2013

If you're a bit older, with kids - as we are - it's hard to sustain 50 strangers in your house every 2-3 weeks.
posted by dhacker at 12:17 PM on January 17, 2013

>Thrush Hermit in our living room

YOU RULE. Where was this? Halifax? Toronto?

House party scenes flourish pretty much everywhere where there are a lack of venues (because there's rarely a lack of artists no matter where you go). Calgary, for instance, has a wonderful scene because it costs stupid amounts of money to open a bar there, and all-ages venues are impossible because of idiotic zoning and city council decisions. So: houses and community centres are where the action is.

It's weird getting into a scene because a lot of these shows are not advertised so well. As underage drinking and noise violations are prominent, most people don't like to announce these shows in public. But peer-to-peer networking, including Facebook in this day and age, can show you a crack into the scene.

If you find yourself at a house gig and enjoy it, meet some people there and add them on Facebook. This is sure to get you a tenuous connection to the invite lists. Then watch their walls and events they're going to. Over time you will find yourself getting the same invites and being in the scene.

At least that's how I did it five or six years ago. But now I'm old and I moved somewhere else, so all those connections are severed.
posted by sixohsix at 12:18 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gortuk, Dan Mangan and Hey Rosetta at the same show in 2008 - nice!
posted by dhacker at 12:21 PM on January 17, 2013

Note: when I say "in the scene" I don't mean to make that sound like an exclusionary hipster cliché. Unfortunately it just does.
posted by sixohsix at 12:21 PM on January 17, 2013

I think whether the given concert is "hipstery" has more to do with the people hosting it than anything. They book what they like and invite who they hang out with, so it varies.

The new part is not that it happens, but that you can find it on the internets instead of having to be Told By Some Dude or know the right people. Which makes it easier for musicians who are new and want to play outside their home area to play them.

The biggest worry about this becoming noticed is that cities will start ordinances banning them (probably because Ticketmaster tells them to)/skeevy types will do them and rip people off. I am just waiting for the "ILLEGAL "HOUSE CONCERT" TURNS DEADLY: DRUGS, FIRE, NUDITY!!" headlines. It would be trivial to crack down on them with fire codes/noise ordinances/parking restrictions. They operate in a weird residential/commercial gray zone and that tends to attract attention.

Hopefully, I'm just worrying too much.
posted by emjaybee at 12:35 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

KC Turner has a great series in San Fran.
posted by kenaldo at 1:13 PM on January 17, 2013

emjaybee, Punk Rock in a garage is not a house concert. :)
posted by kenaldo at 1:15 PM on January 17, 2013

emjaybee, I'm not sure about a concentrated "crackdown", but I've seen community hall venues banned from hosting these sorts of parties, and I've seen at least one highly respected all-ages venue shut down due to city hall claiming they did "not have the right kind of business license, and no, we won't sell it to you". I suspect the slow march against youth culture will continue, and the kids will keep creatively finding new venues.
posted by sixohsix at 1:17 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

many tiny venues get pushed out of business by the Artist Rights group fees, low or likely NO profit, and not wanting to hassle with navigating all the city code stuff. Often times it's not the city trying to shut them down, just trying to get the right info to make sure zoning and fire code issues are all considered. Many cities really want cool stuff like this to happen.
posted by kenaldo at 1:23 PM on January 17, 2013

sixohsix - this was Kitchener, Ontario. Thrush Hermit came through a bunch of times, but the usual venue (a small all-ages cafe) fell through and we said "Screw it, let's just have them in the living room". It was Halloween, the band dressed up, played a bunch of covers, I hung out with my future wife, and it was awesome. And I have no evidence other than a writeup on a long-gone mailing list.

At the moment the house venues I knew of are no longer active (not to say that there aren't others that I'm not cool enough to have heard of). But there are lots of other venues being put into action - I've been to or heard of shows in the back rooms of art galleries, tattoo parlors, the local Mongolian Grill, a historic grist mill, cafes, even a boxing ring in an old gym. Many of those shows are run by the kids who used to do house shows.
posted by Gortuk at 1:40 PM on January 17, 2013

I missed a big house show last weekend with Smith Street Band, and I didn't get an invite to a house show Defiance Ohio played a few years ago. But I've seen a bunch of local and international bands play in basements and backyards.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:45 PM on January 17, 2013

I think the thing is artists used to perform in people’s houses as one of their options, now it’s one of their only options.
posted by bongo_x at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2013

House "concerts?" We've always called them shows

Ah the eternal show vs. concert argument. "House concert" is a term from the Folk scene, where they've been called that since at least the 1980s. Scott Alarik writes about their history in Deep Community: Adventures in the Modern Folk Underground.

