Live music comes home

From Los Angeles to Boston, more and more suburban homeowners are inviting friends and neighbors for a living room concert.

Courtesy of Russ Paris
The Salty Suites perform at Russ and Julie Paris’s House in Oak Park, Calif.

If you’re a big music fan there’s a good chance you’ll be attending a quality bluegrass, folk, or pop performance in the near future – in someone’s living room.

They’re called “house concerts,” and more and more music-loving suburban homeowners from Los Angeles to Austin to Boston are rolling back their rugs, rearranging the furniture, and inviting friends and neighbors over to get a groove on.

There are no hard numbers since the concerts tend to fly under the radar, but estimates within the house concert community estimate that more than 1,100 private homes across the country hosted invitation-only performances in 2012. That means somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 fortunate folks attended a house concert last year.

Russ and Julie Paris have been hosting concerts near Los Angeles since 1997. “We open up our home to our friends and neighbors because we want to share great music with them,” they explain on their website houseconcerts.us. “In the area where we live – like most of the world today – there are too few venues where people can go to experience great music in a close and friendly environment.”

Singer/songwriter James Lee Stanley, who is based in southern California and has long benefited from the open doors of private homes, agrees.

“So far as I can tell, hosts are angels from heaven,” he says in an e-mail. “[I] don’t know what they get out of it besides the joy of exposing their friends to music that they love.”

Regular concert hosts concur. Wear and tear on the furniture and personal funds outlaid for refreshments and folding chairs are offset by the pleasure of hosting an evening of high-quality music. There is usually no admission fee, but guests are expected to contribute $15 to $20 when the hat is passed, and every penny goes to the musicians. With an average audience size of 45, that might not qualify as a financial bonanza; but when coupled with CD and T-shirt sales, it’s a decent night’s income, generally better than a bar or coffeehouse gig would yield.

Some house concert musicians are just starting out, getting valuable experience, one house at a time. Many are famous – or were, decades ago – which makes a good match with the attendees, who are mostly middle-aged boomers. Mr. Stanley, who used to open for Bonnie Raitt, loves playing house concerts. “They are intimate and interactive in a way that clubs and concert halls are not. The upside is how gracious and involved the audience gets.”

Texas singer/songwriter Darden Smith agrees that the audience is the key.

For ideas on how to host a house concert of your own, check out concertsinyourhome.com.

John Kehe is a Monitor staff writer.

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