Many music venues go to lengths to give their space that cozy, homey feel. And then, there’s the real thing. A living room or garage may be smaller than your typical concert hall, but house concerts can often be more lucrative for musicians.
In what has become something of a monthly tradition, Stan and Jody Mace have turned their house upside-down. Sofas are piled high in what’s normally the study, replaced by rows of folding chairs. Speakers line the fireplace, chords crisscross the floor. Jody and Stan Mace have turned their north Charlotte living room into a concert venue.
Groups of people meander in on a Sunday afternoon– often carrying a bottle of wine or some homemade dish. Jody welcomes a couple in, and introduces them to the day’s performer, Joe Crookston, a singer-songwriter from New York. Crookston stopped through Charlotte between a teaching gig near Asheville and a festival in Wisconsin. Crookston likes to consider himself a modern day troubadour, traveling through towns and sharing stories through song. Commercial gigs make up a fair number of his shows,about three quarters of them, but he says house concerts are what keep him touring. “If it wasn’t for house concert hosts, who do it for the love of it and the sheer, ‘yes, get the art out there', and to support touring artists, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” Crookston says. “It kind of comes down to that, it’s a make or break thing for me –financially.”
Crookston says that he makes more on average from a house concert than at a commercial venue. Jody and Stan collect donations of $15 a person from the roughly 50 people here, with all going to Crookston. Then there are CD sales, which he says also fare better. Crookston says he likes performing at these concerts because the house is filled with more serious music fans. “It’s a real focused sit down listening audience,” he says.
“There has been a trend to more people hosting house concerts I’d say in the last ten years in Charlotte,” says the Charlotte Folk Society’s Wanda Hubicki. She often helps connect artists traveling through town with couples that host house concerts. “They may have dates at large venues around the state, but if they have an odd night here or there, they’ll often look for a house concerts to fill in those dates.”
And these ‘fill in’ concerts are not only cheaper for fans to attend, but they also have more access to the musicians. Musicians often mingle with the audience, answering questions – even jamming. The evening’s host, Stan Mace, gets up to perform with Crookston for a few songs. Jody looks on from the kitchen.
“It’s very rewarding to feel like you’re helping in some small way a musician establish an audience,” she says. “It’s not to make money; it’s just a way of giving back.” She hosts these concerts to hear great music, but she also sees it as a way to give back to musicians who she says, take on huge risks. “Maybe they don’t have a job to fall back on, they maybe don’t have health insurance to fall back on, but what they’re doing is they are offering the rest of us something that gives us enjoyment makes our life better, that we actually have a responsibility to support artists.”
Jody won’t be joining her husband up front. She doesn’t really play, a little mandolin, she says. But it’s like the hosts saying, ‘if you can’t make music, make music happen.”
For more information about local house concerts, visit the Charlotte Folk Society's page.
This story is produced through the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, a consortium of local media dedicated to covering the arts.