House Concerts: American Roots Music In Our Own Backyard
Music and musicians have always played a role in building and defining our culture. This is especially true in the Appalachian and Southern regions of the United States, where many rural southern families in the 1800s held gatherings that revolved around music as a regular part of their recreation. These gatherings, full of local food, musical festivity, and folklore, would often involve all generations of multiple nearby families, with people sharing stories from their ancestral roots as well as chronicling their immigrant and farm-based experiences through songs and storytelling. During the Civil War and later, the Great Depression, families used these communal gatherings to interpret (and in some cases, forget) about the harsh times they lived in. Traveling musicians, looking for a way to earn a living from their art, would also perform at these communal events.
These gatherings were a living definition of the modern “do-it-yourself” ethos. People made not only their own music and food, but farmed that food and made their own instruments. The instruments were made for the minstel on the move: violins that turned the high-toned classical aesthetic on its ear as soulful and jubilant fiddle music, ukuleles and banjoes that could be slung across a player’s back on a long walk, and hand-held percussion pieces that often relied upon found objects (hammered tin, animal hide, rocks and sticks) as their core components. These were the early ancestors of the house concert and part of a culture based on the self-reliance, preservation, and adaptation of regional culture over time. They were true expressions of Americana.
As time passed, advancements in technology like the automobile and radio drastically reduced these intimate social gatherings. These technologies allowed people to hear music outside of their homes and learn about a more geographically diverse culture. Indeed, technology allowed people to become citizens of the world, as people were no longer limited to only hearing the sounds that came from within their own community. So it is ironic that the recent surge in popularity of the Amercana music genre and the ubiquity of modern communications technology have led to a resurgence in this traditional form of social and cultural gathering that we now call the house concert.
The modern house concert is inevitably described as an intimate affair, where a host invites (usually “e-vites”) 25 – 50 friends and neighbors to their home for the show. Rather than merely providing background music, musicians perform a full pre-planned set of songs to an attentive audience gathered in a living room or backyard patio. Hosts typically charge a small admission fee to cover the artist’s appearance.
Corey Coleman, from the popular Marietta-based acoustic duo Kate and Corey, says, “House concerts have become an important part of our live performance portfolio. The close and casual quarters allow us to relate to people and tell the stories behind our music in a more personable way. We almost always get more dedicated fans willing to follow us and help support us from a house concert gig than we do from a show in a traditional live music venue. That’s huge in the new model for full-time musicians like us.”
If you’d like more information about the historical origins of house concerts, I would recommend the white paper by Bianca Garza and Becca Cragin entitled “The Role of House Concerts In Modern American Culture.” The paper was used as a reference for this article. You can also check out a guide to hosting house concerts on Kate and Corey’s website, www.katenandcorey.com.
Hopefully, you will decide to host a house concert in the near future. It’s a chance for you to bring your own unique and modern “North Fulton touch” to a truly American tradition.
Blog By Brian Johnson, former Owner of North Fulton School of Music