12 months of music
Looking back, we would have to declare 2018 as “The Year of the Woman” at Billsville. We didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out and in reflection it was a great year to make it a central theme. In general, our motto is “we book talent” - gender isn’t an issue for us - but this year that talent was generally female. Some of our bookings were serendipitous (Mipso, 10 String Symphony) and some of them we’ve been working on for over a year (Nicole Atkins, Erika Wennerstrom) but as always we were simply thrilled with the talent that came to town. We hosted our 115th show this year which is kind of phenomenal - thanks for being with us!
We started our 2018 schedule on a cold Tuesday night in January with Rachel and Vilray. Rachel is Rachel Price - dynamic lead singer for Lake Street Dive and truly one of the best vocalists performing today. Vilray is Vilray Bolles, a gifted guitarist, vocalist and whistler as well as a writer/arranger for music that harkened back to the 30’s while managing to remain contemporary and exciting.
Seven Days Vermont came to this show and wrote an article that really captured the vibe of what we are all about. You can read it here.
“When Rachael & Vilray reached the end of "Do Friends Fall in Love," the duo lovingly locked eyes on the final, closely harmonized notes. As their dulcet tones evaporated into the ether, a hushed pause took over the room. Then, from an older gentleman in the back, came an audible whisper: "Holy fuck."
Everyone in the room was thinking precisely those two words, even if they lacked the temerity or the degree of awe-induced absentmindedness to say them aloud. It was a perfect response to a stirring moment in an evening full of them — moments aided in no small part by the unusual setting. Indeed, the older gentleman's foul mouth could have been a simple product of heightened relaxation, of feeling at home — Doug Hacker and Caroline Schneider's Manchester Center home, to be precise. “
After a few years of asking, Nicole Atkins agreed to come to Vermont. Her new record “Goodnight Rhonda Lee” was on a bit of an endless loop around here and our buddy Eric said “it’ll never happen” which is always a good challenge! Nicole and her amazing band thrilled us all on a night we won’t soon forget.
We’ve been big boosters of Twisted Pine for awhile now. They are one of those bands that can make fans from just about anyone who sees them live. Performances here and later at the new Green Mountain Bluegrass Festival should cement their cred in the area.
Erika Wennerstrom from Heartless Bastards brought the raw emotionalism of her songs to our space for an incredible, heartfelt night. We weren’t crying - you were crying!
Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton are each remarkably talented musicians and together they brought a sense of playfullness and sweet friendship to Billsville.
Mipso was the only band rained out at the GMBR Festival so we were thrilled when we could work out a date with them. Nancy’s SD card bit it after this show so we’ve only got this Facebook live stuff for sharing but - the house was full and so were our hearts.
10 String Symphony with Carling & Will. Bluegrass and strings were not really our “thing” but somehow we luck into all the talent so we’ll roll with it. The cadence of the music makes for a mighty enjoyable evening.
Lula Wiles with Mary-Elaine Jenkins. We ended the year with some powerful women. Lula Wiles is ready to release a new record on Smithsonian Folkways and Mary-Elaine has a wonderful future ahead of you. A great way to tie it up.
Anais Mitchell / Reed Foehl
Andrew Combs / Erin Rae
Bridget Kearney / Fit Club
Parsonsfield / Carling & Will
Caroline Rose / Hammydown / Ethan & Ellie
Lilly Hiatt / Erin Cassels-Brown
Courtney Marie Andrews
In the middle of “Not Dark Yet”, a Bob Dylan song that Ruby Amanfu performed for us this summertime, Ruby steps back from the microphone to let Brett Lanier take a heartfelt emotional solo. The passion in the playing and the feeling that the musicians on stage had for each other is evident in the “secret video” linked down below. What most of you don’t know is that Ruby met Brett in person at 4:00 that same afternoon. Performances like these are built on years of practice and performing but they’re also built on trust – something that our community continues to give us. You trust us to bring in acts that you love. We sell out shows for artists who have never played anywhere near Vermont. We wanted to thank you for that trust you’ve given us, it’s very much appreciated.
Thanks to everyone who came out to shows, donated money to help us out, brought some food to share and generally participated in making this thing what it is. Thanks to every member of our family who spends hard hours making this happen. Thanks to Nancy for many of these videos and images. Thanks to Sparrow for the image in the email. Finally thanks to the musicians who keep coming and keep putting their hearts on stage for us.
Sometimes in life you find dark places, and the only thing that can give the dark places light is to give voice to it.
Thank you for giving light!
