February 18th in Billsville
Performers who have appeared on a Billsville Stage : 55
Percentage of Beard Wearers : 24%
Banjo Players : 9%
Drummers : 18%
Male : 73%
Female : 27%
(Arguably skewed by large numbers of male musicians traveling in packs. Numbers change dramatically if you categorize this as “female-led acts”)
Canadians : 9%
New Yorkers : 35%
Shoeless : 2%
Preferred Wine Over Beer : 36%
Totally Not Early Risers : 7%
Rudely Awoken By Fire Alarms at 3AM : 5%
Sustained Temporary Injuries Inflicted By 8 Year Old : 4%
By John Seven
WILLIAMSTOWN – The news is filled with stories about the faltering music industry, but there is one area where the music business is booming – in private houses, where some musicians have begun performing intimate shows for small audiences, and getting paid well for their time.
It hearkens back as far as the days of Mozart, when music was performed in the parlors of the rich, and has recently made a big comeback, especially in the classical and folk worlds. Quite different from the prognosis of big record labels, this is one area of the music world that leaves everyone – artist and consumer – happy. “It’s one of the few things in the arts I have ever seen, where everyone feels like they got a good deal at the end of the night,” said Doug Hacker, who runs an on-going series of house concerts out of his own home in Williamstown.
Hacker’s Billsville House Concert is a great success and yet Hacker gets no money for it. The performer gets 100 percent of the money taken in – donations from the attendees, which usually number around 40 to 50 people – plus free room and board. The audience gets an intimate concert experience. Hacker and his family get time with some of their favorite musicians. Everyone bypasses a middle man.
“The idea of the house concert in some respects parallels the do-it-yourself ethic of a lot of musicians working today,” Hacker said. “Musicians have embraced this do-it-yourself ethic that pushes recording your own music, doing your own marketing,
doing your own social networking, and house concerts are in parallel with that. You can think of it as doing your own concert.”
The process is straight-forward – Hacker takes donations, 100 percent of which he hands over to the musicians. In return, they perform. Then they eat and sleep.
The desire to host concerts began to cross Hacker’s mind as he found it increasingly difficult to see live music. With two kids, it wasn’t easy – nor always affordable – to take off for Northampton to catch a band. He certainly wasn’t likely to do so casually.
It was after friends in North Adams hosted a house concert that Hacker began to consider the idea more seriously. He and the others in attendance had a blast and Hacker began to think about extending that experience.
“I was stewing on that when a music blogger that I’m friends with posted she was going to host a house concert for one of my favorite musicians of the last few years, a guy named Joe Pug,” said Hacker. “I immediately called her and said, ‘How is it that Joe Pug is playing your house?’ She had always been a big public supporter of his music and she said, ‘Well, they called me and said he had a date off between.’ She lives in Colorado and he was traveling across the country and thought it would be a good idea. So I said, “Well, I’m going to call Joe Pug.”
Hacker did just that, and within two hours of emailing Pug’s manager, he got a confirmation that Pug would play the house concert. At Hacker’s place, 40 people showed up – Hacker had gotten the word out largely through social media and email to his friends – and not only was a good time had by the crowd, but Hacker saw first-hand how he was actually being paid for arranging the show.
“The first night, I’m sitting on my couch watching a guy play, who I’ve been following for the last two years, and just loving and he’s asking me for a personal request,” he said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
That has continued to be the payback for Hacker over the last year. He hosted 16 shows in 2011 with more to follow in 2012, and can boast as many meaningful experiences that never would have transpired in a typical performance spot.
“We get to hang out with the band,” Hacker said. “I have an 8-year old and a 12-year old, who both really dig music, and they get to hang out with the band and see the musicians and what they’re really like. My oldest one is quite the guitar player now, he sits around and jams with people when he can. It’s really just a great experience for us and you couldn’t measure that in dollars one way or the other.”
“In the real hard-core world, I’m paying to feed them, we’re spending our free time cleaning the house and preparing it for people to come in, but we’re not compensated in any way other than that.”
The economics of performing a house concert is great for a band and Hacker has found that the sound business sense has accounted for an over-80 percent rate of commitment from the performers – and most of the time, when the musician does say no, it’s just because a day off is a bigger desire than anything else.
“If you take a five-person band, which we’ve had a few of, they have to put themselves up, feed themselves, pay for gas money, versus coming to our house and playing. It’s sometimes as much as a $1,200 to $1,300 difference in one day,” Hacker said. “Since we charge between $10 and $15, and we can fit like 55 people in the house, it’s a pretty big thing to be able to pull something like that off. It’s hard to say no to, in a lot of respects.”
Hacker targets a certain kind of act. One criteria is that they are a band he is interested in – it is, after all, his house. Another is that the performer can work in an almost entirely unplugged arrangement – his living room offers minimal amplification.