What I think is happening is an increase in the electric instrumentation of singer-songwriter folk, so the music booked by people who call them "House Concerts" is edging in the direction of "Shows," while the punk/alternative genre is getting inclusively folkier ("the Pitchfork set"). You can't draw hard & fast distinctions; it's just two different communities with different expectations. (If people sit in chairs in your living room it's a House Concert. If they're milling around in the basement of your student rental house it's a Show. Etc, etc.)

I have a friend who was pretty hardcore into the New England Folk scene in the 1990s. I would send her mix tapes of bands like Hamell On Trial or the original Mountain Goats, musicians who would never share a stage (or even a fanzine) with Ellis Paul and Cosy Sheridan, but were playing exactly the same kind of music. She would send me music by scene folkies like Jim Infantino and Richard Shindell who were basically performing literate rock songs. The real musical divisions are a lot less significant than the division in music-fan cultures.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:16 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

The folk-punk community I'm in embraces trad-folk and country to the point where it's common to see guys like William Elliott Whitmore or whoever's on the Revival Tour playing with just a guitar. Or no guitar. Maybe the dominance of pop and EDM means all forms of authentic music are handing together.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:24 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

These sound like loads of fun! Anyone know of something similar in Orange County? I'm tired of having to drive up to LA to hear any decent music.
posted by Arbac at 2:37 PM on January 17, 2013

Reading this with interest because this is something I want to do in London. I have a big enough room with a good piano; so far it's just been used as a rehearsal and teaching venue, but I'd love to have classical, cabaret and alternative acts come do their thing.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:55 PM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shout out to Memphis House Concerts as hosted by Jimbo and Susan Lattimore. Great music and new artists.
posted by grimjeer at 7:24 PM on January 17, 2013

For the upcoming mefi mix swap, I am seriously considering doing a mix of bands/musicians I have seen with a mile of my house (mostly in basements, but not always), and/or have members currently living in my neighborhood.

That alone gets me Ted Leo, Screaming Females, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Spirit Family Reunion Tim Eriksen...plus so many local bands and projects.

I love music, I love my neighborhood, and I love tiny intimate house concerts the very most.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:08 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so, so, jealous. Has Titus Andronicus played at your house? And more importantly, do you have footage of the Ted Leo and Screaming Females house shows you could post?

Daft Punk is playing at my house.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:12 AM on January 18, 2013

Screaming Females actually gets off on the "members currently living in my neighborhood" technicality; I'm in a reading group with their drummer, among others. They were supposed to do a show near me back in October, but they cancelled the whole last part of their tour before that happened. I am sure there will be another though!

I have no footage of the Ted Leo show, alas, and there doesn't appear to be any on youtube either. He did do a cover of Dancing in the Dark like this, but that's from years before. Was awesome, in a tiny space with many concert-goers originally from NJ all singing along.

No Titus Andronicus in anyone's house for me, alas. Most of these artists I've seen in my neighborhood but not at my house. (With a few exceptions, Ted Leo not among them.)
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:37 AM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

My neighbors host these regularly. Not with anyone "big", but with a varying group of local pro and semi-pro musicians and talented amateurs. Very intimate and friendly. Having not a single bit of musical talent in my whole body, it's pretty interesting to see people who are that talented, but just for fun.

On the other side of the spectrum, I've got a friend who hosts the most amazing small acts, mostly folk-ish, in the most remarkable private venue/house. Lot's of "just on the cusp of breaking out" artists, and I very grateful that he includes me.
posted by kjs3 at 8:03 AM on January 18, 2013

kjs3, do they have a public listing of shows or is it all "quiet". It's great to spread this information to bands who are looking. Thanks
posted by dhacker at 8:07 AM on January 18, 2013

@dhacker: I suppose you could say it's "quiet" in the sense that these folks have a particular vision of how their events are going to go down and the audience they want to attend. I wouldn't feel comfortable letting their contact out. However, if you know a band genuinely interested, I could pass the word along.
posted by kjs3 at 10:52 AM on January 22, 2013

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