— Ruby Amanfu at Billsville
The year started off with a huge show. Grammy nominated Della Mae decided to drop by thanks to a nice connect from a friend. This show sold out in about four hours for very good reason. Della Mae has so much talent on stage it’s hard to know where to look. Late night jams with Courtney and a lesson on feminism from Kimber made it a night to remember.
Margaret was signed to ATO Records late in 2015. The label paired her with Rayland Baxter as his opener and I literally begged her to join the show with him. Even though she was feeling a bit under the weather she delivered a mesmerizing set of songs from a record that when on to appear on many end of the year “Best of” lists.
Rayland and his band just got better and better as the year went on. It was fantastic to watch this group of talented players fit their jammy rock songs and whimsical ballads to our space. Later in the summer I would see Rayland play 3 times in 24 hours but this was still my favorite.
Joe Pug was the first act ever to play Billsville way back in 2011 and we were thrilled to have him back. His word craft and characters continue to thill.
The Huntress and Holder of Hands
Mesmerizing. This show was packed with emotion for us as MorganEve Swain returned for the first time without Dave Lamb. What a night of close harmonies, hypnotic riffs and heartfelt emotion on stage.
This band continues to be one of our favorite acts. They’ve always had the musical chops but their showmanship and the expansiveness of the sounds they can put on stage continues to improve.
Lula Wiles were a quick crowd favorite and know wonder. Each member is brimming with talent but they are the rare type of band whose personalities and skills combine perfectly into something fresh and fun.
Even a severe hail storm couldn’t keep us from enjoying this amazing band as much as all of us did. Dancing and moving to another Grammy nominated band with a world of talent was a great way to spend a night.
Lissie returned for her second performance with us. She’s an international star with a huge voice who recently made some great personal and professional decisions to help her be in charge of her own career. So thrilled that we can benefit from that.
I fell in love with Ruby at this years Newport Folk Festival and simply begged her to come and play for us. Folks, sometimes begging works. This was one for the books with Ruby bringing her amazing talent to our room while backed by our favorite guitar player Brett Lanier.
A band out of Maine with huge potential. We see great things in the future for these folks with their songs, style and on stage connection. Ryan and Erika can bring the noise with the best of them.
Musical icon Syd Straw entertained us with a night of songs, storytelling and her unique off kilter sense of humor. Here’s a few minutes of Syd with one of our favorite musical guests
Perennial Billsville favorites returned with a new vocalist and a space for dancing. This show is what Billsville is all about. Big band, big fun and great feedback from the community. This one features Ethan on guest guitar.
Vermont musical stalwart Brett Hughes ended the year with a night of fantastic songs and music. We wish him well as he preps to record an album in Nashville.
Last June, Grace Potter dropped by to play a one of a kind show for us – our 75th as a venue.
From what we can tell – this is the smallest “non-promo” show Grace has played in about eight years. We had to keep this one on the down low for obvious reasons. Grace spent the month opening for the Rolling Stones, sharing the stage with Mick Jagger on “Gimmie Shelter” and playing with Kenny Chesney in Green Bay for about 80,000 people. In the middle of that whirlwind she spent two hours on stage at our house sharing her talent along with Benny Yurco and Matt Burr. This one will be hard to replicate – what a night!
The final song of the set was a duo with long time tour manager/friend Jen Crowell on “Nothing But The Water (I)”. We’re thrilled to be able to release this one of a kind performance. Enjoy!
To make sure you don’t miss our one of a kind shows in a one of a kind place – subscribe to the email list at the bottom of this page!
Looking back on the list of shows we hosted in 2015 we can’t help but be amazed by the level of artistry that has passed through our series in the last 12 months. We’ve hosted two genuine international stars along with a stellar lineup of musicians that can only be described as incredible – big sounds in small towns indeed. Thanks go out to all the musicians who are willing to travel to Vermont to connect with crowds and share a sense of musical community with all of us. Our biggest thanks go out to all of you who come to these shows – without your attendance it would all be impossible. Here’s to a wonderful year, looking forward to the next one!
The ever amazing Anais Mitchell started the year for us in January. I can’t think of an artist who has been as consistently brilliant in the last few years. Her trio of releases “Hadestown”, “Young Man in American” and “xo” are consistently beautiful and amazing. She stands alongside a handful of others as the best songwriters working today. Here she is with Ben Davis doing our request of “Flowers” from “Hadestown”. So surreal to see Anais, with her tattoo of Eurydice on her arm in front of the original woodcut of the album art by Peter Nevins on the wall.
In February Jeremy Quentin (Small Houses) came to town. I suppose the winter months lead us into contemplative songwriters and Jeremy really brings a poets voice to the stage.
Jeremy was joined by the effervescent Sophie Lane who at age 14 has without a doubt an amazing future in front of her. Here she is scoring big Billsville points my covering Pearl and the Beard’s “Voice In My Throat.”
e was joined by the effervescent Sophie Lane who at age 14 has without a doubt an amazing future in front of her.
In April, Heather Maloney stopped by with her brand new band. Heather’s popularity is soaring as her strong stage presence and clear exuberance wash over audiences who come to see her play.
At the end of April we hosted Upstate Rubdown in what would prove to be their first of three shows with us during the year. Why? Unbridled fun and joy on stage is why. It’s hard to think of another band that is as immediately likable as these folks.
Haunt the House joined us in May as one of their last shows before an appearance on the Newport Folk Festival stage. Will Houlihan brings a spirituality and passion to his music that’s palpable. Rarely has music felt so right for us.
What can we say about an evening with Grace Potter that can describe what we all felt? From what we can tell – this is the smallest “non-promo” show Grace has played in about eight years. We had to keep this one on the down low for obvious reasons. Grace spent the month opening for the Rolling Stones, sharing the stage with Mick Jagger on “Gimmie Shelter” and playing with Kenny Chesney in Green Bay for about 80,000 people. In the middle of that she spent two hours on stage at our house sharing her talent along with Benny Yurco and Matt Burr. This one will be hard to replicate – what a night!
Arc Iris brought serious musical chops and a Bowie/Zappa flavor to Vermont in August that helped us break out of our Americana highway rut. This band can play anything from spaced out jams to Dixieland to Alt-Country, truly an amazing show.
The next day the band hung around and worked up a version of Hall & Oates “Rich Girl” from scratch in the living room. How wonderful to be witness to this kind of artistic creativity.
At the end of August we built an outdoor stage in our backyard to host Parsonsfield. Their infectious brand of sing-along participation drew the whole crowd in on a beautiful late summer night. Most of all, the band has clearly decided that it’s cool to be “entertainers” and we wholeheartedly agree! Note the Vermont and Bernie/EnoughIsEnough shirts on the band.
We partnered with the crew at Earth Sky Time Community Farm and built a stage out of hay bales and plywood for a magical barn dance night with Spirit Family Reunion, Upstate Rubdown and The Horse Eyed Men. We printed #Bernie T-Shirts and ate amazing good. Seriously, we can’t think of a better community event than this one. We were all so busy singing and dancing that we’ve got very little media from the night. Horse Eyed Men were a great fun opener and Upstate Rubdown showed up for a smoking late night set. Spirit Family Reunion were, as always, the personification of the reason we all love music in the first place.
There is a pretty rocking video on Facebook for you.
We’d been hoping against hope to get Lissie to stop by for about four years now and somehow we were able to pull off not one but two shows! Lissie spends much of her performing time in Europe selling out venues everywhere so a show at our place was really a special treat. We had folks drive three or four hours for this one and it was well worth it. I remember listening to Lissie’s first Daytrotter sessions back in the day and being enchanted with her voice. To have her sing in our living room was otherworldly.
Hard to say no to Upstate Rubdown who wanted to come back for a fall show. So many folks were impressed with them at the Spirit Family Reunion show that we just had to bring them back. Here they are doing a version of Mountain Man’s “How Am i Doing?”
HONEYHONEY closed out the year by once again delivering a stellar show. This one sold out four hours after announcing it and we had a waitlist of 50 people. Sorry we couldn’t get everyone in but those of you who were there no what it was about. Classic tunes, amazing talent and an incredible finish to a stellar year.
Didn’t hurt that they brought Sonya Kitchell to open – her sweet passionate singing is always a treat.
Special thanks to Nancy for many of these videos – she created a YouTube Billsville Playlist where you can while away the hours watching videos from our series.
Of course, artists and fans don’t need a network or a website to do a house show. Some fans are hosting islands, operating on their own terms. Doug Hacker lives in southern Vermont and found it hard to travel to larger, nearby cities for shows after he had kids, so he started the Billsville House Concert series in 2011, hosting bands like Strand of Oaks, Field Report, Anais Mitchell, and Zammuto in his living room for about 65 people. Hacker’s 15-year-old son runs the sound (a full PA with monitors and 16-channel mixer) and his other son works the door. Tickets run about $15, and the band gets 100% of the door, minus $75.
Read the Pitchfork Magazine Article
Billsville House Concerts just finished our 68th show. We’ve produced an average of one show every three weeks since April of 2011. It’s been awesome, we’ve hosted artists we love and shared music with our entire community while making lots of new friends. We’ve had so many nights that we’ll never forget that we’ve started to lose count.
