On a rainy Sunday afternoon, sweet confections line the counter at Heart 2 Heart Bakery & Cafe in Cornelius. Across the room, sweet jazz flows from John Alexander’s saxophone, as he and his group, Big Octave, play original tunes for about two dozen jazz aficionados.
Owners Marilynn Lester and Sam Hill have been hosting concerts like this for the past 14 months at the bakery, in a business park next to Sam’s auto repair shop. Local bands like Big Octave are standard fare, but they’ve also had international musicians, such as Japanese keyboardist Makoto Kuriya, who played the room in 2014.
They don’t do any advertising, relying on word of mouth to attract a crowd. And your $25 ticket comes with coffee or tea and a big wedge of cake.
Heart 2 Heart’s music series is one of several around the area at unexpected venues, from small shops and retail stores to neighborhood clubhouses and even private homes. Some fit the term “house concerts,” such as Charlotte’s Common Chord series or Hickory’s Support Local House Concerts basement concerts. Others are something different altogether.
Mark and Katherine Love own Steinway Piano Gallery Charlotte, off Statesville Road in the Northlake area. A couple of times a month, they host informal, one-hour concerts with amateur and professional musicians playing one of the grand pianos in the Steinway showroom.
“We try to come up with things that engage the modern audience,” Mark Love said. “It’s family friendly, informal, and informative.”
Musicians have ranged from Charlotte jazz pianist Chad Lawson to rock and blues keyboardist Bob Malone to students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. They’re encouraged to chat with the audience as they play, about themselves, the instrument and the music. “It’s really almost a salon-type environment,” Love said.
An average of 50 people come to the free concerts to hear music ranging from classical and jazz to rock and blues. Babies welcome, Love said.
“What we tell them, is if your baby’s crying in the back, this is the place for that. You’re not buying a ticket to Charlotte Symphony.”
In Huntersville, the Homefront Music Series schedules six to eight concerts a year, inviting singer-songwriters to play at one of the two clubhouses in Wynfield, a neighborhood of about 1,000 houses west of Interstate 77.
Organizer Tim Sanborn was inspired to start the series after attending a “house concert” at a neighbor’s home.
Acoustic guitarist Kelley McRae played that concert on the patio, and that inspired Sanborn. “I had no idea this kind of event happened,” he said.
He began exploring both the music and the idea of producing concerts himself, and in 2012 the Homefront Series was born. Concerts are held in one of Wynfield’s two clubhouses, typically drawing 50 or 60 people.
“We differ a bit from more traditional ‘house concerts,’ ” Sanborn said. “We have a clubhouse, so it’s a little bit of a stretch of the term.” But with the clubhouse’s larger capacity, he said, “We have the advantage of instead of 30 to 40 people in your great room or family room, you can have 100.”
He likes the intimacy and community of a small concert. “You have friends, some food and good music,” he said. Some of the musicians end up staying in his home, and that gives his family a chance to get to know them.
Sanborn is a longtime music lover who hasn’t quite gotten around to guitar lessons. As a producer, he likes the challenge of “finding the best music you’ve never heard. In some cases, we’ve had some big names,” as musicians were on their way up.
Over the past couple of years, performers have included Howie Day, David Wilcox, Ellis Paul and Tony Furtado.
Building community around the music is perhaps Sanborn’s main goal. “Our electronic generation to me is so pervasive and so fast that I like to be able to bring people face-to-face. What better things can you have than music and food and drink to bring people together,” he said.
Community is also an important part of the Heart 2 Heart Bakery jazz series in Cornelius. And here’s something you won’t find in a concert hall: Lester makes everyone in the audience introduce themselves before the music starts.
Before Big Octave’s gig on Sept. 27, jazz lovers from Charlotte, Lake Norman, Winston-Salem and even Chicago introduced themselves.
“I have a wonderful crowd. They have become a sense of community,” Lester said. “They’re loyal and they tell their friends about it, and they apologize profusely when they can’t come ‘cause they have something else to go to. And they give good feedback.”
David Boraks is a freelance writer: email@example.com
Want to go?
▪ Heart 2 Heart Bakery, 18409 Old Statesville Road, Cornelius, http://www.heart2heartbakerycafe.com/. Next concert: 4 p.m. Oct. 11, Butch Stewart & Series III
▪ Homefront Music Series, Wynfield clubhouse, Huntersville, http://homefrontmusicseries.com/. Next concert: 8 p.m. Dec. 4, Dave McGraw and Mandy Fer.
▪ Steinway Piano Gallery Charlotte, Northlake Village, 7030 Smith Corners Blvd., Charlotte, http://steinwaypgch.com/news-events. Next concert: 4 p.m. Oct. 11, Rob Hallquist of High Point University playing music from 150 years and four countries on the 9-foot Steinway grand piano that once belonged to legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz.