The Art of House Shows

By Ana Lete, originally published in the Coyote.

                During the 16th century, musicians would often perform secular music in the chambers of noblemens’ homes. And in the 17th century, non-secular music was performed in the home as well. While concert halls weren’t built until Beethoven’s time, the art of playing music in another’s home in front of guests still persisted into the 20th century. And guess what? Although you aren’t likely to see a built in organ in someone’s basement, or have someone singing lieders while playing piano late into the evening, the act of playing music in homes for guests has not gone away.

                Modern day house shows are not only a great way to perform music in front of others, but they also provide additional benefits to both modern day musicians and those who enjoy listening to music. From a musician or band perspective, playing in a house’s basement or living room has many added perks for the performers—even if pay isn’t one of them. While some house shows in Portland and Seattle charge admittance to house-show goers in order to pay bands and solo acts, many house shows in smaller areas (like Boise) do not generally charge admission to guests until they achieve a regularly high attendance to shows and build enough of a following. But even if those booking shows for their homes can’t afford to pay, it is not uncommon to see hosts pass around a tip jar for the out of town musicians to help subsidize their gas costs or to see the musicians themselves set up a merchandise table with their CDs, vinyl records, t-shirts, and cassette tapes for sale.

                For touring musicians, house shows can be a great addition to their tour schedule even if they are not paid for a few reasons. For one, house shows often come with hosts who allow musicians to crash on their couches or roll out their sleeping bags, which is much preferable to sleeping in the van and allows the performers to save on touring costs. And if musicians plan their tour just right, sometimes it is possible to play a house show (which sometimes comes with added benefits like the host showing you around town and providing a place to stay) and then play a paid gig the next day, while still staying at the house that the musicians played at the night before. While this might not always be possible, being grateful and showing thanks in little ways can go a long way in a house show host’s willingness to let you either stay a night longer, provide a meal, or even let you play there again on the next tour. Some musicians show their thanks by making their hosts breakfast in the morning, buying toilet paper for the house, giving the host a copy of their album, or by buying a case of beer. But at the end of the day, not being a diva or a pretentious asshole and showing your gratitude in any way possible goes a long way in how far a house is willing to accommodate you.

                But for both musicians and music listeners, the beauty of house shows comes from their intimate nature. Very rarely can a music fan interact with a musician afterwards at a big venue. But at house shows, it is not uncommon for fans to strike up a conversation with band members after they play or even in between songs. And because house shows are so small and intimate, it is not uncommon for singer-songwriters or bands to divulge information about the songs that they might not share at a bigger venue. Things like the stories behind the songs, the inspiration for a song’s lyrics, and how the band came to form are all more likely to be shared at a house show than at a bigger venue. And at some house shows, concert-goers will even ask questions or give the band feedback on the songs just played, which is a useful tool for performing musicians. Overall, it is the small and intimate nature of house shows that make them the special music listening environment that they are.

                And closer to home, house shows provide a way for the under 21 crowd to be able to listen to both local and new out of town bands when they don’t have access to 21 + venues like the Neurolux, Pengilly’s, Knitting Factory, etc. And with all age venues in Boise and Caldwell such as the Crux and the Venue closing their doors, having houses in this area like the Android house in Caldwell and the Music Major House on Dearborn St. (also in Caldwell) that are willing to host local and touring bands become increasingly important for keeping the Boise area music scene alive and vibrant both in the present and in the future.