One question we never get asked is “what does it feel like to have ‘made it’ as a venue?” Though it’s a fair question to ask a series that has hosted bands like Lake Street Dive, Lucius, PHOX, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Brown Bird the thought of Billsville House Concerts having “made it” is, to me, ridiculous.
Before I write another sentence, it’s important to note that our entire family feels fortunate to not be making a living on music – because that would be hard and we’ll leave that to the musicians. Having the opportunity to host these amazing bands is a dream come true but the idea of having “made it” doesn’t describe Billsville at all. We’re always “making it” and we occasionally bust our asses while still managing to lose an impressive amount of money. You’re welcome.
Being a house concert venue is a never-ending, rewarding, scary, high-loss small business. In order to get where we are today we had to make a multitude of investments. A sound system, lights, microphones, stands, white towels, lasagna recipes . . . the list goes on.
All of this equipment required an upfront investment from our family. We don’t have a bar lending us “alcohol sales support”. We put those purchases right on our credit cards – sometimes debit cards but hey, cash flow! We planned to make that all back in, well, we have no plan. What we do need to say is that we like to host both full bands and solo performers so we have to be ready (gear wise) to support everyone.
Here’s how our expenses broke down:
Sound and Production Gear (rough guesses) :
2 JBL PRX715 powered mains and 1 JBL PRX718 powered sub – $3000
7 Shure SM58 Vocal Mics – $700
4 Shure SM57 Instrument Mics – $400
2 Behringer some kind or other monitors that used to be mains – $300
2 Kustom monitors – $300
Allen & Heath 16 channel mixer – $600
15 Microphone Stands – $150
4 Instrument Mic Stands – $200
25-30 XLR Cables – $500 (probably more)
15-20 Instrument Cables – $200 (probably more)
DI’s – $200
Drive Rack EQ – $200
Chauvet Lights and Stands – $500
A bunch of stuff I didn’t list like a stage snake, extension cords, other mics and stuff we broke and replaced.
Total : $7250.00 – I’m sure I left some things out
Day of show expenses:
Arrival food “I just rolled out of the van and I’m hungry” – $25
Dinner “Often Lasagna, always vegetarian” – $65 (with salad!) – we use good organic ingredients, don’t get all “Prince Pasta” on us.
Drinks – $30 (average, sometimes more)
Total : $120 / show
Other expenses floating around:
Audio Engineer – $75 this number comes out of the bands end. Sometimes we need help and bring in two others at the same price for a total of $225.
Promotion – $20/show? We run Facebook ads to promote shows because we like it when they fill up. We print posters, we do the things promoters are supposed to do. Some shows sell out and we don’t spend much, other shows don’t.
Venue rental – $150 – $200 when we need to rent a place, if the show is at our house this is $0.
Fire Marshall – $160 when we need to rent a venue. There are laws!
Transportation – $50 you think hauling all that gear around to a non-permanent venue is free?
Billsville Gear Fund – People do contribute some money here are there. Over the years I’d say we’ve been given about $1000 to offset expenses by friends who love music and love what we do. The truth of this statement is that most of that money came from two people.
Sponsorship from Grain Audio. Thank goodness for Grain Audio! They gave us some great speakers to give away, one to keep for ourselves and an affiliate program that would pay us back 20% of all sales made through our marketing efforts. Our take to date? $0.00. Well, you could argue that we made the retail value of their excellent PWS system which would be $249.00.
The Bottom Line
Add it up and you get a $7,250 initial investment with a loss of ($120 × 68 shows) $8,160.00 so far. We’ve been given $1000 so . . .
Total losses $14,410. We lost more money than Pompmaloose!
But this isn’t a sob story. We knew it would be an expensive endeavor, and we still chose to make the investment. We could have just driven to a local venue and passively watched shows like everyone else but we had a drive, a determination, to bring in the kind of music we wanted to see and above all SUPPORT artists who struggle enough on their own.
We have not “made it.” Nor do we ever see a future of having it made. Maybe it’s a foolish expensive hobby but those nights when we’re in our house, watching music played by incredibly talented, giving musicians . . . . Well, I take it back. We’ve made it.
NOTE 1 : What about ticket sales? We give 100% of our money back to the bands for a true house show. Full disclosure, the bands pay our genius sound engineer out of their end. He’s fifteen years old so we think he deserves it. If we have to rent a venue with expenses we take those off the top and try to give as much back to the bands as possible. We have never made a profit from ticket sales. Have the bands been happy? We’re pretty sure they have, they talk to each other and they keep coming back. In general our payouts are better than most equivalent small clubs and the atmosphere, merchandise sales and hospitality are at another level all together.
