February 21, 2014

Intimate music: fans booking acts into their homes

Performing artists welcome the chance for an intimate performance in someone’s house or smaller venue.

Music fans have long complained about artists who skip Charlotte in favor of Washington, D.C., or Atlanta or a college hub like the Triangle. Despite a quadrupling of venues over the past 15 years, some fans still complain.

But Chris Moore, Jody Mace and other music fans are doing something about it. They are booking music acts into traditional locations and their homes, and the artists welcome the chance for an intimate performance.

Moore and his wife, Mary Sue, in July 2013 brought piano-pop singer-songwriter Vienna Teng to McGlohon Theatre. The show was an intimate and moving experience. They devoted the concert to Paul Hankins, who’d seen Teng play 227 times before his 2013 death. Moore organized the crowd to raise electronic candles when Teng introduced the final song of the regular set.

“It was just this magical beautiful moment,” Teng says from her home in Detroit. “Knowing somebody had orchestrated that because he wanted to create this moment is one of those great reminders that … it’s not about me. I’m just one participant in this moment.”

“It’s not that unusual for a fan to say you should come play in my town, but it’s unusual for someone with this much knowledge and passion as a concert promoter to take it on,” Teng says. “He had this vision.”

About 70 of the 400 people who attended, Moore says, were there at his urging.

“The great thing about working with Chris and Mary Sue Moore on Vienna Teng was while they are both very passionate about Vienna’s work, they are both smart business people who understand why there needs to be a business side to show business,” says Douglas Young, vice president of programming for Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Their involvement also helped keep ticket prices down.

“I could have just booked Vienna myself,” Young says, “but I would have had to charge a higher ticket price, in the $25 range. Thanks to the financial support from the Moores, we were able to keep the price affordable ($15) so more people could see her concert. As a result, I believe we were able to develop a larger audience for Vienna when she returns.”

Young says he is pitched more than 1,000 shows annually and has to consider trends and audience requests in addition to predicting the future. “I get a lot of suggestions from people about potential programming, but it is rare for someone to go beyond that and offer financial support and advocacy for an artist.”

Interest rising

Moore has an advantage over most people. Moore tried booking in Florida in the 1980s. He lost money. His first triumph was booking Peter, Paul and Mary for a Habitat for Humanity benefit in 1990. He has since organized fundraisers and benefit concerts featuring Amy Grant and Vince Gill for his Charlotte employer, Charlotte Rescue Mission. His experience gives him knowledge about what venues and artists require.

While most fans lack Moore’s background, up-and-coming artists, independent acts and singer-songwriters are increasingly receptive to the idea of performing for a crowd of 30 in a living room.

Members of the Charlotte Folk Society have hosted potluck house concerts for many years. Touring punk, noise and indie bands once made Charlotte houses dubbed Yauhaus and Sewercide Mansion regular tour stops. Concertgoers still pay admission. Artists still get paid, but the audience is a captive one without the clanking of beer bottles in the background.

That’s the idea for fans like Jody Mace, who hosts Common Chord Concerts. A house concert can also help introduce an artist to a new area and lead to playing established venues.

“House shows provide this amazing and rare opportunity for singer-songwriters to do what they do best – sing their songs and tell their stories,” says Samantha Crain, an Oklahoma-based artist who records for Concord’s Ramseur Records and played one of Mace’s first house concerts. “Away from the smoky bars, noisy clubs, and sometimes overwhelming theaters, someone’s living room can be the most comfortable and intimate of venues.”

New concert experience

For Mace, who began booking concerts in her home a year ago, it was the unique listening experience she was after.

“I love the Evening Muse. It’s the best place in Charlotte to hear music, but what we get at the house concert is a little more of a listening room experience,” Mace says. “I found myself going to large shows and not always being able to hear the music because people are screaming or jabbering behind your head. I’d heard of people doing house shows. It seemed like a simple thing to do.”

Her foray into house concerts began when Nashville songwriter Nathan Reich told her he didn’t have a place to play in Charlotte.

“He said, ‘Would you consider a house concert?’ ” Mace says. She talked a friend in Indian Trail into hosting Reich.

The experience gave her the confidence to book other artists. Last year she welcomed Crain, Time Sawyer, Bombadil and others into her home for a total of nine concerts. She’s had to turn people away from her last few and isn’t interested in expanding her crowd for fear of losing the intimacy.

“The people coming to the shows are there very specifically to hear the music,” Mace says. “There’s time before and after where you can meet the artist. You get to know them a little bit.”

Intimate venues

Some artists prefer the intimacy too.

“It’s a more personal way of coming into a city,” says Teng, who did an entire house concert tour in 2004.

Mace has concerts booked through March, but hopes other members of the regular Common Chord crowd will host events in their homes too.

Some casual promoters eventually turn into professional ones.

Maxx Music’s Gregg McCraw developed connections through his work with the Americana Showcase at the Double Door in the ’90s. He grew tired of traveling to Asheville and Chapel Hill for shows and started booking on the side.

Today he books five venues of varying sizes. He now has the logistics and infrastructure to promote five shows in a night, but notes the time and energy that can go into a single house concert without that base.

“Knowing what I know now,” McCraw says. “I’d have to be absolutely crazy (to get into this).”

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