This demand favors folk-oriented acts, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. One band that recently played, Kingsley Flood, is known for their loud and raucous shows in Boston, but Hacker’s house offered them the chance to reveal their energy in a completely different way.
Hacker also pays attention to the venue level that the performer is used to – he doesn’t want to waste anybody’s time by making offers to someone who would never do a house concert.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been able to get some names that can be a huge draw. Canadian singer Dan Mangen played for 40 people in Hacker’s living room, and then left to sing for 12,000 in Albany – and that’s not counting the crowds he gets in his own country.
The David Wax Museum played for 50 people at Hacker’s place – two weeks later, they were on the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival.
“Some of the musicians are used to playing house concerts, some not so much, some embrace the idea when it’s the first time they’ve heard it,” Hacker said, “but generally speaking, what we refer to as the indie music world has not really embraced the idea of house concerts yet, like the folk music world did.”
“For a lot of these bands, it was a convenience thing, something between the 20 gigs you would do in dark bars in the Northeast, you might stay at a friend’s house and play for them. I think it’s just starting to click in for a lot of people in the indie band world that the economics of this makes a lot more sense and really follows the line with the do it yourself stuff than they might have realized.”
Hacker hasn’t yet had to deal with getting too big for his living room in any regular way – a couple shows last year were performed in a barn on the outskirts of Williamstown because Hacker knew there would be well over 100 people at them – but he doesn’t see the problem in having a limited number of seats available.
“It’s a good thing to sell out,” he said. It’s a good thing to turn people away. If I thought about it as a business, literally the goal is to give the bands as much money as you can while making sure everybody’s comfortable and entertained, so there’s no reason to overcrowd things because that’s not going to work well for somebody. “ Hacker admits that he has an entrepreneurial side, but it stops short of becoming a forprofit venture for the simple reason that he doesn’t buy into that model as a workable one, or one that offers the same rewards he – and the musicians and the attendees – currently reap. “As soon as you inject the idea of business in this, everything falls apart,” said Hacker. “The motivations of everyone are different. I don’t think my success rate at getting bands I want to see in my house would be anywhere near what it is if there was some sort of profit motive involved, nor would the atmosphere be the same or anything else. It’s on this beautiful balance right now.”
Hacker’s show schedule can be found online at billsvillehouseconcerts.com. The next show is on Friday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m., featuring Spirit Family Reunion.
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”.
How Long + Goodnight Irene by billsvillehouseconcerts
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.
Guggenheim GrottoWhat 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.
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
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.
While we highly recommend purchasing everything from everyone who has ever played here we’re featuring these three records which were released in the last few weeks.
Brown Bird – buy “Salt for Salt” from their Bandcamp page
An example of haunting classicist folk from artists who know what they’re talking about, Salt for Salt is hands down the best folk album I’ve heard this year, stunningly arranged and executed. This album is a spectacular example of what can be done within the framework of traditional music to push it into the headphones of a new generation, without falling victim to incongruous stabs of modernity. It also signals the fully-formed arrival of Brown Bird as a band you’ll be hearing a great deal from in the future.
Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps – buy “Little Wind” from the artists website
The Good Night Sleeps provide fantastically crisp and pleasant backing for Caroline Smith, who’s voice (a sort of mixture of Jolie Holland, Charity Rose Thielen from The Head and The Heart and Sallie Ford) is the star of the album. It stuns and disarms on the haunting ‘Eagle’s Nest,’ manages to sound sweetly dangerous on ‘Denim Boy’ and bursts and blooms perfectly on standout ‘Calliope.’ Little Wind is a collection of songs that shows a band trying different approaches and styles while always remaining true to their core sound, that of a refreshingly honest and sincere indie pop band.
— Visible Voice
Dan Mangan – buy from Dan’s Store
Oh Fortune is an excellent record, expansive in scope yet efficiently delivered and both musically and lyrically rich. No, there’s nothing as immediate as “Robots” but in lieu of that degree of immediacy, you get songs that continue to reveal themselves over repeated listens. Oh Fortune confirms Mangan as one of this country’s best new songwriters and, as a bonus, forces those who’d seek to dismiss him as too conventional to find a new line of criticism. Maybe that he’s too tall. Because he’s pretty tall.
— Chrome Waves
Final two songs of the night at the big piano.
Caroline Smith and The Good Night Sleeps treated us to a fantastic show to close out this years series. I was impressed with their ability to back off the complexity and sound of their new record “Little Wind” and delivery the songs in our small space. That said, please do go and get yourself a copy of “Little Wind” to hear them do it in the other direction as well.