NOTE 2 : This article is a well-disguised ad to help us fund our ultimate dream business, a permanent venue. That said we haven’t figured out how to monetize this thing yet. We’ll let you know when we do.
NOTE 3 :We’re glad that Pomplamoose wrote the original article. While we’re not interested in critiquing expenses or choices – it’s their career after all – it’s nice to get broad exposure for the “creative class” that shows that even relatively successful bands aren’t on easy street out there. Also, we totally copied Jack’s format when writing this #parody #fairuse #lazywriter.
We were a little stunned to realize that our last actual “house” show was over two years ago in Williamstown. Since then we’ve hosted plenty of shows at spaces like the Vermont Arts Exchange, The North Adams Elks Club and The Inn at Willow Pond. We were really looking forward to returning to our roots and we couldn’t think of a better band than Ark Life.
The weather was perfect, the house was full and the band? Well, the band delivered everything you could want. Wildly talented, engaging and above all just plain locked into a groove of fun. Here then are a few (iPhone quality) videos to give you a feel of the house vibe that we enjoyed so much. Thanks to everyone who came out to the show and, if you missed it, we’ll see you at the next one!
“Have To Leave You Now”
“Sweet Revenge” – John Prine Cover
Words and Images by Christian ThorneParsonsfield – Friday July 25th
We know that one of the ways the country music rejuvenates itself at its margins it by absorbing the forms and styles to which it is superficially opposed. The Violent Femmes bring Appalachian punk rock to the streets of Milwaukee. In Uncle Tupelo, Mike Watt covers the Carter Family. The Band existed in an alternate universe in which Merle Haggard was a Staple Singer. So the thing about this great band with the not-so-great name is that while you can still hear those earlier recombinations in their set — all of them: Band, Femmes, Tupelo — their own anchor points have drifted gloriously; they’ve planted their starting points far enough away that you could almost convince yourself no-one has ever done this kind of thing before. Not country & western exactly, but folk music of the kind putatively abolished by Dylan, close harmony singing, intimations of shanty, the sound that fishermen’s sweaters make when they think that no-one is watching. And add to that gypsy punk, its habit of doubling already quick tempos, its knack for shouting melodies you’ve only ever heard crooned, its off-kilter intrusions of the bass drum. The last time they came through these parts, they seemed like a Greenwich Village nostalgia act — the re-Weavers. But last night made a person think not that Dylan made a mistake by plugging in but merely that he needn’t have bothered.
PHOX – Saturday, July 26th
Phox just played Newport, sometimes get called “folk,” but actually deliver rock’n‘roll played at a circumspect hush. A guitar wells up like someone singing in a library. A mid-tempo feels like a calisthenic wind sprint after all the lulling and the loping. Factor in, too, the only really good version of “Stormy Weather” I’ve ever heard live, solo, on a ukelele neither strummed nor ironic. Nakedly anxious Monica Martin already knows what it took Cat Power entirely too long to figure out: that a band makes the stage way less lonely — three guys would do; six are better.
Here’s Eef’s show at the Story Studio at The Vermont Arts Exchange
[wpaudio url=“http://www.emojo.net/audio/EEF.mp3” text=“Eef Barzelay / July 26th” dl=“0”]
Thanks to Ethan for another stellar live recording.
Recorded at the Vermont Arts Exchange by Ethan Hacker
Digitally recorded to Logic Pro with MOTU Ultralight Interface MKII with 2 Rode NT5 matched condensor mics
First published in The Berkshire Eagle – January 17th, 2012
Lake Side Dive: Finding its moment
By Jeremy D. Goodwin, Special to The Eagle
Lake Street Dive really took off once its members figured out the band was founded on a bad idea.
The four undergraduates in the jazz program at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music sat in a room and drew up plans to create a new genre — “free country,” an amalgam of Ornette Coleman and Loretta Lynn, as the band’s bassist Bridget Kearney has explained.
Once they started gigging together and recording demos, though, it became clear that other musical voices were clamoring to break through.
“We’d done a couple tours out in Iowa and were driving around and realized we all shared a love of a lot of the same pop music. That was also sort of a sign that we should forget the whole free country idea and get moving on some nice little three-minute songs,” recalls drummer Mike Calabrese.
The emerging sound was a neo-soul stew with the raw energy of a garage band and plenty of 1960’s-era pop inflections, built from Kearney’s unflaggingly dexterous touch on acoustic bass, Calabrese’s very musical drumming, singer Rachel Price’s soulful croon and Mike Olson’s bright trumpet lines and grounding guitar parts.
