down home music
From living room to listening room: 'House concerts' offer artists and audiencesan alternative to downtown dives
One Sunday a month, Dino Jobe spends three to four hours preparing to welcome 60-70 strangers into his Oak Hill home. Well, not all are strangers — some are old friends who share Jobe’s love for great music and great food.
He’s got a small group of volunteers to help him get people checked in, lay out the numerous scrumptious dishes his guests bring (it’s a potluck, BYOB deal) and to make sure everyone feels at home. Because for one night a month, Jobe's spacious living room on Rawhide Trail turns into an intimate live music listening room.
His sprawling property, overlooking the Hill Country, is the perfect setting for a relaxing evening of great music known as a 'house concert.' The living room furniture is pushed back to make room for dozens of chairs, and the kitchen becomes crowded with people trying to open their bottles of merlot or looking for a spoon to serve up their homemade firehouse chili. Even though my husband and I didn’t know anyone when we arrived, it felt like a family reunion.
Jobe went to his first house concert a few years ago and decided, “I could do this.” He did some research and contacted the act he’d seen, Terri Hendrix, to see if she’d be interested in being the first artist to play the “Rawhide Trail Concert” series. She sent producer and musician Lloyd Maines over to scope out the place; after giving the venue a thumbs up, Maines helped Jobe acquire the necessary sound equipment, and the rest is history.
“Terri played my first house concert — we sold out about 65 people and then within a week I was getting emails and calls from agents and other artists — word just spread instantly,” Jobe says.
“Some artists recognize house concerts as a superior venue than what they’ve been doing….I think it’s more money than they would typically make and at the same time they appreciate an attentive audience. There’s no glasses clinking and people talking, these people are very attentive and very appreciative,” Jobe says. At the start of the shows, Jobe reminds his guests that for that night, his living room is a concert hall… as in, silence your phones and no talking during the performance.
“Some artists recognize house concerts as a superior venue than what they’ve been doing….I think it’s more money than they would typically make and at the same time they appreciate an attentive audience. There’s no glasses clinking and people talking, these people are very attentive and very appreciative,” Jobe says.
Attending my first show gave me a chance to chat with and listen to singer-songwriter Kevin Welch. Though this was Welch’s first visit to Rawhide Trail, he says it’s not his first experience with house concerts.
“In Pennsylvania, a couple of blue-collar guys were sitting around thinking, 'Wouldn't it be cool to get Graham Parker to play in our living room?' They got a bunch of their friends in on the idea and, next thing you knew, Graham Parker was playing their living room. I was the second guy they got,” Welch says. And because most such shows are off the beaten path, they tend to draw an audience with a genuine interest in the artists.
Artists playing this venue get a free meal and a chance to visit with fans, plus they don’t have to split the door with a bar owner. Every dollar people pay to attend a Rawhide Trail concert (a suggested donation of $20 per person) goes directly to the musician — the house takes nothing. I never thought I’d be writing a personal check to Kevin Welch, but I did!
Welch explains the appeal of house concerts: “With the way the music industry is going it's a way for musicians like me to make a living. Venues are having a hard time staying open because of the way the entertainment dollars are spent and artists are having to get on the road a lot more. With house concerts, the money goes right to the artist.”
For music fans, it’s a chance to sit five feet from their favorite artist and share a meal with new friends, while avoiding the hustle and bustle of downtown. Jobe says that while it takes a little bit of work to put the concerts on, he loves doing it.
“Primarily, what I get out of it is having a great artist in my living room, although I do like to watch people that have not been here before — to watch their faces. It’s such an intimate experience that cannot be communicated. So I like to see people recognize that and after the first two or three songs, they just get this mesmerized look on their faces and it’s delight.”
I did a little research and found out that there are at least half a dozen people who host regular concerts in their Austin-area homes — some feature undiscovered talent while others stick to establish artists — and it's a trend that's taking over other cities, too. House concerts may not be new, but they're new to me, and it’s a nice change of pace from going to a crowded downtown bar where conversation often doesn’t stop when music starts.
I must admit, I came home from the Rawhide Trail show sizing up my own living room to try to figure out how I could arrange a stage and seating. I probably won’t be hosting anything more extravagant than a four-year-old’s birthday party in the next year, but I do plan on heading back to Rawhide Trail again to visit new friends, eat some homemade goodies and hear some great tunes.