Thursday, 20 June 2013 12:20

Live from Your Living Room

Written by  Dwayne Hoover
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Not every concert has to be the Super Bowl Halftime Show. For many, some of their most memorable music experiences happen in smaller venues, where it just feels like you're actually part of the show. The setting is a bit more intimate, so you feel more involved. More invested.

Some have taken it one step further by opening up their living rooms, basements and backyards for a performance that draws you in even closer and puts a heavier focus on the music.

"The difference between playing a house concert and a bar is that every person at a house concert is respectful," said Brian Vander Ark, singer-songwritrer and lead vocalist for The Verve Pipe. "They are there for a concert, not to get drunk, hit on people or play pool. It's an intimate atmosphere."

To help ensure that intimate atmosphere, as one would guess, these shows aren't just open to anyone.

"It's private. Invite only," Vander Ark said. "If the host invites only his family and friends, there's a better chance you won't have any issues with people only there for the party."

Vander Ark has played a number of different house concerts, including several at the home of Marianne Fischer, who, along with her husband Jim, host the Red House Concert Series in Grand Haven.What was originally supposed to be a one-time event has turned into more than 20 shows at their home since 2007.

"The biggest difference between what we are doing and what people might expect to find at a bar, coffee house or other venue that has live music, is that the audience is listening," Fischer said. "That one, simple thing makes all the difference for both the audience and the musicians. Just the act of listening allows for a give-and-take between the audience and the musician that doesn't happen in other environments."

Fischer has welcomed a variety of acts from local favorites The Crane Wives to national touring artists like Vander Ark and Willy Porter. This year she'll also be hosting Grammy Award nominee Seth Glier.

 "I get asked a lot about how we get these amazing musicians to play at our house," Fischer said. "My answer is always, 'I ask.' Many of the musicians are people that I’ve seen play elsewhere that I simply ask if they play house concerts."

For those who may be interested in hosting their own house show, community radio station WYCE offers that opportunity through an annual fundraiser.

"Each spring we offer the opportunity for our listeners to bid on one of a dozen house concerts," said Matt Jarrells of WYCE. "The artists donate their time and talents in an effort to raise funds for [the station] ... and very often they are past winners or performers at WYCE Jammie Awards."

In Kalamazoo's densely student-populated Vine Neighborhood, there exists a loosely knit network of house venues that host a variety of both local and touring acts. Dubbed DITKalamazoo (Do It Together Kalamazoo), their focus, too, is on the music.

"The house show is both more casual and more intimate, as all that the house can really provide is live music, so that's the primary reason people are there," said Rory Svekric, one of the maintainers of the DITKalamazoo website and resident of one of the venues, Milhouse.

 Not only does Svekric and other music fans enjoy hosting performances, but also helping out touring musicians who are passing through by offering them a place to perform.

"Any place that is hosting an out-of-town band is likely taking a donation," Svekric said. "You will almost always see someone from the house wandering around with a jar, blender, helmet or cash box between sets, reminding people that gas costs a lot and people need to eat in order to play guitar."

Each house has its own distinct vibe and musical taste, and can vary in size from a handful of people in a living room to almost 200 fans packed in a basement.

"Some places have a more party feel, while others are focused on the music specifically," Svekric said. "Some places are strictly punk, while others may focus on experimental electronica."

And even though these shows don't tend to be strict, invite-only events, they're not just open to the general public, either. You sort of have to know somebody.

 "Every venue promotes a bit differently, but I would say that overall it is a word of mouth affair," Svekric said. "Generally, none of the houses post their addresses for legal reasons, so it does take a bit of being in the know to find a location sometimes."

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