Nine years, three albums, one EP and one immensely popular YouTube clip later, the band might be finding its moment. The video clip, of the band playing a smoky, sexy rendition of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” live on a street in Boston, was posted last May and has logged over half a million views. When it returned to its old,
cozy stomping grounds of the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge this month, it did so with a four-night run.
For the first time, the band has signed a manager, and has played tours opening for national acts like the Infamous Stringdusters and Yonder Mountain String Band. (Their set at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom in support of the Stringdusters earlier this month earned a favorable notice in the New York Times, within a review of the headliner’s performance.)
Lake Street Dive plays Helsinki Hudson in Hudson, N.Y., on Friday, and then a sold-out show the next night under the aegis of Williamstown’s Billsville House Concerts at the Vermont Arts Center in North Bennington, Vt.
“You go to jazz school and you take on a persona almost and part of your identity is being super into jazz and talking about it all the time. I think a lot of people are afraid to admit that their musical background is a lot more diverse and rooted in mainstream music, which is totally normal and fine,” Calabrese says wryly of the band’s early development. “Once we were traveling outside of school and discovering [we like poppier music], we said this is safe ground we can finally admit it.”
The 2011 covers CP “Fun Machine” includes Lake Street Dive-ified takes on tunes by George Michael, Hall and Oates and Paul McCartney, among others. There, and on its albums of original material, the band manages to sound like a very effective, small-group spin on the neo-soul movement, but with the low-overhead flexibility and interplay of a string band or jazz combo. As it’s proven, it can conjure the romance of a smoky nightclub through four minutes of intense performance out on the sidewalk in mid-afternoon.
“We’ve been getting a lot more gigs, a lot more press, a lot more attention on social media. It’s been super exciting,” observes Calabrese. Though the band hones its organic interplay through plenty of solo gigs, the opening slots have demonstrated the band’s sound can meld with a variety of other musical styles.
“When we get an opportunity to get in front of a bunch of people who aren’t necessarily in our scene but may enjoy it, we’ve really enjoyed the fruits of doing that.”
The hip, candlelit dinner-theater vibe of Helsinki seems an ideal setting for Lake Street Dive. But Saturday’s show in Vermont may be a little more off-the cuff. Though it’s at more of a proper venue than usual, it’s the latest in Doug Hacker’s informal concert series. Launched in April 2011, the Billsville House Concerts have featured more than 40 shows, Hacker says.
“One of my favorite musicians in the world was playing for me and all my friends, and I was sitting on the couch four feet away,” Hacker recalls wistfully of the debut concert, featuring singer/songwriter Joe Pug.
Typically located at the Hacker family’s home in Williamstown, but sometimes at friends’ barns or other larger sites, the series has included such rising acts as Sean Rowe, Brown Bird, and many others who’d typically play Helsinki or other, larger venues.
The Hackers can squeeze in about 50 people at their home, and keep in touch with their regulars through email announcements. All of the ticket money goes directly to the artists, who are also fed and housed for the night.
“We’re not running a business of any sort; in fact, if we were running a business, we would close it, because we lose money every time we do something,” Hacker says. “But at this point we have a pretty stellar reputation, and people will take a risk and pay 10 bucks if they know the money is going straight to the artist.”
Here’s a compilation of videos shot at Billsville shows this year. In general, I don’t like to point cameras at people so the collection is somewhat sparse. That said, we think these are awesome.
Liz Longley – “Unraveling”
Joe Fletcher – “Every Heartbroken Man”
Jonah Tolchin – “Rocks and Nails”
Plume Giant – “Strawberry Fields”
Ellis Paul – “Kick Out The Lights”
Chamberlin – “Down By The River”
Spirit Family Reunion – “100 Greenback Dollar Bills”
Hurray For The Riff Raff – “What’s Wrong With Me”
The Daredevil Christopher Wright – “The Birds of the Air and the Flowers of the Field”
Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons with Brown Bird – “Too Many Doors”
Brown Bird – “Bottom of the Bottle”
Here then, are just a few of the highlights from the last year and a half . . . we’d really like to hear from you in the comments. What memories do you have?
Strand of Oaks
So everyone’s prepared for Joe Pug because of all the videos but then I introduce Strand of Oaks which must be confusing. Tim comes out all trucker hat and quiet and simply kills everyone with that sound and that voice – all hushed urgency and dread with underlying hope. A friend comes up to me after the set and just stares at me for about three beats then says “Holy Shit”. Exactly, I say.
