Q. What is a House Concert?
A. A house concert is a chance to experience live music in a warm and intimate environment. It's when someone opens up their home and invites you into their living room to share in a performance by one of their favorite musicians. It's a chance to meet the performers and get them to sign their CD. A house concert is also a great social evening with friends and neighbors.
Some house concert series across the country are held in backyards as well. We like to keep ours in the living room for the added sense of warmth and intimacy that it lends to the evenings. We also host concerts all year long -- between ten and twelve each year. Some house concert series are seasonal.
Please note: "Russ & Julie's House Concerts" is simply the name we choose to describe our private parties, in our private home. These parties are NOT a business nor are they a business related activity. They are strictly a hobby for us, and are simply gatherings of our friends and guests to enjoy live acoustic music, fellowship, food (a potluck dessert buffet) and fun. Our concert parties are officially free (or else it might be considered a business), although voluntary contributions (suggested donation of $20 per person) are accepted at the party on behalf of the artists. 100% of all contributions go directly to the performers. By invitation only.
Q. Why would anyone do this?
A. We open up our home to our friends and neighbors because we want to share great music with them. In the area where we live -- like most of the world today -- there are few venues where people can go to experience great music in a close and friendly environment. Great music makes us happy and we want to share that with others around us. These events allow us to give exposure to some incredible musicians whose talents we truly believe in and wish to help promote.
A front page article about house concerts in the New York Times in late 1999 estimated that about 500 people across the country were hosting house concerts on some kind of regular basis. We know that the number has probably increased significantly since that time as the trend has really taken off! (The text of the New York Times article is available elsewhere on our website.)
Q. What do you get out of this?
A. We find it strange that some people can't believe we get no economic benefit for doing this. We do it simply for the love of the music. Really. We enjoy sharing great music with those around us. 100% of the suggested donation goes directly to the performers. For us, this is a hobby and we don't mind spending a little to keep our hobby going. It's a hobby that has brought us great joy over the years. Since we started hosting house concerts in early 1997, we've met some wonderful music fans and some extremely talented musicians... many of whom will be lifelong friends.
Q. How long have House Concerts been around?
A. There is some debate on this, but we would trace House Concerts all the way back to the Middle Ages when "wandering minstrels" would go from manor house to castle to farmstead trading stories and songs for an evening's room and board. Certainly in the 1800s, "parlor parties" were a very popular form of entertainment in the United States. The more modern "House Concert" probably evolved in the mid 1900s. Our friends Clark & Elaine Weissman hosted House Concerts in their home in the San Fernando Valley for more than 15 years beginning in the 1970s. (They stopped after the Northridge earthquake in January 1994, shortly before we started our series.)
Q. Doesn't it cost you time and money?
A. Yes, it costs money to host house concerts. We spend money for coffee, soft drinks, desserts, paper plates, paper cups, napkins, flyers, postage and more. We also spend a great deal of time for the planning and set up of each show. And we went out and purchased folding chairs so that we wouldn't have to keep renting them as we did when we first got started. Over time, we also purchased a sound system, lighting, and even built a small stage. Of course, there is also the "wear and tear" on the house...
Q. How many people can you fit in your home?
A. We average between 55 and 60 people for most of our house concerts, but the number fluctuates a bit. Our record is about 110 people, but we consider 80 to be a full house. According to our local fire department here in Ventura County, unlike commercial establishments, "there is no legal limit to the number of people that we can put in our home... so long as our neighbors don't complain and we don't break any laws." We find that 80 people fit quite nicely and is really the maximum before it starts feeling too crowded.
We set up about 65 chairs for these evenings. Some people sit on the stairs or the landing. When it gets crowded, some stand along the sides or in the back and others make themselves comfortable on the floor. If you want a seat, you need to get here early. (Our house concerts usually start at 8pm and doors open at 7:30pm.) We think the stairs offer some of the best vantage points. It's a casual atmosphere and most people who attend aren't really that concerned with seating. It's a fairly small room without a bad seat in the house.
We will save seats for people with special circumstances. If you are handicapped, pregnant or in need of special seating for a physical reason, please let us know in advance so that we can reserve a space for you.
The concerts are held in our living room / dining room combination, which has high ceilings and very good acoustics.
Q. How do you pick your performers?
A. We pick our performers with a combination of the following five methods:
- We have several dozen past performers who have expressed an interest in coming back. That's enough to fill our schedule for the next several years!
- We get unsolicited CDs, press kits, and EPKs from musicians around the world. Some weeks we get three or four contacts from artists as far away as Australia and Ireland. We do listen to every CD that comes our way. There are an amazing number of talented people out there, and there is no way we can accommodate them all...
