House concert: modern day chamber music? 

most singer/songwriters’ careers tend to follow a similar arc.

They woodshed for a while, finding their own voice and (hopefully) perfecting their work on either stringed or keyboard instruments. Then, they test their mettle as a live act by playing out – usually at parties arranged by friends.

If that goes well, most attempt to make the leap from entertaining at someone’s home, lodge, or community clubhouse to becoming a viable commercial draw at a restaurant, nightclub, coffeehouse or bar.

But for the past decade, an underground movement in the U.S. and Canada has offered a unique alternative.

Ironically, it’s a movement that has found many established artists clamoring to get back to their roots.

And back into people’s homes.

The House Concert movement, as it’s become known, is steadily gaining ground – and making inroads into mainstream culture. In fact, along with the democratization of the recording industry (made possible by the relatively low cost of high quality studio equipment and the advent of internet distribution), this grass-roots approach to promoting live music is a wonderful illustration of how sometimes, in order to be on the cutting-edge, you have to take things back to their start.

“It’s just a great way to bring music lovers together, says Amy Gaster. She and her husband, local songwriter Daryl Wise, have thrown many at their Tybee Island home.

Andy Bozeman agrees wholeheartedly. The 36-year-old native of Pensacola, Fla., moved to Savannah a few years ago, and had his first such experience while living here – when legendary fiddler Mark O’Connor appeared downtown at The Champion Harper-Fowlkes House.

“That was a once-in-a-lifetime performance,” Bozeman recalls, “and it totally melted the audience.”

It was this experience, coupled with Bozeman’s love of roots music (he travels to attend bluegrass and Americana festivals), that led him to book his own House Concert.

Scheduled for Sunday, October 3, the show will feature California-based singer/songwriter Forest Sun. Sun (whose work is often likened to that of both Van “The Man” Morrison and Paul Simon), has released three critically-acclaimed independent albums of contemporary acoustic folk music, and tours nationwide.

He has played with heavyweights like Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, Keb’ Mo’ and Steve Earle.

Although the 31-year-old artist has played professionally since his high school days, he – like many of his peers – has recently turned his back on that business model, and now mostly plays in private homes.

“The bars don’t pay very well,” he explains, “so they give you free Budweiser and you can’t start till 11. I don’t miss that world at all.”

“One of the great things about House Concerts, is that the people who put them on are already excited about your music. They want to share it with their friends and other people in the community. At a lot of clubs, the sound guy or the doorman winds up making more than you do. That whole lifestyle just doesn’t make sense to me now.”

However, Sun sees this as part of a grand tradition.

“This is the way that music was played long before there were clubs and arenas,” he opines. “I mean, Chopin played house concerts. It’s a fun way to enjoy music.”

One well-known artist who echoes that sentiment is Pat Dinizio, leader of The Smithereens. In the 1980s and 1990s, that New York City band scored big with a catchy hard rock sound that was heavily influenced by the ‘60s British Invasion, and they have remained a top club and theatre draw for the last two decades.

Dinizio now juggles a solo career as well, and has helped to validate the current House Concert scene.

Several years ago, he executed a 5-month “Living Room Tour” that found him playing 70 intimate, acoustic, solo shows across the country. He set up in the homes and backyards of his diehard fans and took requests. In retrospect, he calls that outing “one of the most remarkable and wonderful experiences” of his life.

“This sort of tour had never been attempted before by a pop music artist who had achieved some level of national recognition,” says Dinizio, “and I was told by many of my cynical associates within the music industry that this idea – and the tour itself – would fail.”

“They were wrong. These shows are loose, and fun, and very memorable. I find that after being part of (one), most music lovers... actually enjoy them more than those that are held within the strict and often ‘uptight’ confines of the ‘typical’ nightclub or concert venue.”

Bozeman concurs.

“There really is something special about having world-class music played right in front of you,” he enthuses.

Bozeman hopes around 50 people will attend this concert, and though he has room for more, he’d like to limit the crowd, so Sun can play without amplification.

“Part of the House Concert appeal is the intimate setting,” he explains. “Mark O’Connor’s violin completely filled the room, and I’m confident Forest can as well.”

While there is no opening act for this 8 p.m. show, Bozeman is encouraging those in attendance to bring along a covered dish of some sort for the potluck dinner which will take place at 6 p.m. Such meals are a common occurrence at House Concerts, and help add to the friendly, neighborly nature of the event.

“I have a group of friends on alert to ensure that we have the basics,” says Bozeman of the menu. “I’ll try to keep everyone from bringing the same thing!”

Gaster loves that sort of old-fashioned cooperation.

“I tend to look at this as the modern day equivalent of chamber music,” she says. “Before TV and stereos, people would gather together for live music in their homes. You get a much more appreciative audience that’s actually there for the songs instead of to drink or visit. It’s a better atmosphere for the artists, a way to meet new people with shared interests, and a special treat for music fans.”

“A lot of people simply don’t go out to see live music,” Sun notes. “They don’t like the smokey bars, or the crowded environment. So, in comparison, this is a really comfortable experience. I just sing and play in the room, and everybody just gets as close as they can.”

Both Bozeman and Gaster stress that for legal reasons (and privacy issues), their functions are semi-private, in the sense that one must be invited to attend. However, they’re always looking for friendly music enthusiasts to welcome into their fold, and in Bozeman’s case at least – anyone is welcome to contact him directly for an “invitation” and directions to the show (that contact info is listed below).

It’s important to understand that unlike a regular nightclub or concert hall, which are businesses, House Concerts are more communal efforts. The crowd is asked for a suggested donation (in the case of Bozeman’s event, $10), which goes directly to the artist.

That’s a fair trade-off says Gaster.

“If you went out for dinner and to a club, you’d spend that same amount. To me, it’s better to get together, pool your money and make it happen for yourselves.”

And it seems a great many agree with this notion. The House Concert movement is thriving, although since it takes most pop culture trends about four years to reach Savannah, we’re only now beginning to join the rush.

“There are many established houses that do shows about once a month,” says Sun, “and some of them are actually booked up years in advance.”

Bozeman notes that while there’s still room for our scene to grow, he’s seen many great live shows in town.

“The old Jim Collins Bar was great. The American Legion Hall and the Sentient Bean are a powerful combo at the end of Forsyth Park.”

Yet Sun says he can hardly imagine returning to clubs.

“Music – for me – is about raising consciousness, and that’s not really what people go to a bar to do. (laughs) They go there to deaden it, which is fine. There’s a time and a place for everything. But that’s not the place I want to play my music. It’s the norm, but that paradigm is shifting, and I’m helping to create that shift”

Gaster adds that the informality of House Concerts greatly increase the likelihood that the performers take as much away from the show as the audience.

“The artists like doing this,” she comments, “because they usually wind up making new friends in each town.”

Dinizio attests to that bonus.

“I am honored and grateful to have become close friends with most of the good people who have sponsored (my) shows), and these warm friendships have brought great joy into my life.”

Bozeman says he’s very anxious to see just how many people in our community are interested in this event, and notes a strong turnout will help him book more shows.

“I expect that I’ll monitor my cell phone right up to the potluck dinner. As the event starts, I’ll turn it off. I’ll check web inquiries through Saturday and probably get my last replies out Sunday morning.”

To secure a spot for this show, or to volunteer to help with future shows, contact Andy Bozeman by cell at 541-1378, or via e-mail at TAB-sav@att.net. For info on hosting your own concert, check out www.musi-cal.com, or www.folkmusic.org.

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