Entertainers have been trying for years to bring down the house. A recent trend makes that even easier - since the entertaining happens inside someone's actual abode.
The "house concert" has been going on for as long as there have been folk entertainers and homes. They are called kitchen parties on the east coast, hootenannies in the midwest, it's called a ceilidh by the Celtic diaspora, and in classical Europe they were known as chamber recitals.
Informally, it has been going on here, too, for as long as Prince George has had musicians. The Coldsnap Festival roots back to musicians like Laura Smith and Martyn Joseph playing in the homes of Greg and Jo Beattie, and Dave and Maureen Faulkner as a way of building relationships between artists, organizers and audience. It grew into an outdoor folk festival, then morphed into the multi-venue winter concert series of today.
A realization also formed that house concerts could be a great success for a modest musician, without the crippling risks of a dedicated venue. If people don't show up at a club gig or a theatre, the consequences can devastate a musician or a promoter, whomever fronted the money for the costs. House concerts have almost no costs. You don't need a sound system of any heft, you don't need ticket-takers, bartenders, kitchen staff, security, janitorial services, hotel rooms, rent on the floorspace, or an extensive ad campaign.
Some small amounts from the ticket sales might get invested in a little bit of food, but mostly the money goes into the pockets of the musicians.
"As a performer, we loved it. That's why we wanted to be hosts," said Cindy Larsen Marcotte, a member of progressive pop band The Pucks, who also opens her Prince George doors a few times each year for travelling troubadours. "We [The Pucks] did a whole concert series with the B.C. Arts Council from town to town around the province. Every time we've done them, they are relaxed, they are an absolute ball. I love the intimacy of them. I love being able to sit down afterwards and chat with people, it is really wonderful. The best part is having people come in to enjoy music together, all so close, and we get a chance to know them a little bit and enjoy them as people, up close and personal as well as their music. It's like a perfect house party."
Selena Bewsky is the program co-ordinator for a company called Home Routes, a booking agency dedicated to house concert tours. They have been operational for less than a decade, but already have 14 circuits established across Canada with more music acts applying than they have homes for.
"The tours are all juried, so the people on the tours are generally high-grade acts, and the people who go to see them are part of a community of fans," said Bewsky. "A closer relationship forms between the artist and each other. We do the artist direction and co-ordinate the circuits, so what we need most often is a home to host a concert, especially in smaller communities."
This guerilla style of live art won't make the musicians rich, but, said one of the Home Routes regulars, they aren't the kind of players who were fighting with Lady Gaga for top billing at Wembley Stadium. But they write worthy songs and win appreciative fans, said Kim Beggs of folk duo The Blue Warblers (with Natalie Edelson).
"It works out usually great for the artist, financially, and it is a great bit of psychology," Beggs said. "The host is the promoter. It is difficult to promote in a town where you don't live, if someone isn't being that ambassador for you. But if someone is coming into your home to play music, you let your people know about it and really open up your doors. The artists tend to put on more intimate shows, more meaningful shows, and that has a better impact on the artists and the audience alike and that builds and maintains better relationships. For independent artists, that's what defines success - us fostering those relationships. You get to meet your fans, find out what's going on in their lives, too. It's an exchange."
The Blue Warblers came through Prince George twice last month, a different home each time. In between P.G. dates they performed in homes in Fraser Lake, Mackenzie, Hudson's Hope, Smithers and other northern B.C. localities. It serves these smaller towns with quality performances, which venue-based musicians largely pass through or ignore altogether.
"Most often we were sleeping in the same home and that is another part of the joy of it," said Marcotte. "There's something nice about getting up in the morning and having breakfast and talking about it all together some more. I would spend my life doing house concerts, if I could."
"It takes a lot of energy to do a concert and also be 'on' for socializing," said Beggs. "But it's generally peaceful. There is usually a room where you can go to rest up after the music and build up your positive vibes. The people are kind and want to be supportive, so that's easy enough to face, and you can make some real friends doing it that way."
Real relationships sell more songs for independent artists than any other form of marketing. There isn't much room for them on mainstream radio (although there are some exceptions to that), in the boardrooms of sponsors, or the pages of glossy entertainment magazines. They have to win their fans one at a time, and thanks to house concerts, they can now go door to door.