In September 2001, I was living in a cottage in Sonoma county, fairly far and isolated from my friends in the city. My birthday was just two weeks after the 9/11 attacks. I didn’t feel much like celebrating, but I didn’t feel like hiding out at home alone either.
So I invited my musician friends up to my place for an impromptu music party. They brought their guitars, ukeleles, cellos, and djembes. We sat out on my porch and played under the stars until almost midnight. It was exactly what I need to clear away the pent-up dread in those strange, anxious days.
Now, 15 years later, I still remember how cathartic the feeling of community was at that first Porchapalooza. It inspired me to keep trying to recreate that vibe on a regular basis. So, for over 10 years, hosting house concerts was what I lived to do. It was a hobby that meant more to me than any job ever could.
It gave me a chance to meet a few of my musical heroes—Peter Case, Glen Phillips, Noe Venable, Gregory Alan Isakov, and many more.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Songwriters I’d heard on the radio for years were somehow suddenly playing in living rooms for small gatherings of my friends. Having tried to be a performing songwriter myself, stumbling into the role of house concert host felt like I’d finally figured out how to stay connected to music in a way that was meaningful and useful.
It felt like I’d found my proper place in the scene that I loved. Not on stage. But close enough to it that it felt like part of the action.
For me, the best moment at any house concert happens about halfway through the night when the banter begins.
I don’t know whether it’s the wine kicking in or nervous energy wearing off, but you can sense when the artists and the audience realize there’s no stage separating them. They’re just people in a room together. It helps you hear the songs in a different way.
I think that was especially true whenever we presented songwriters “in the round.” Like those epic shows hosted by Heather Combs at Hotel Utah Saloon, you’d sometimes get to watch musicians who’d never met before sing harmonies on each other’s songs. Improvised collaboration. That’s something you don’t get to witness too much in a formal venue.
I’ve missed the loose, chatty, party vibe of those first songwriters-in-the-round shows. I’ve missed the camaraderie and community they created. And I’ve missed feeling like I could do something to help shine a spotlight on the people I admired.
So, in the coming year, I want to continue lending a hand to my friends who still host shows. I want to keep trying to gather people into those listening rooms. I want to collaborate on house concerts and music parties as often as possible.
If that’s your jam and you’d like to attend (or host a show at your place), follow our Facebook page and I’ll let you know when we’re gathering.