We began hosting concerts in our home because we live in a small town (3,000 people) about two hours away from the closest large music venues (e.g., Montreal QC or Burlington VT) and we wanted our twin teenaged daughters to be able to experience top-quality live music in an audience-friendly acoustically-sound environment.
So we embarked on this adventure and applied to be one of the host houses for the Canadian Home Routes program. We were accepted – as one of only three homes in Quebec. Our original commitment included hosting six artists or groups of artists.
The original formula included the artists staying in our home after each show – however we re-invented that idea in favour of ‘spreading the wealth’ in our economically-rugged town. Artists who perform at our home stay in local inns where the owners have agreed to provide discounted rates in order to further promote the house concert project.
By leveraging the whole community we created an ecosystem to support/be supported by the Stanstead House Concerts Network – SHCN. We learned to leverage the heck out of social media in order to take advantage of multiple marketing ‘channels’ – and to ensure we found efficient means of getting information to people who would actually pay attention to our updates.
Shows start at 7:30 pm and consist of two sets. A typical concert winds up (for the audience) at 9:30 pm. We picked a starting time which suits the needs of our audience – many of whom travel more than 60 miles each way to attend these concerts. We want to ensure they can get home safely at a decent hour.
Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $10 for teens – and kids are, as always, free and welcome. And there are several solid reasons for making our concerts a kid-friendly experience:
- We want to turn kids on to the power of music to broaden their horizons and fire their imaginations;
- We know how tough it can be to find a sitter (did I mention we have twins?);
- We know how underserved kids are as an audience for live events – kids want to be able to sit up front and be treated with respect;
- Kids bring older people with them – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – and other adults;
- Kids talk to kids via social media and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth; and
- Kids will come back when they’re older kids and young adults and adults.
We’ve learned that people value live micro-venue musical experiences much more than in the recent past. Interestingly, so do the artists – who each reflect on the honesty injected into a performance space where each concert is a truly interactive experience. Artists talk to audience members – they become raconteurs. Audience members chat with artists and share their inspirations, their musical memories – and occasionally their sense of loss soothed through a specific melody.
When Christine Campbell & Blake Johnson (blues & roots singer/songwriters out of Nova Scotia) held court in our livingroom, a young member of the audience – wearing a Metallica t-shirt – shyly asked Christine if she could play Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ to lead off her second set. As it turns out, Christine Campbell grew up listening to Led Zep and her cover of The Immigrant Song was spell-blindingly beautiful. Goosebumps all around. Another favourite moment – a young man with a love of harmonica asked his mom to go home to get his harp so The Cumberland Brothers (bluegrass duo out of British Columbia) could autograph it – which they did while posing for pics together in the kitchen between sets.
We precede each concert with a dinner. These have been grand potluck gatherings and the addition of culinary chaos to the mix seems to appeal to the concept of engaging as many of the artists’ and audience members’ senses as possible. So it’s not only the music. It’s the show. It’s the kitchen. It’s the whole unlikely experience.
We have learned people are never too busy to go to a show they really want to see. And they want to experience these concerts.
Where kids, as always, are free & welcome.
Be well. Practice big medicine.
PS. You can listen to a CBC Radio feature story about our house concerts by clicking on this link.