I played a house concert recently (Saturday, 18th June, 2011) with my trio (me, Leigh Trowbridge [guitar/vocals] and Andee Price [double-bass/vocals]). It was a great evening, succeeding on many levels. It’s interesting to reflect on what the elements were that made it so.
House concerts are a small but significant part of our gigging round. We've played them in various parts of the country – and as far afield as Gothenburg. They are gigs in someone’s home, usually a fan or a friend. This one was in my girlfriend, Angelika's house. It's quite an undertaking so the suggestion to do it had to come from her and I had to make sure she knew what was involved. We talked long and hard before she decided she wanted to take it on. She likes having guests, and that's one of the elements that is required for a good house concert; a host/ess who likes the music who also likes entertaining. Angelika is a great hostess and most who came knew it and arrived expecting something special. (Most house concert guests are friends and acquaintances of the organiser, although we always get a few that come from our email list.)
It's important, too, that the people coming know that what is happening is a formal concert, not a party with music, otherwise their expectations will be thwarted resulting in disappointment on both sides of the footlights. Angelika decided that there would be an entry charge. Some host/esses prefer that there be a collection and I would always defer to them on this. Either way, audiences are usually generous at these events.
And, yes, there are footlights. The room must look as though a concert is about to happen. Years ago I promoted a concert for Tom Robinson (of 2, 4, 6, 8, Motorway and Sing If You're Glad To Be Gay fame). He arrived in our hall and, very pleasantly but assertively, set about rearranging the stage. He explained that he'd worked as a stage manager in a theatre and had learned how important the presentation of the performing area is if the audience is to respond to it in the right way.* This is true for any concert, including a house concert. It communicates, amongst other things, that the normal rules of concert-going apply, giving the music a chance and the audience the environment to best enjoy it. It creates an expectation, an air of 'something is happening' that primes the audience for the performance. Of course, the room must also be able to accommodate the desired audience-size.
Lastly, the band must treat the gig with as much professionalism as they would any other. The contract between the musicians and the audience is the same as if the gig were played in any large concert-hall. The preparation, the thought given to the set-list, the on-stage presentation, the interaction with the listeners, should all be exactly the same as in any other setting. The increased intimacy of the setting is great for any artist who loves interacting with their audience, but the 'sheen' of a properly prepared and polished performance should not be allowed to be compromised by a more relaxed attitude.
So: the right host/ess who knows what they're taking on, the right room properly prepared and presented, the right expectations created in the audience and a polished performance; the ingredients of a successful house concert.
We had a great night and the audience feedback, though many were not familiar with music such as mine or concerts such as the one they had just experienced, was that they thoroughly enjoyed the gig, found the songs intriguing and were pleased to have been part of the event. How fulfilling for us all. One audience member has subsequently offered to host her own house concert for us.
Try it, you might like it. If you'd like to have us play for you, we'd be happy. Let me know.
(Keep an eye on this blog – there'll be footage of this concert available soon.)
(*I learned another lesson from Tom that night. The gig was not a sell-out and he absolutely refused to start playing until the audience had all moved to the front of the room. Proximity between audience and performer and within the audience itself is important to create intimacy and atmosphere. I always do the same when faced with similar situations.)