Calliope – Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps by billsvillehouseconcerts
The last weekend of October marks the final two nights in the Billsville House Concert Series for 2011. We’ve got two fantastic shows lined up – “Swear and Shake” on October 28th
8PM</strong> and <strong>"Caroline Smith & The Good Night Sleeps" on October 30th 7PM. Seriously, $10 a show? That’s better entertainment than a trip to Family Dollar. Frankly, we really need to sell some tickets to keep bringing in the quality acts we’ve been able to attract.
If you can make it out I would really appreciate it.
Thanks to everyone who has come out to support music over the last six months. We’ve had an amazing time and I’d love to end it on a big note before we take our hiatus for 2011.
This week the nominees for the Boston Music Awards came out and we’re thrilled to see plenty of folks who’ve played here on the list.
The David Wax Museum is nominated for Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Born With A Broken Heart”.
Kingsley Flood is nominated for Live Act of the Year
We’ve been in touch with The Wandas about playing a date in the future as well.
Getting in Tune!
I know I was dangerously close to over-marketing this event but, what can I say. An evening of musical genius. Those of you who made it know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t here’s a bit of what you missed.
We like to keep you updated on all the news from folks who’ve appeared at a Billsville House Concert – and there’s lots of news out there so lets get going.
Dan Mangan has a new record out on September 30th called “Oh Fortune”. You can pre-order it along with some great deals at Dan’s website
Here’s a limited time stream of the full album
Brown Bird is releasing their new record “Salt for Salt” on October 14th and they have quite a few pre-order offers going as well.
Sarah Borges is making a new record and would like your help. In return for a donation of various sizes you can get mucho-interesting rewards. Click here to find out more
I like this one. . .
If you give $60: Copy of the record, download of ‘Big Bright Sun’, stickers, I’ll record the voicemail for your phone or cell phone (I can sing it if you want!), and I’ll send you a lovely thank you note expressing my gratitude. I’ll also send you a fabulous t-shirt available only to folks who contribute to the making of the record, specially created and personalized just for you!
“How Good You Are”
If you’re not familiar with Daytrotter, well, get over there now and grab Anais’ set. We’ll wait. Although given the depth of the Daytrotter catalog I imagine we’ll see you in about three years.
She more than acknowledges, or at least, plays with the ideas of higher and lower powers that go far beyond reasoning. She seems to relish the freefall, the thought that everything belongs to the family of the chaos theory and that there’s no way of really telling if the laughing we’re doing is a product of happiness or just the beginning of the opposite feeling. High or low – it’s all relative. It might just be differences in the crowds we keep, the people we share our bed or house with. She sings on “Comin’ Down,” “I know where my satisfaction lies/Way beyond the blue horizon,” and it feels like that could be like knowing about a utopia, or a heaven that might or might not ever be visible, but the looking continues.
We’re proud to say that two of the bands who’ve played here in Billsville were on the bill at this years Newport Folk Festival. The David Wax Museum and Brown Bird both performed today for huge crowds in Newport, Rhode Island.
You can catch both sets on the NPR website.
The David Wax Museum – Click to go to the NPR page and stream the show.
Last year, Boston’s David Wax Museum couldn’t play the Newport Folk Festival without first winning a contest. But talk about making the most of an opportunity: The band was everywhere at Newport last year, passing out CDs and signing bands up to its mailing list when it wasn’t breaking spontaneously into song every chance it got. Since that breakthrough, the group has found a national audience for its recent album Everything Is Saved, which finds David Wax mixing the roots of American and Mexican folk music while Suz Slezak gives the band’s music the percussive edge that can only come from a stick dragged rhythmically against a donkey’s jawbone. Hear David Wax Museum perform live at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I.
Brown Bird – Click to go to the NPR page and stream the show.
The Newport Folk Festival isn’t just a national — or even international — showcase for the best in well-known folk music. It also gives a leg up to the best in up-and-coming roots music from around its own neighborhood. The festival helped Rhode Island’s Low Anthem make the jump from volunteer trash collection at the festival to featured artist, and it lent a big boost to Boston’s David Wax Museum last year. This time around, the Providence, R.I., duo Brown Bird looks to make a similar jump from unknown to rising star. Salt for Salt, the pair’s forthcoming album, mixes dark American folk music with the stark sounds and styles of Eastern Europe. Hear Brown Bird perform live at the 2011 Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I.
Anais really put her soul into an amazing, intimate night of music. Those of us familiar with her music were treated to old favorites and new songs alike. Those new to her work were mesmerized by the lyrical and musical complexity. Let’s not forget the fun! Here are the last two songs of the night “How Long” from “Hadestown” and a rousing singalong of “Goodnight Irene” all played acoustically.
01 How Long + Goodnight Irene by billsvillehouseconcerts
Like a heatwave indeed . . . .