Last week I was invited to attend a house-concert featuring Pictou County, Nova Scotia’s own Dave Gunning. I leapt at the opportunity not only because I have always been impressed by Gunning’s performances whenever I’ve managed to catch him playing at festivals, but also because the concept of house-concerts interests me. If you are like me and haunt your favourite folk-artist’s websites looking for opportunities to see them perform, you have probably seen listings like “Private Event/Concert” or “House Concert” and have been stumped by how to get invited to such exclusive functions — or you might be asking what a house-concert even is. For the uninitiated a house-concert is a performance held in a home. Usually it features a solo artist or duo and because it is held in a private residence it is often not advertised in traditional methods. Begging the question how do you find out about them?
Well first off because they are held people’s houses there is a level of trust involved — most people (and rightly so!) don’t just invite random people off the street into their homes — so the best way to get in the loop is to find a friend who already goes to a house concert series and convince them to let you to tag along for their next house-concert adventure. Suddenly you aren’t a stranger but a friend of a friend. If you don’t think that you know anyone who attends (or hosts) house-concerts you should ask everyone just to make sure. Many people know at least one person who does. It might end up looking a little bit like a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to wrangle an invite, but that is one route to finding out about house concerts. Also, consider volunteering for folk fest or a folk club, you would be helping keep folk music alive in your community and as an added bonus with an influx of new folkie-loving friends someone is sure to be “in the know” about the house-concert circuit. Another approach is to sign-up for mailing lists. This might seem obvious, but signing up for the local folk club’s and your favourite artist’s mailing lists and Facebook pages will allow them to alert you to when there is going to be an event in your area or check out the Home Routes’ schedule in your area. Home Routes is an organization that curates house concerts and acts kind of like an online dating site connecting their house-concert hosts with potential audience members. On their site you can see that an event is happening in your area and at what day and time, you fill in an online form including your contact information and then the host contacts you.
If this all seems like a bit too much hassle for you, I urge you to reconsider. There is something incredibly special about listening to world class musicians play to an intimate audience of under fifty people. On Saturday night, Dave Gunning had the crowd singing along to “A Game Goin’ On” (co-written with David Francey) louder than most theatre performances (with correspondingly larger audiences) I’ve attended in recent memory or how about hearing Gunning’s explanation of his dog staring at him while he wrote “To Be With You” from his album Lift while your host’s own dog darts between chairs. The venue of a house-concert lends the performance an air of immediacy and relevancy that tends to disintegrate at the larger festival level. Gunning was able to share, without rushing through it based on strict timings, the backstory (involving a motorhome billet, a festival in New York, and a recounting of an NPR broadcast featuring a Rabbi) for “Sing It Louder” co-written with Sally Spring.
With “Sing It Louder” Spring and Gunning remind us that we have to act on our convictions and not just mouth along with the masses “If we stand and rise together, There’s change within our power, I am preachin’ to the choir to sing it louder”. Gunning’s passion for his Nova Scotia home became more and more evident as the evening went on and he acts on his principles as evidenced through his involvement with the Clean the Mill project, and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. Hearing Gunning perform in such a fantastic atmosphere makes me immensely grateful to the hosts, Gord and Lisa, for opening up their home. This was only my second ever house-concert, so I asked if there was certain behaviours that were frowned upon (I figured remembering that you were in someone else’s home and to behave appropriately was a given, but wondered if there was something else to keep in mind) to which Gord simply told me not to chat when the concert was happening. Sage advice for house-concert and folk club alike — the rest of the audience isn’t there to hear about your week — and such disruption certainly wasn’t a problem at Saturday’s show.
Keep your ear to the ground for murmurings about house-concerts and know that rumour has it that Dave Gunning will be back through Edmonton (at one of our folk clubs) this coming fall, so check your local folk club seasons when they are released … or better yet sign up for their mailing lists!
Some links for mailing lists of interest for Edmonton-based folkies (you can also sign-up for news in person at most folk club concerts):