There are cavernous arenas where
big-name acts play for thousands of fans.
house-concert series called FolkHouse drew more than 60
people in January for a performance by Nashville
singer-songwriter Jeff Black. Guests sit on folding
chairs, couches and the stairs in the Fontenelle
Boulevard house where hosts Diane and Jerome Brich
started the series in May 2000.
There are smoky, noisy bars where
musicians play for crowds that seem more concerned with getting their
drinks than listening to music.
And then there are house concerts.
Think of them as sort of a musical Tupperware party,
only cooler. People come over, share food and socialize for a couple of
hours. But instead of a host who hawks pricey plastic bowls, a
singer-songwriter delivers live music.
Around the Midlands and across the nation, music fans
are enjoying concerts in the comfort of someone's home. The
nontraditional setting offers a cozy, smoke-free environment where the
focus is on the performance.
But for many musicians, fans and concert organizers,
the house-concert culture goes beyond music.
When Diane and Jerome Brich started a house-concert
series called FolkHouse in May 2000, they mainly wanted a way to bring
artists they liked to town.
But now, nearly six years and 58 house concerts
later, the Brichs have found another benefit to welcoming music fans -
many of them strangers - to their midtown Omaha home at 2440 Fontenelle
"We enjoy the social aspect almost as much as the
music. We've met some great people who we really enjoy spending time
with," said Jerome Brich. "I really love it when people who have never
been to one of these concerts show up and are blown away by how cool it
People like college students Anne Muskin and her
boyfriend, Brett Ostronic.
A few weeks ago, the two twentysomethings from
Omaha attended their first FolkHouse concert. Nashville
singer-songwriter Jeff Black was the artist.
performs at the January FolkHouse concert. Host Diane
Brich says one of the benefits of hosting house concerts
is forming friendships with the performers. "You get to
know them on a personal level."
"It's so intimate," said Muskin, who
typically attends concerts at bars or music venues like Sokol
"This is a really cool thing," Ostronic said. "You
feel really close to the artist."
At Black's concert, a capacity crowd of 63 sat on
folding chairs, couches and even a stairway as he sang, strummed his
acoustic guitar, shared stories and plucked his banjo.
Audience members, many seated within arm's reach of
Black, were so quiet you could hear the clink of a wine glass being
placed on the wood floors. Moments later, a screen door creaked open as
a man entered and took a seat on the stairs. Outside, a dog barked in
During intermission, guests mingled and grazed on
snacks spread out on tables and countertops in the Brichs' kitchen.
Others retreated outdoors for a smoke break or purchased CDs and got
autographs from Black.
For Paul Smith, the appeal of FolkHouse concerts is
the atmosphere, affordability and accessibility to the artists.
Smith, 51, has attended nearly every FolkHouse
performance. He loves taking photos of the performers as they're playing
and meeting them afterward.
Unlike arena concerts, Smith said, fans who go to
house concerts don't fight for parking; don't get charged $5 for a beer;
don't need to bring binoculars; and don't leave with their ears ringing.
But before all the guests arrive, hosts must prepare
their homes for the crowds. They clean, move furniture, clear away
clutter, cook dinner for the performer, prepare snacks for guests and,
if they're using one, set up a sound system.
Hosts make sure there's enough toilet paper, chairs
and refreshments to go around. And, no, they don't stash all their
valuables. The Brichs say they've never encountered an unruly guest or
an unruly artist, many of whom crash overnight at their place.
Because of the time and effort that go into planning
a house concert - not to mention juggling full-time jobs, families and
other commitments - most presenters have house concerts fewer than a
dozen times a year.
For each show, the Brichs spend from $50 to $100 of
their own money on food and beverages. Performers keep every penny of
the admission, which ranges from $10 to $15 per person.
For musician Patrick Brickel, the beauty of a house
concert is that it "exists on a very pure level."
"It doesn't exist to sell beer and make a profit,"
Brickel said. "It exists because the presenter simply loves music."
Brickel, a singer-songwriter from Iowa City, said
he's looking forward to making his FolkHouse debut April 1. He has
attended other house concerts as both a performer and a fan.
"They provide a great opportunity for musicians to
play a very real show - no amplification, no smoke, no loud background
noise, and an audience only a couple of feet away," he said. "There is
an entire community of house-concert lovers, and they get really jazzed
about this stuff."
Rebecca Carr, who since 1999 has had a series of
concerts at her home in Lincoln, said the social aspect of house shows
is a big appeal.
"House concerts are about music and about community,"
said Carr, who before moving to Lincoln lived on the East Coast, where
she was introduced to house concerts through friends.
Carr said that as word-of-mouth has spread,
attendance has grown. In the first year or two, she said, average
attendance was about 20 fans. In recent years, the average has climbed
to about 30. The capacity is 42.
"It's definitely easier to fill the room now," she
said. "But there are fewer twentysomethings than I would like."
The average age of guests at Carr's house concerts is
mid-40s. It's the same with the FolkHouse crowd, though the Brichs have
had several twentysomethings - whose parents are regulars - show up on
Diane Brich said that one of the benefits of hosting
house concerts is forming friendships with the performers.
"You get to know them on a personal level," she said.
"They eat dinner with us. Even after the concert is done, we get to have
some quiet time with them."
She and her husband also enjoy doing house concerts
because they help expose their children - Emily, 17, Ben, 16, and Chloe,
13 - to different types of music.
Diane said she never had any qualms about allowing
strangers into her home. She grew up in a big family, loves to
entertain and enjoys meeting new people.
But there have been times when the Brichs have
questioned whether to keep the series going.
"I've had some health issues over the last five
years, so there's been times where we've thought, 'Maybe we shouldn't do
this,'" said Diane, who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
"But it's so worth it. I don't want to stop."
For newcomers who might be hesitant about attending a
house concert, Diane suggested they "just jump in and try it."
"You can come with your friends," she said, "but
you'll end up making new friends."
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