The following article appeared in the November/December 2002 edition of FolkWorks.
This is a bi-monthly newspaper about the happenings
in and around the greater Los Angeles folk community.
F E A T U R E D O R G A N I Z A T I O N
Russ & Julie's House Concerts
Have you heard about the latest music craze around? Imagine going out Saturday night at eight o'clock. You get into your car, grab a friend and drive to a home in your neighborhood. There you are greeted at the door where you drop $15 into a bowl, grab a cup of coffee and some homemade sweets, and get a seat in the living room for a live concert featuring your favorite musician. This is a house concert and it's coming to a small town or large city near you.
Around the time of the founding of this country, parlor parties -- with live music performed in private homes -- were a popular form of entertainment. Today, these parlor parties, or house concerts as they are now referred to, are making a comeback in a big way. Russ & Julie's House Concerts in Oak Park, California has hosted these musical parties since 1997.
Russ says, "Our first taste of live music performed in a home was a CD Release Party for Severin Browne in a private residence in Glendora. After seeing him perform a short set at the party, a light bulb went on. The concept of a musician performing in such a small and intimate setting had never occurred to us. Prior to this, we thought that you had to drive to some large venue, fight the crowds, and pay lots of money to see quality music."
Singer-songwriter Severin Browne and his sidekick James Coberly Smith headlined the first show at Russ & Julie's in February 1997. Friends, neighbors and family made up their first audience and when it was over, for weeks after, Russ & Julie were asked, "when is the next one?"
Now, more than 5 years and 50 shows later, Russ & Julie have quite a reputation for maintaining a warm and friendly environment, a non-smoking room, and the opportunity for music fans to meet highly talented musicians. They've developed a special notability for their fabulous dessert buffet. Russ & Julie's House Concerts have featured a variety of musical genres including folk, bluegrass, pop, jazz, rock, country, and even New Age. The series is often booked more than a year in advance and has promoted quality performers from around the world.
What do you get out of this? How can you open your house to complete strangers? Can I perform there? These are the most frequently asked questions Russ & Julie receive. Not performers themselves, Russ & Julie consider themselves serious music fans with a strong desire to bring great original music to people who might not otherwise hear it. Julie explains, "We do it for the love of the music. There is so much great music being written and produced today that is not getting airplay. We open our home to those who, like us, appreciate wonderful music in a warm and intimate environment."
Julie adds, "Our regulars have learned to trust our choices of talent. And by trusting our ability to choose great music, they have expanded their own horizons and learned to enjoy music they might never have been exposed to. We have met many people with similar interests, and many neighbors we might have never met. We do open our house to strangers, but by the time they leave, they are no longer strangers." Russ & Julie get no financial rewards from hosting house concerts. All of the proceeds collected from the recommended donation of $15 per person go directly to the performers.
For those interested in performing, Russ and Julie tell us that they are booked through 2003 and have a list of more than 100 artists that they are already talking to about future dates. They regularly hear from musicians as far away as Australia and Ireland who want to perform in their living room. Russ and Julie book their shows from a combination of past performers who want to return, recommendations from musicians they know, unsolicited requests from musicians all over the world, and even some of their favorite musicians whom they seek out.
Some of the people who have performed at Russ & Julie's over the past few years include: John McEuen (of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Mary McCaslin, Cache Valley Drifters, Joel Rafael Band, Laurence Juber (of Paul McCartney & Wings), Penny Nichols, Lowen & Navarro, Chuck Pyle, James Lee Stanley, Darryl Purpose, Caroline Aiken, Doug Haywood, Laurel Massé (of The Manhattan Transfer), Billy Payne (of Little Feat), Venice, John Hall (of Orleans) and Freebo.
Like all house concert promoters, Russ & Julie walk a fine line when it comes to advertising their shows. Russ explains, "Technically, we're hosting a private party in our home. We're not running a business. There are no tickets, but we do keep an RSVP list so that we know how many people are attending each show and when a show is full. It also helps determine how large the dessert buffet needs to be. We do want to advertise our shows and invite people we've never met before, but we aren't a venue in the traditional sense. Because this is a residential neighborhood, we need to be conscientious of issues like zoning, CC&Rs, noise and particularly the concerns of our neighbors."
Due to these types of concerns, many house concerts exist below the radar. You generally have to make an effort to find them. Russ & Julie have a house concert resources section in their Web site that lists other house concerts around the country. The Internet is a great resource for house concerts. Russ & Julie maintain an email mailing list with more than 500 people it. Since they do not make money on what amounts to a hobby for them, they rely heavily on email to publicize their calendar. Julie adds, "We're also very thankful for resources like FolkWorks that help promote good music in our community."
Russ & Julie's House Concert's November show with the band Bryndle (Karla Bonoff, Kenny Edwards & Wendy Waldman) sold out months in advance. Their December 7th show features the amazing Jonathan McEuen, son of banjo wizard John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Seating is limited; make your reservations soon! For more information write Russ & Julie at email@example.com.
For a list of past performers as well as upcoming shows, check their Web site at http://www.houseconcerts.us