- We get lots of referrals. Referrals from past performers account for a good percentage of the artists we've hosted. We give them extra consideration. We also get referrals from people who have attended our shows. Sometimes we even get referrals from local venue owners. If there is someone you would like to see us host a house concert for, or know an artist that you think would enjoy the opportunity, feel free to let us know.
- Nearly half of our schedule in recent years has come from artists we've met at the Folk Alliance Region West (FAR-West) annual conferences. These conferences give us both the chance to see the artists performing and to get to know them. www.far-west.org.
- Lastly, we do sometimes contact musicians who we would like to host a show for. There is something special about hosting a show for one of our long time favorite artists.
Between these five categories, we have more than 100 musicians and bands on our current list of people that we'd like to host a house concert for in the near future. Since we only host between ten and twelve shows per year, we're obviously very backlogged. One of the things we are doing to try to accommodate more performers is that we are trying to book more shows with double billings. In other words, two artists or bands in the same evening.
Q. What styles of music do you host?
A. Each house concert series is a little different from all the others. Most seem to focus on a particular genre of music. Many of the house concerts we are aware of focus on folk music to one degree or another. Some are more singer-songwriter (think James Taylor/Joni Mitchell) oriented. Over the years, Russ & Julie's House Concerts has hosted pop, folk, rock, bluegrass, new age, Celtic, R&B, jazz, country and nearly everything in between. Obviously, we try to provide a variety of musical styles. (Although we've never hosted any classical music, there are house concerts that focus on that genre as well.) We lean primarily towards the singer-songwriters, Americana, and folk-rock styles. The common thread in the artists we host is that we both have to really enjoy the music and the performer before we'll consider booking someone.
Q. When are your upcoming shows and who are the performers?
A. You can always keep up with our latest schedule on our website at: www.houseconcerts.us - Simply click on the "Upcoming Concerts" section of the site.
Q. Who have you had perform at your home?
A. We've been hosting House Concerts regularly for more than seventeen years now. We've enjoyed doing it and have been lucky to host some great talent. Among those who have performed here are John McEuen, Jim Messina, Mary McCaslin, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen, Severin Browne, Laurence Juber, Penny Nichols, Lowen & Navarro, Karla Bonoff, Kenny Edwards & Wendy Waldman, James Lee Stanley, Darryl Purpose, Barry McGuire, Caroline Aiken, Chuck Pyle, Doug Haywood, Laurel Massé, Bill Payne, John Hall, Jude Johnstone, Ronny Cox, Andrew Gold, Rosemary Butler, Van Dyke Parks, Lori Lieberman, Marshall Crenshaw, A.J. Croce and Venice. You can see photos from more than 200 of our past house concerts on our website at: www.houseconcerts.us
Q. How much does this cost me?
A. We have a "voluntary suggested donation" of $20 per person at most of our House Concerts. The reason we call it a "voluntary suggested donation" is that we are not a business. This is our home. We can't really call if an "admission fee". Turning this into a business would create all sorts of extra work and expense on our part. We are simply having a party!!
However, our "voluntary suggested donation" is still as close to being mandatory as we can make it. Without the money, we could not get the caliber of musicians who have graced our living room. We have a donation bowl to collect the money (cash only), on behalf of the performer, at the door. We work on the honor system and need everyone's participation to keep our series going. We find that nearly everyone puts in the suggested amount and some people even put in a little extra. Remember 100% of the donations go directly to the performers.
Q. How did you get started?
A. We attended a CD release party for Severin Browne back in 1996. Severin is a singer-songwriter who writes wonderful songs. At the CD release party, Severin performed a short set of songs from his new CD on the patio in the backyard of a private home. The whole concept of someone performing in a home instead of a concert hall was totally new and exciting to us. We thought it would work well in our living room and invited Severin to give a show in our home in front of our family, friends and neighbors. We started our house concert series in early 1997 by hosting a show for Severin Browne and James Coberly Smith. Fifty-five people attended that first house concert here.
The response from that first house concert was so overwhelmingly positive that our house concert series took off from there with a bang! (Thank you Severin and James.)
Q. What do your neighbors think?
A. We encourage our neighbors to attend and many (if not most) of our neighbors have attended our house concerts over the years. Some of our neighbors are among our most regular guests at these evenings.
As a courtesy to our neighbors, our shows are nearly always on Saturday nights and end at a reasonable hour. We also limit ourselves to no more than one show per month. Our house concerts generally begin at 8:00 P.M. and end by 10:30 P.M... although sometimes they do go a bit later.
