House Concerts: Worth Going

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I went to my first official ‘house concert’ today – what’s up with these? I’d been hearing about them for years but didn’t go… they seemed secretive and hard to figure out.

Turns out that a little obscurity (e.g. requiring an RSVP before giving out the address) is part of making sure house concerts are classified as ‘private’ events, and avoiding trouble with the IRS, local zoning boards, and the enforcers of music licensing payments.

But what a great format! Kids running around, intimate venue, great food, getting to meet the hosts and most of all mingling with the band, Sideline, a bluegrass group from North Carolina. They were a much bigger-deal act than I expected for a small house concert (pic above is their bus parked out front.. the Ford vintage truck is unrelated/incidental). Their music was awesome, and I learned a lot chatting with them during intermission.

They drove the bus all the way from NC for a twelve-stop tour in the West. They sleep on the bus, often in Walmart parking lots, and drive it themselves in shifts (“this morning driving up from LA was particularly brutal”). They mostly play older country music while driving.

They’re all full time musicians, in multiple bands at home plus doing music teaching gigs. It’s hard to make a living playing music but they love it (suggested donation was $20, plus they sold merch – CDs and T-shirts – to the 20 or so folks in attendance). The guitar player is the bandleader’s son in law, and the fiddle player’s a senior in high school. I also learned why Mandolins are the new hot thing: because of mandolin player Chris Tile, the new host of Prairie Home Companion, previously with The Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek.

The music industry has been disrupted by streaming and the business model for most musicians has blown up. This house concert felt like a throwback to music’s earlier days where Americans got together in small groups to play and hear music. I don’t think technology is enabling this a la Uber and AirBNB because there’s not enough money in it.

But music performance seems to be thriving anyway, and in lots more personal ways than the old arena-rock days.

Here’s a couple of Sideline videos from YouTube if you’re interested (search YouTube for more):

By the way, the family that hosted this concert also has a band, The Barefoot Quales. Their very talented kids were jamming on mandolins in the backyard when I arrived.

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