Living room concerts

Read The Clothesline Students in Communication and Journalism 370, magazine editing and design, create a magazine in the course every year since 1999. This semester’s class underwent the same obstacle in preparing an online magazine for students that contained information relevant to campus life.

Story by Thom Fountain

Thom Fountain – Concert Performer

There’s something pretty darn cozy about too many people sitting shoulder to shoulder in a living room – or kitchen or basement or attic – listening and singing along to a musician at the head of the room. As that musician, the feeling is mutual.

In my years of playing music, I’ve played, hosted and watched countless living room, basement and house shows all over the Midwest. While my friends and I started organizing them in high school out of necessity – no venues would book us youngsters – the experience has become a first choice instead of a back-up plan. Truthfully, it’s just hard to beat.

As a performer, there’s a certain connection between you and the audience you always strive for, but it can be hard to meet in many traditional venues. Either loud speakers drown out any attempted sing-a-longs, a high stage separates you from the crowd or the area fills up with those more concerned about the football game than the music at hand.

While these mishaps all have their own charm, a house show highlights the intimacy musicians should have with their audiences. This intimacy comes from quiet, attentive audiences, conversations between songs and even just the idea that someone would open up their home for you to play.

As a fan, a house show puts you directly in front of the performer and gives a sense of exclusivity to the event. Not to mention, telling your friends you saw a band in the midst of 15-20 other people certainly gives you some bragging rights.

This intimate setting also lends itself to new material, old material and reworked songs that may not be heard anywhere else. House shows give me as a musician a comfortable, forgiving space to try things I might not want to in bigger spaces with more people.

One of my favorite aspects of house shows is that it’s not uncommon for them to accompany other events that fall in the same line. Often when I organize a show I’ll invite local visual artists to display on the walls of the living room. Minneapolis/Eau Claire band Peter Wolf Crier collaborated with a playwright and hosted a theatrical performance that spanned an entire house in the Twin Cities.

Right here in Eau Claire, house shows are thriving. Groups like Farms, Vacation Dad, The Heart Pills and others play do-it-yourself shows on a pretty regular basis. Keep your ear to the ground (and the Internet) to check them out.

Trust me, it’s a good time.

Briana Gruenewald – Concert Hostess

Although it was more than two weeks ago that I hosted my first living room show, I’m still recovering from how amazing it was. A musician I fell musically in love with at The Cabin my freshman year (plus my three roommates and about ten other close friends) performed in my house, and it definitely resulted in a recipe of immense success.

It all started with a Facebook event invitation – as many of my social interactions do these days. Said musician from above, Ari Herstand, invited me to “Host an Ari Herstand living room concert.” Naturally, I immediately freaked out and ordered my roommates, who (nearly) equally share my Ari Herstand musical fascination, into the living room to discuss this epic event. After our blood pressures equalized, we decided no matter how we were going to stuff the upwards of 20 suggested guests into our rather small apartment, this was something we couldn’t pass up. We emailed our interest right away.

Now, before organizing the whole shindig, I had never heard of a living room show. I began having doubts, thinking maybe this was all a joke. Maybe it was just a ploy for Herstand to see who his true fans were – the ones who stupidly succumbed to his “event invitation.” After telling friends about the event, though, I realized living room shows are somewhat of a growing trend, used by musicians and bands with concentrated fan bases and who are generally not mainstream.

Herstand emailed the details and stipulations of the show: enough floor space for guests and he was to receive at least $250 by the end of the night. Easy enough. It was then made official. Ari Herstand, in my living room, Oct. 18.

It’s hard to put into words how entirely perfect the show was. He played two sets: one acoustic and one looping. Things happened in my living room that night that would rarely, if ever, happen at an established concert venue. Herstand was able to tell stories about each song, like how he came up with the idea for them and what he was feeling when he wrote them. He also played songs he had never played for an audience before.

Intimate is the only word to sum up the entire evening. Herstand blogged about the concert the next day, saying “for the 2.5 hours, we were family.” That’s exactly what it felt like. Everyone was there because they genuinely wanted to be. There were no annoyingly drunk, loud or generally obnoxious random people (like there usually are when I attend a concert at a venue).

There was simple enjoyment, respect and investment going on that night. If you are ever faced with the opportunity to host a musician or band in your living room – seize it! You will likely never forget it and will be replaying the show over and over in your head more than two weeks after the fact.