Q. You have a dessert buffet?
A. Yes, we do. At each of our concerts we have a pot-luck style dessert buffet. While it is not required for guests to contribute, it is encouraged. The more we have, the more fun it is!! We contribute a limited amount of coffee, soft drinks and desserts each month, so there is always something to enjoy. How big the buffet is depends upon how many people contribute that evening.
Over the past few years, we have accumulated some beautiful bowls and platters that people have left here. Please try to remember to take your bowls and platters with you. If you think you have left one here, please let us know and we'll see about getting it back to you.
Q. How many people on are on your mailing list?
A. There are currently over 1,400 people on our email list. We usually send out two emails each month. One is an "invitation" to our next show, the other is a "monthly newsletter" telling about our most recent show, our next upcoming show, and about other local house concerts and acoustic shows. Several years ago, we stopped using a "snail mail" list. The cost of printing and postage is simply too high for us, and the modern convenience of email makes it unnecessary.
Q. How can I get off your mailing list?
A. If you no longer wish to be on our mailing list. Please let us know. We won't be offended. We do NOT want to annoy you and only add people to our mailing list at their own request. So a simple email to firstname.lastname@example.org asking to be removed from the mailing list works very well. Also, if you change your email address, please let us know. We lose a few people from our list every month because they don't let us know that they have moved or changed email.
Q. Where are you located?
A. We are in Oak Park, California. This is in southeast Ventura County about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles, near the cities of Agoura Hills, Westlake Villlage, and Thousand Oaks. (When you RSVP for a House Concert, we will send you our address and specific directions as part of our confirmation email.)
Q. How can I attend?
A. Just send us an email RSVP to email@example.com and tell us that would like to RSVP for a show. Please be sure to specify which show and how many people will be joining you. If you have never been here before, you'll need directions, so be sure to tell us where you are coming from!
We will send you a confirmation email telling you that we've added you to the RSVP list. There are no tickets. You should get that return email within 24 hours of sending in your RSVP. If you don't... it means we didn't get your email, so please try again. Only people who get a confirmation email from us will be on the RSVP list.
Q. What if I RSVP and then can't make it?
A. PLEASE be sure to let us know. Many of our house concerts fill up weeks in advance. So there is a good chance that we will have a Waiting List for the show. If you are on the RSVP list for a particular concert but will not be able to attend, please be sure to let us know as soon as possible so that we'll have the opportunity to include someone from the Waiting List. This is a courtesy not only to the people on the Waiting List, but also to the performer who would love to see a full house!
Q. What if I want to add more people to my reservation? Do you take large parties?
A. Email us and find out if there is still room on the RSVP list for the house concert you want. If there is, we will be happy to increase the size of your party. Do to prior experience and abuse, we will NOT except RSVP's for parties over six (6) people. If you have a larger group that would like to attend, each person or couple should RSVP individually. Many of our house concerts are filling up weeks in advance, so please be sure to RSVP early... particularly if you are going to be more than a three or four people. Also, since seating is "first come," we recommend that larger groups arrive early if you wish to sit together.
Q. Why do you need an RSVP list?
A. These are private parties, by invitation only, which take place in the living room of our private home and we have a limited amount of space. Many of our house concerts attract enough interest to fill the house. We use the RSVP list to be sure that we can fit everyone in. Being on the RSVP list does NOT guarantee a seat. We only have about 65 chairs and can sometimes get over 80 people in the room. If you want a seat, please be sure to get here early. Doors open at 7:30 P.M. for our 8:00 P.M. shows.
Q. What kind of environment is the evening?
A. Casual. We go for the warm and cozy feel. Dress is "California Casual". Our home is a smoke free environment. We ask everyone to honor this and please keep all cigars, pipes and cigarettes outside. We also insist NO DRUGS OF ANY KIND... chocolate not withstanding!! We have a nice potluck-style coffee and dessert buffet that includes all types of cookies, cakes, and pies along with coffee and soda. We do NOT provide any alcohol. However, if people wish to bring wine or beer, we are fine with that so long as people use their own discretion; anyone who appears intoxicated in our home will be asked to leave and not to return. We are happy to say that in our first 18 years of hosting house concerts, this has never been a problem.
If you have any additional questions about our House Concert series,
please feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like more information about House Concerts in general,
please visit the "House Concert Resources" section of our website.
We consider this a labor of love and hope that you enjoy it as much as we do.
Russ & Julie
Russ & Julie's House Concerts