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John Lamb, Published September 16 2012

Fans, musicians enjoy intimate quality of at-home concerts

FARGO - Music listeners often say an intimate concert experience sounds as if it could be in their living room.

Some fans mean it literally.

House concerts, where touring artists perform in a fan’s home or backyard, have started popping up on the local music calendar.

“It is fun,” says Deb Jenkins, a Fargo singer and concert promoter. “It’s a nice party.”

Jenkins hosted a backyard gig by Minneapolis singer/

songwriter Chastity Brown earlier this month. About 25 fans attended.

Fargo photographer J. Earl Miller had Seattle-based singer/songwriter David Bazan sing in his house in late August.

“You really felt like you got to know him,” Miller said of the Pedro the Lion frontman. After the nearly 2½-hour set, Bazan hung out for 45 minutes chatting.

“You actually get to hang out and talk to people,” says Jeremy Messersmith, who brings his Supper Club Tour to a Moorhead home tonight. The show is already sold out.

“You don’t play super-late at night. You don’t have to hang out in a dingy green room for four or five hours,” the singer explains about why he likes such shows. “It’s about spending real, quality time with cool people. When you’re playing a show in a club, you don’t really get that. Maybe you get 20 minutes after the show is done when you can talk to people maybe while the other band is setting up.”

“I’ve never had an artist that has hidden until it was time to play and then disappeared when they’re done,” Jenkins says. “They all just mingle with the crowd, and that’s a big deal for those who’ve donated money.”

As Messersmith’s tour name suggests, the Minneapolis artist has a specific theme to his current stretch of shows: Each attendee must bring something to eat, kind of a pop music potluck.

(Messersmith can’t cook on the road, but made spicy nuts for the 11-date Midwest tour and shares recipes on his site.)

Not all house concerts are dinner parties, but some like to roll out a spread. Jenkins, a caterer, once made full meals for those in attendance at one of her home shows. The performer told her she went overboard because most shows feature just cheese and crackers.

Jenkins generally asks for a $15 donation for her shows, with some of the money going toward food, but the bulk going to the performer.

“It’s nice for people to donate money to help the artist, and I like to feed people, so it all works out well for me,” she says.

While Jenkins may be the hostess with the most, there are some limits – namely guests bring their own beverage.

This is standard decorum on the house concert circuit.

On his website, Messersmith lays down ground rules, most of which revolve around simply being a courteous guest: Label your food for those with allergy concerns. Drink responsibly. Bring a cushion as the host may not happen to have 50 spare chairs. No flash photography, and don’t block people’s views.

Messersmith’s shows start at 8 p.m. so all guests can be out by 10. Jenkins starts her dates even earlier to ensure music is over by 10. She also makes a point of telling the neighbors in advance, something Messersmith urges his hosts to do, too.

He keeps the exact location of the concert under wraps until the day of the show, when those who bought the $15 tickets through his website get an email with the address. He says this approach is to keep party-crashers away.

“I try to respect the host’s privacy as much as possible. It’s their house, after all,” he says.

Still, there will likely be some strangers in the house.

While Miller has been a fixture of the F-M music scene for two decades, he only knew about five of the 40 people who came to the Bazan concert. Ten of the attendees drove down from Winnipeg, including one woman who brought her 3-month-old child.

Although there are new faces in the crowds, they are all there out of a common admiration for the artist and their music.

“It was unbelievable. He played three songs and then did a question and answer,” Miller says of the Bazan show.

“It is way more of a conversation,” Messersmith says of the intimate affairs. “It’s not uncommon for people to talk or ask questions between songs or make requests. I’ll play pretty much every song of mine if someone asks for it. I kind of like that.”

Well, maybe not all of it.

­“If there was heckling, I think it would be way more brutal in that scenario,” he says with a laugh.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533