Pull up the couch for a little music at home
By JIM LANARAS / Windsor Correspondent
Scott Nevin and Linda McCabe know where to go for a meal and live music.
Nowhere. In their case, there’s no place like home.
Like hundreds of others throughout the U.S., the pair host their own concerts in the comfort of their Windsor home.
Next up in their living room is Canadian singer-songwriter Kray Van Kirk on March 9, who tours internationally and books house tours between performances at larger venues.
The formula is simple. There are two 45- to 50-minute performances by one or two musicians, usually singer-songwriters who play guitar. Those attending the concert bring finger foods for all to enjoy between the performances.
Word about the concerts spreads on the Internet and by word of mouth. Everyone who attends donates $20, relieving the musician of negotiating a ticket price. Performers also are free to sell their CDs at the residential venues.
The cozy venue provides the artist with a friendly audience and listeners with a place where chit-chat and repartee with the artist are encouraged.
“It’s the most intimate setting to hear live music that I’ve encountered,” Nevin said. “People are really listening to the music.”
He estimates there are at least 1,000 home concert hosts throughout the country. He and his wife, both Michigan natives, got involved in the movement three years ago.
“I called all my friends and told them we were having a barbecue and a musician will be playing. Thirty people showed up,” said Nevin, a software engineer at Agilent Technologies.
They have since hosted about 20 concerts, one every other month, and Nevin said he is booking performances for 2014.
McCabe, a lab technician at Healdsburg District Hospital, said she was a little skeptical about it all in the beginning. She wondered if they would have to rearrange their Wisteria Way house and whether they would attract an audience. The indoor shows are performed in a living area that extends from the kitchen.
Performers often include a house concert on their tours as a way to supplement their income. Others play home concerts within a specific geographical area.
Nevin and McCabe also have a guest room available for traveling musicians and provide home-cooked meals as a respite from the road.
On the Saturday before Christmas, San Rafael guitarist Steve Baughman and Oakland folk/jazz singer and swing guitarist Sylvia Herold performed solo sets before 20 guests in Nevin’s and McCabe’s home.
Baughman, who is Nevin’s guitar instructor, said the house concerts are a niche market that is coveted by some very successful musicians.
“The artist and the audience want a more connective experience than just some musical show,” he said. “It’s a chance to try out new material and be more relaxed.
“There’s something nourishing about the setting that we don’t get anywhere else. And you don’t have to deal with sound equipment,” Baughman said.
Herold tours along the West Coast and performs six house concerts a year.
“One offer leads to another,” she said. “They’re fantastic. People really listen in a relaxed but attentive atmosphere.
“House concerts are filling a vacuum created by the loss of venues for live music.”
Along with about 100 other hosts, Nevin and McCabe list their shows on the website concertsinyourhome.com. It’s hosted by Lawrence, Kansas-based guitarist Fran Snyder, who says he kept hearing about house concerts while touring and playing clubs, but finding one was hit or miss.
To make things easier, he started a website called Concerts in Your Home that connect musicians with house concert hosts and fans. On his site, Snyder says performers find most live music venues distracting, and they often find themselves competing with televisions and loud conversations. Those venues also are often too reliant on alcohol sales and have a “Top 40” atmosphere.
“We believe the value of music is best measured by memories, not alcohol sales,” he writes.
Two offshoots of the original two-set format have developed since 2010 — “Dinner and Song” and “Dessert and Song.”
Snyder says these shorter formats include potluck buffets or desserts, one 45-minute performance and usually fewer guests. They are in response to some artists’ pet peeve — the dearth of weekday evening, live music venues.
The suggested donation for these abbreviated performances is $10-$15. If an artist is performing more than one set, it’s considered a house concert.
Nevin, 49, senses some nostalgia behind the popularity of hosting, performing and attending the acoustic concerts in the comfort of someone’s home.
“It’s a throwback to the days when people gathered around a piano or radio to hear music after dinner,” he said.
“We have a lot of people who say it’s the best thing that’s happened in their life.”
To find out who’s booked for Nevin and McCabe’s Windsor Acoustic Guitar Series, visit windsoracousticguitar.org. Shows are private and by invitation only. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an invitation and get directions.