There's nothing like hearing an artist live in concert, and it's even sweeter when that artist performs in an intimate setting such as a house concert.
Such was the case on Saturday, July 31, 1999 at Russ and Julie's Oak Park home. The two discovered the pleasure of house concerts when they were hosts of one for Severin Browne three years ago.
"Severin had invited me to a CD release party," Russ said. "We had a blast and said that we'd love to have him do a concert at our home. He said that he'd love to do it. The audience response was so positive that we decided to start from that."
The couple asks for a $10 donation per person to pay the artist; they said that it usually runs them between $100 and $150 to have such a concert. Their costs include paying postage announcing the concerts and refreshments.
Russ and Julie's July 31 concert featured Doug Haywood, a studio musician who toured and recorded with such artists as Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, George Harrison, Elton John and other top artists.
Haywood has branched into writing and singing his own music and has released a CD, Nevada. He performed a number of songs from the CD on Saturday night.
An album producer living in Colorado, Haywood's voice and music reflect the soul of the Colorado Rockies and northern New Mexico that also resonates in western artists' work such as Chuck Pyle and Michael Martin Murphy.
Haywood's song, "Flowing Mountain Stream," for instance, is typical of the artist's love of the simple things:
"I am a flowing mountain stream, unquestioned here on high/
Haywood played a simple acoustic guitar and seemed to sing from some place deep inside.
"And rolling mountains mask in my cold answer to the sky/
"Oh, looking back I've more to see each day as I roll on/
"My treasure flows and grows with every mile that I have gone."
Unlike a coffeehouse or bar, where artists must compete with patrons deep in conversation, the grind of espresso beans and the whoosh of the milk steamer, this Colorado artist held the audience of 70-plus entirely with his presence.
Since starting the house concerts, Russ said that he is contacted by more artists than he could ever have imagined. Audiences learn about the concerts by mail, by connecting to his Web site and through calendar announcements on local radio stations such as KPFK and local newspapers.
"Word of mouth travels and the artists want to have venues to perform in," he said.
There are a lot of Web sites promoting house concerts around the country. Julie said, "house concerts are not too plentiful in Southern California, but they are all over the country."
Meanwhile, Haywood stood in Russ and Julie's living room, framed by tiny white lights wrapped around curtained windows. He sang about his old guitar being his friend.
Both Russ and Julie say that being hosts of house concerts has introduced them to new artists they like as well as others whose interests are similar to theirs. "The neighbor's don't mind," Russ said, pointing out that some of their neighbors attend the house concerts quite regularly!
Bill Rosser, vice president for student life and dean of students at California Lutheran University, had read about Haywood's performance in a local paper and went to the concert. He was impressed with what he saw.
"I would consider having KCLU (the university's public radio station) feature some of these artists, or even, broadcast these concerts live," Rosser said.
OPEN HOUSE: Doug Haywood and Freebo play to a crowd of about 70 Saturday night in Russ and Julie's Oak Park Home.
Haywood sang two 45-minute sets Saturday night. The couple opens their home to allow performers to play to a smaller group. This has been ongoing for three years.
Photos by Jeff Earle