Home is where the concert is. Following a national trend, Western North Carolina residents are turning their living rooms into do-it-yourself performance spaces. Angela Magura, for example, will host her second house concert Sunday, Aug. 24, when folk guitarist Richard Buckner comes calling.
“I think this is a way to be heard,” says Magura. “I’ve seen Richard play places that weren’t listening-room environments. His songs are the kind that stop you; they leave you stunned. So he’s going to be heard for what he does.” Buckner finds hosts through his mailing list, so for Magura, signing up was as easy as sending an email. Over a six-week span in July and August, Buckner booked nine such shows, with dates at cafes and bars mixed in for good measure.
Longtime Asheville host Julie Maccarin says that for the artists she knows, “This is their bottom line. If they didn’t do house concerts, they’d be out of business.” Maccarin stopped hosting this year, but during the four years she did book shows, she found that house concerts brought out a different, often older, crowd than traditional venues. And with all the proceeds going to the performer, the intimate setting means profitability for touring artists who get to play for potential fans on their own terms.
Fran Snyder saw the value of doing it this way almost a decade ago. Frustrated with the challenges of making it as a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, he took a cue from the folkies and decided to give house concerts a try. “You could hear a pin drop between songs,” he says. “I had everybody’s attention. That doesn’t mean I can’t play a bigger stage; that doesn’t mean I can’t have bigger success. But on the way to that, this is what I want to do.”
That experience led Snyder to launch concertsinyourhome.com in 2006, a place where artists and hosts can create profiles and book themselves. Last year, North Carolina ranked fourth in the number of concerts booked using the site, behind larger markets in Texas, California and Florida. Both here and across the country, says Snyder, “Main stage acts are now calling these homeowners to play in their living rooms.”
But while the website does streamline the process of booking an artist, drumming up an audience hasn’t gotten any easier. Paula DeLorenzo hosts at her Mills River home, and despite having been named Host of the Year for 2013, she says the hardest part is serving as a makeshift promoter. The thought of a half-empty room, says DeLorenzo, makes her lose sleep. And local host Betty Friedrichsen, who’s been at this for 12 years now, says that in the past 12 months, she’s had to fight to fill her own shows and has heard the same story from friends who also host.
What seems to be lacking is some kind of matchmaker for hosts and audiences: a better way to spread the word about local house concerts that also lets homeowners vet the folks who want to come.
In the meantime, though, not everyone’s experiencing a shortage of warm bodies. Ryan Williams has been holding shows at his Asheville home for eight years, and by now, he says, “There’s a base of people who, in a sense, have come to know each other through our house concerts.” So they turn up time and again, often in droves. More than 100 people might show up for a concert in his backyard, complete with food trucks, and 50 or so is more the norm for indoor shows. Many people bring their kids, and in this kind of setting, they can interact — with the music and each other — in different ways.
“They’re always saying, ‘Oh, thank you so much for opening up your home,’” says Williams. “Are you kidding me? What a dream. My family, we laugh about how amazing the return is for us. It’s like going to a concert, but instead of just getting to hear music you love, you get to choose the audience.”