I recently went with my family to a dark, icy street in the Old North End of Burlington, where we found ourselves walking up a couple flights of back porch steps into the home of someone we didn’t even know - into a surprisingly beautiful space, an attic loft filled with glittery lights, a piano, a guitar and a microphone. This was Meg’s place. It was her birthday party – and a house concert.
The headline act was my 26 year-old niece Rebecca or 'Beccs' as she calls herself onstage. After a series of poetry readings, Beccs gave us about an hour of her soulful music.
Before you start thinking I’m some cool guy tied into the hip scene, let me assure you, I’m not. But since moving here a few years ago, I’ve been to several house concerts with groups like Darol Anger, Mike and Ruthy and the Bombadils. And now, adding to my understanding, two of my students are working on a documentary about house concerts, which will take them to shows in Vermont, upstate New York and Montreal.
There's not much in the way of hard numbers on this, but house concerts seem to be a growing trend – perhaps partly because of economics. Today's songwriter-performers develop audiences through online streaming services – and social media - one place to start looking for house concert dates, because these artists still need gigs – bigger ones if they can get them – with smaller ones in-between. By selling merchandise, CD’s and tickets, band members can wrap up a house concert with a couple hundred dollars in their pocket.
House concerts help musicians find audiences and make a living. But people who go have music, not money, on their minds. There’s a sense of connecting with the artist and sharing the experience, an intimacy often lacking in bigger venues – because when the living room is the stage, the music becomes more alive.
Back at Meg’s party, I had a glass of wine, told Meg what a beautiful place she had and wished her happy birthday. Then, with the sound of Rebecca’s music in my head, I stepped out on the second floor landing, grabbed the wooden railing, and carefully walked down the back-porch steps.