Home Is Where the Art Is

Some local music fans are forgoing music clubs for “living room” shows — and the artists love it.

BY KATHRYN SCHUELER  |  PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI

Danika & The Jeb

I’ve been hosting concerts — yes, real concerts — in the basement of my home, known as Kiki’s House of Righteous Music, for a dozen years. By now I’d hoped to be part of an established network of hosts, except I’d yet to meet any other hosts in Wisconsin, though I know they are out there.

So I was delighted when I encountered Rich Hancock, proprietor of Lake Country House Concerts in Hartland. My friendship with singer/songwriter Tim Easton and an article about living room shows that mentioned Easton led to my first show in 2005. For Hancock it was a random encounter during Americanafest in Nashville. “I’m sitting next to this stranger in a small club … watching some young folk singer from Scotland, and she says ‘he  would be perfect for a house concert,’” Hancock recalls, “I turned to her and said ‘A what?’”

For those of you just as puzzled as he was then, a house concert is exactly what it sounds like: A band or musician performs in your home. No two shows or venues are the same, but they share common ground. The most obvious of these is that a space is dedicated to music and the people who want to listen to it. The shows can be unplugged or amplified.

In a living room, a basement, or — neighbors permitting — even outside. They’re usually BYOB, but sometimes there’s a potluck.

But this isn’t a business, and we aren’t selling anything. Instead of ticket sales, there is usually a suggested donation. In both Hancock’s case and mine, all of the money c
ollected goes to the artists.

While I have an email list to announce upcoming shows, Hancock relies on social media to get the word out. He mans the Lake Country House Concerts Facebook page; his daughter m
aintains its website.

Hancock and I shared a (now displaced) dream of owning
a music club, one neither of us would ever have acted on since we both have an appropriately healthy fear of losing our life savings. But that’s what makes these shows so appealing — the biggest investment is one you’ve already made.

My unfinished basement makes a strangely wonderful music venue, while Hancock’s secluded, tree-lined property less than thirty minutes outside of Milwaukee allows him to present half of his yearly half-dozen or so shows outdoors.

Indoor shows are limited to 50 people, similar to my own ideal headcount, but Hancock’s sprawling backyard can hold several times that. Former BoDean Sam Llanas has played three outdoor shows, each drawing over 200 people to Hancock’s property, which also boasts a barn-style shed that Hancock himself turned into a combined artist quarters and outdoor stage. And while I’ve never had a desire to do anything grander than my house, Hancock dreams big. In addition to increasing the profile for his outdoor shows, he keeps an eye out for other options, including hosting shows in the small barn on a friend’s small farmette not far from his own home. “The larger I can get for the outdoor shows, the more people that come, the more I can afford to handle the expense,” Hancock explains.

His relative seclusion limits the number of shows Hancock is willing to do each year — as well as the nights he does them — but he suspects that fewer shows and weekend nights make for better attendance.

Hancock calls his lowest turnout of 30 listeners disappointing, but I call him lucky. I’ve set 14 listeners as the line between acceptable and awkward, but I’ve fallen short of that on more than one occasion. 

Proprietor of Lake Country House Concerts Rich Hancock

Though I say I love all my shows equally, that isn’t quite true. When I asked Hancock about his own favorites of the 16 shows he’s hosted thus far, he’s quick to pick Llanas and the large crowds he brings as the best of his outdoor shows. Moving indoors, he names former “American Idol” contestant David Luning, who, he says, went out of his way to bond with the audience.

Still, Hancock suspects his favorite show is one he hasn’t had yet. “I don’t think that I’ve had a show that I’m just crazy, crazy about yet, but Bottle Rockets, I got a feeling that might be that one,” says Hancock of the St. Louis roots-rockers who top his wish list. Having hosted the hard-working band many times, I know how much they love playing house concerts, so, for Hancock, it’s likely not a question of if, just when. I tell him that the most important thing I have learned after 278 shows is that it never hurts to ask.
As more artists realize that non-traditional venues offer attentive audiences and often better profits, the answer is ever more likely to be a resounding “yes.” MKE

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