On a Tuesday night in April Joe Pug kicks off The Billsville House Concert series. Yeah, we hear “the new Bob Dylan” once a week but there are few who can draw close to that comparison – Joe’s one of them. He closes the show by asking me “Doug, is there something you want to hear?” The question jolts me out of the trance I’ve been in for the last 90 minutes induced by having one of my Top 5 performers of the last year playing music in our living room. I request “Call It What You Will” and Joe delivers an effortless, beautifully nuanced version that I’ll remember always.
Call it what you will, I’m heartbroken still, words are just words.
Dan Mangan is “Big in Canada” but relatively unknown here. He agrees to play a show on the day before he is booked at the Albany Tulip Festival ($!!) and proceeds to literally kill it in front of a crowd who has no idea who this supremely talented guy is. A rousing “Robot’s” ALMOST ends a set that brings us a batch of new songs off the record that quite a few critics will put in their top 10 releases of the year. We say ALMOST because Dan follows it up with an amazing rendition of Elliot Smith’s “Waltz #2” that Dan calls a “kind of a perfect song”. Dan’s final on stage words are, essentially, praise for house concerts and music fans as he quotes Margaret Mead “ Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We stay up until 3AM learning more about the intricacies of Canadian politics (while drinking copius amounts of red wine) than I might have thought possible. In the morning, Dan leaves with his very own robot made from cardboard and duct tape and plays in front of a hometown crowd of 12,000 people a week later.
What needs to be said about a perfect Berkshire night that ends like this? Other than it did not end until we sang a song by EVERY IRISH MALE SINGER until 3AM in the barn.
So David and Suz show up and the crowd gets the feeling they are going to take off. Which they do. They connect with the crowd immediately (the donkey jawbone sure doesn’t hurt) and lead everyone around the hallway and back into the living room for a crazy dance off. They’ll go on to play the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival in just a few weeks.
What needs to be said about Sarah Borges – at 8 1/2 months pregnant she can bring it like no one else. Sarah puts everyone in the room at ease with her self-deprecating humor and that rare ability to make you feel like you’ve known her for years in about 30 seconds.
Maryse Smith drove down from Burlington, VT after I harass her into performing. I’d only read about her and listened on her Bandcamp page. Lots of folks I respect up in Burlington are talking about her and I convince her to come and play for tips. Here’s a woman with a lot to say and she does so with such an offbeat delivery that you can’t help but pay attention. Sometimes Maryse shoves what should be too many syllables into a single line only to have them come out sounding fantastic on the other end. We’re excited to see where Maryse goes.
Anais Mitchell brought her voice, guitar and songs to a eager and loving crowd on a muggy July night. I’m not exaggerating when I say the audience was transfixed the entire night. Anais played songs from “Hadestown” – one of the records on my “Best of 2010” list as well as a few new amazing tunes from her new record tentatively set for a February release. We basked in music, lyrical poetry and good spirits for almost two full hours. The night ended as one of these special evenings often does, with a full participation sing along to “Goodnight Irene”.
I introduce Brown Bird to a house full of about 45 people, hear one song, and then leave. Caroline misses most of the show as well because of what we’ll call “kid logistics”. I return to hear the final two songs and Caroline makes it back for the dying applause on the last song. David and MorganEve then steal our hearts by playing a seven song min-set for us after everyone has gone home including letting Kai sing all the words he has learned to “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor” thanks to the Williamstown Theatre Festival‘s outdoor theater.
Brown Bird becomes out “Go To” band and has performed twice more in Williamstown to even larger crowds.
Ethan and a few of the Circus Smirkus kids jam with the band into the night.
Sarah Lee & Johnny
I confirm the gig with Johnny via a cell phone call in the parking lot of Stop & Shop. Fitting, for a show that is the closest to “local” that we’ve had. Sarah Lee & Johnny arrive humble, professional and then proceed to slay us with their close harmonies and dynamics.
We poach Kingsley Flood for an afternoon show before their late night appearance in Pittsfield. First show with the local Taco Truck in attendance and on a beautiful summer day we get the rollicking vibe and good time fun that only happens in these settings. Hey, Magic Hat is selling #9 in cans! And it’s good!
Some of the Mommyheads were skeptical about this performance, this “barn show”. They aren’t anymore.
Jenny Owen Youngs
Jenny sent us Gorilla coffee from Brooklyn after the show – which is a HUGE WIN FOR ME. From time to time we log into StageIt to watch Jenny perform a few songs from her living room and she always has something charming to say to the kids.
Swear and Shake
Swear and Shake filled the house to the brim and delivered a sweet set of indie folk tunes that ended with some charming piano songs. I forced Kari to play “Do Right Woman” – to all of you who heard it, you’re welcome.
Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps
We thought we’d do this show and then take a little break from the house concert thing. When Caroline stood on the table and delivered a walloping version of “Drown In My Own Tears” I could of ended the whole thing forever on an up note. Thankfully, I got an email the next day from . . .
Sonya Kitchell // Elizabeth and the Catapult
So much talent in our little house. So much. Elizabeth played “Thank You For Nothing” as the first song of the night. I think the whole room held their breath the entire song and we were all stunned at what we had just witnessed. Sonya was hypnotizing and her voice, her voice! Holy everything.
Later Kai shot Elizabeth in the eye with a nerf gun and scratched her cornea. This is what memories are made of.
Spirit Family Reunion
In the middle of this show we thanked our contractor for shoring up the floor joists in the basement. The crowd sat in their chairs for all of 30 seconds and we danced the rest of the evening in a joyful sweaty mess.
It’s hard to miss Liz’s songwriting talent as she delivers lyrical wonders song after song. We got a special version of “Unraveling” on the Steinway to end the evening.
We knew we liked Joe going in, we liked him more as the night progressed. Lyrical, sardonic and witty – Joe captivated us all that evening.
We convinced Jonah to stop by on his way to another gig and we’re glad we did. Here’s a kid whose talent is hidden behind polite humility. When he stands up to sing . . .
Ethan puts up a web cam and pulls the sound from the mixer. Techy!
Ellis Paul / Peyton Totchterman
Ellis Paul at our house? With his career? How lucky were we? Radoslav Lorkovic turns our $50 piano into a million dollar machine.
Spirit Family Reunion // Hurray for the Riff Raff // Broken Wing Routine
Was this the show of shows? 175 people in a beautiful barn – this is what a night of music should be all about.
Joe warms up for his richly deserved debut at the Newport Folk Festival
- Post title from the lyric’s to Joe Pug’s “Hymn 101”
Yeah I’ve come to know the wish list of my father
I’ve come to know the shipwrecks where he wished
I’ve come to wish aloud among the over dressed crowd
Come to witness now the sinking of the ship
Throwing pennies from the sea top next to it
And I’ve come to roam the forest past the village
With a dozen lazy horses in my cart
I’ve come here to get high,
To do more than just get by.
I’ve come to test the timbre of my heart
Oh, I’ve come to test the timbre of my heart
And I’ve come to be untroubled in my seeking
And I’ve come to see that nothing is for naught
I’ve come to reach out blind
to reach forward and behind
For the more I seek the more I’m sought
Yeah, the more I seek the more I’m sought.
And I’ve come to meet the sheriff and his posse
To offer him the broadside of my jaw
I’ve come here to get broke
Then maybe bum a smoke
We’ll go drinking two towns over after all
Oh, we’ll go drinking two towns over after all.
And I’ve come to meet the legendary takers
I’ve only come to ask them for a lot
Oh they say I come with less
than I should rightfully posses
I say the more I buy the more I’m bought
And the more I’m bought the less I cost
And I’ve come to take their servants and their surplus
And I’ve come to take their raincoats and their speed
I’ve come to get my fill
To ransack and spill
I’ve come to take the harvest for the seed
I’ve come to take the harvest for the seed
And I’ve come to know the manger that you sleep in
I’ve come to be the stranger that you keep
I’ve come from down the road
And my footsteps never slowed
Before we met, I knew we’d meet
Before we met, I knew we’d meet
And I’ve come here to ignore your cries and heartaches
I’ve come to closely listen to you sing
I’ve come here to insist
That I leave here with a kiss
I‘ve come to say exactly what I mean
and I mean so many things.
And you’ve come to know me stubborn as a butcher
and you’ve come to know me thankless as a guest
but will you recognize my face when gods awful grace
strips me of my jacket and my vest
and reveals all the treasure in my chest
Here are a few live tracks from Spirit Family Reunion and Hurray For The Riff Raff. What a night, what a night, From the honky tonk blues and harmonies of Broken Wing Routine to the southern country folk of Hurray For The Riff Raff and Alynda Lee’s amazing voice to the energetic burst at the seams energy of Spirit Family Reunion. 10 dollars? 10 dollars? This was a million dollar night.
– You can hear the crowds pent up energy just explode on SFR’s first song! DANCE PARTY!
Did I mention an eight song encore that moved from rave up roots to rock to The Beatles to sloppy musical love? Let’s do it again soon.
Listen up and try to sit still – seats are filling up for the June 9th show, you better reserve yours soon.
[wpaudio url=“http://www.billsvillehouseconcerts.com/audio/FollowingTheSound.mp3” text=“Spirit Family Reunion – I Am Following The Sound” dl=“1”]
A few minutes of “Down By The River”