Living room shows hark back in time

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Greg Ching met his wife, Deborah, while listening to musicians play in a San Francisco living room. They bought their home near Nederland, Colo., with an eye toward hosting live musical performances.

Singer-songwriter James Hurley performs during a dinner-and-song event in Allyn, Wash. Fran Snyder created ConcertsInYourHome.com to help musicians and hosts connect. The site charges musicians a fee.  CONCERTSINYOURHOME.COM/ASSOCIATED PRESS
CONCERTSINYOURHOME.COM/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Singer-songwriter James Hurley performs during a dinner-and-song event in Allyn, Wash. Fran Snyder created ConcertsInYourHome.com to help musicians and hosts connect. The site charges musicians a fee.

Since then, Ching has become so committed to his 14-year-old series, Aspen Meadows House Concerts, that he welcomed one performer in September even as Colorado’s flooding knocked out his phone and sent 8 inches of water into his basement. Years before, he held another “living room show” while a wildfire burned nearby.

And he spent about two years and $20,000 in legal fees defending his right to organize private concerts; in 2008, Boulder County commissioners regulated home gatherings, limiting attendance, frequency and hours in response to concerns about running a business or creating noise.

“These living room shows are a way of bringing people together,” Ching said, explaining why he didn’t give up in the face of fire, flooding or government regulation. “It’s something about the human spirit. It’s very healing.”

Enjoying live music at home is nothing new. For some, it harks back to the humble notion of friends singing and playing instruments together before the days of recorded music and radio. For others, it calls to mind Europe’s legendary salons, filled with writers, artists and musicians.

Today, the living room show lives on, and for many musicians, it’s become an important way to connect with fans and supplement income. Hosts don’t charge admission as a business would, but can suggest that guests make a donation of perhaps $10 or $15 to pay the musicians.

Living room show hosts typically give all proceeds to the performers.

After he played one living room show and wanted to do more, singer-songwriter Fran Snyder created ConcertsInYourHome.com to help musicians and hosts connect. He charges artists a membership fee and offers a database of performers that’s searchable by state, genre or instruments.

“There’s a huge transformation going on in entertainment,” Snyder said. Some venues have closed, some acts that used to draw 200 or 300 people struggle to get 50, and more musicians are hustling to support themselves rather than looking for a paycheck from record labels.

“We’re literally building a new touring infrastructure,” Snyder said.

From Pat DiNizio, lead singer of The Smithereens, doing all-request living room shows, to actress Sarah Jessica Parker hosting a living room fundraiser for President Obama’s re-election, this old idea seems new again.

In New York City, Marjorie Eliot has offered free, Sunday “Parlor Jazz” concerts in her living room in Harlem for a decade. And the New York-based Undead Music Festival featured performances in homes in many cities as a companion to those in professional venues.

WANT TO HOLD A LIVING ROOM CONCERT?

POINTERS FOR HOSTS

1. Start with a small, weekday event. Before you know whether 15 or 50 of your friends will attend a live show, it’s better for you and the performer to start with lower expectations.

2. Embrace the space you have. Don’t strip your home of personal touches or feel you have to set up rows of folding chairs.

3. Keep it private. Putting up fliers and advertising your shows – acting like a business instead of a private party – could get you in trouble with local government or your home insurance.

4. Set a suggested donation from guests. Make it clear all proceeds are going to the musician.

5. Invite your neighbors. If you don’t want them annoyed by noise or traffic, make sure they are part of the fun.

POINTERS FOR PERFORMERS

1. Be honest with yourself about whether you like interacting with fans. If you don’t want to answer questions about your music, gear and the like, house concerts might not be for you.

2. Communicate your needs. If you need a certain amount of space or if you like to do a sound check early in the day and then have some alone time to prepare, let your host know ahead of time.

3. Be flexible. House concert hosts are not professional venue owners. They might not have the gear a club would have or be as familiar with your needs. If they didn’t think to provide a green room, you might need to dress in the bathroom and warm up on the porch.

4. Ask before you invite your friends or fans. Your hosts might welcome a few additional guests, but as with any party, ask rather than assume.

5. Connect with fans. Whether you ask for names and e-mails or invite people to like you on Facebook, if they like your music, stay in touch.

– Associated Press


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