Rocking the Suburbs

When we heard musicians were trying to reach new fans by trading the bar scene for the stay-at-home crowd, we had one question:
Where should we put the chairs?
Watch out House of Blues. Make way for House of Keirn.

Living rooms and backyards just like yours and mine are becoming concert venues. Fertile ground for musicians hoping to build lasting (and profitable) connections with listeners, house concerts have now stretched beyond the folk-music crowd.

“I love the intimacy,” says Zach Freidhof, a Brecksville-based rock musician known simply as Zach, who has done nearly 200 house concerts nationwide. “It’s a conversation with music more than an actual show. [Audiences] are particularly attentive, and they typically buy a lot of stuff.”

House-concert hosts act as the promoter, sometimes even providing overnight accommodations and meals to artists as part of the deal. Guests pay to attend in the form of a “suggested donation” (to avoid zoning and licensing troubles) that’s used to compensate the artist, who also has the opportunity to sell CDs and other merchandise to a captive audience.

It’s an intriguing enough idea that when I get an e-mail from family-friendly singer/songwriter Chip Richter seeking hosts for a spring house-concert tour, I eagerly volunteer my own living room.

We agree on a date that coincides with my kids’ spring break, set a donation target of $10 per adult and $5 per child, and I go about e-mailing every parent I know.

“It’s getting harder and harder [for musicians] to book shows in clubs,” Richter tells me. “Since introducing this idea to my mailing list, my schedule’s been as busy as it’s ever been.”

Plenty of concert hosts, like me, are just dipping their toe in the house-concert waters. Others have dived headfirst, like Jay Johnson and his wife, Tammy. They host a series called Honky Tonk House Concerts in their Streetsboro home.

“The concept was just so cool,” Johnston says, recalling his first house concert during a trip to Texas. The Johnson’s rec room now periodically doubles as concert hall. The adjacent garage is used for a preconcert potluck for crowds of anywhere from 10 to 50 guests.

The house-concert trend is like a dose of Ritalin to an attention-deficient audience, explains Fran Snyder, the Lawrence, Kan.-based musician whose Web site, concertsinyourhome.com, connects musicians with house-concert hosts.

“[People think] it’s OK to go to a coffeehouse, sit down in front of a performer and talk at the top of your lungs,” he says. “Putting people in an intimate environment, it creates a peer-pressure thing for people to actually listen.”

It also often translates into fan loyalty and merchandise sales, even for a small turnout. “I can make more money at a house concert, but I also sell a decent amount of product,” says Friedhof. “I’m not dealing with the distractions of a typical venue.”

Among the 600 artists and 400 hosts listed on Snyder’s Web site, only 10 artists and six hosts are from Ohio. But Friedhof and Johnson say the popularity of house concerts is growing.

Count me among the newest fans. My own first try at a house concert with Chip Richter was just as cool as I had hoped. He contributed talent and energy that captured the short attention spans of the primarily 4- to 8-year-old audience. Several parents walked out afterward with CDs in hand, and Richter (hopefully) left with a few new young fans.

Yep, House of Keirn is officially open for business.
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