Ten days ago, I hosted my first “house concert” and I’m thrilled to say it was a success on every possible level! Most of the credit for this memorable evening goes to my excellent musical guest, Canadian singer/songwriter, Jay Aymar, and his mega-talented fiddle accompanist, Anna Atkinson. We were also honoured to have David Newland of Roots Music Canada on hand to introduce Jay and perform a couple of charming tunes from his own fine new CD, “Give It a Whirl”. In addition, Anna sang her exquisite composition, “Days like Cinnamon”, from her release, “Mooniture”.
If, after reading the rest of this post, you’re thinking about holding your own house concert, you should definitely consider Jay. He’s a very personable “salt of the earth” kind of guy who easily connects with an audience. He also writes catchy original tunes with thoughtful, intelligent lyrics. An engaging story teller, Jay’s “country-tinged tenor” voice is warm, melodious and expressive. One reviewer has described him as a blend of John Prine, Lyle Lovett and Leonard Cohen, and I hear elements of Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash too. His two recent CDs, “Halfway Home” and “Passing Through” are impeccably produced and critically acclaimed gems. Jay sold a lot of those at my house concert and the feedback has been exceptional. Truth be told, I’ve actually been basking in compliments about this concert for the past week and a half!
You can read more about Jay at his official site, www.jayaymar.com. Also, check out this stellar review of “Passing Through”, with links to some of his songs, on the Roots Music Canada website: http://www.rootsmusic.ca/2011/01/17/jay-aymar-passing-through/
Here are just a few of the comments I received in emails and Facebook messages after the event:
- “Magnificent evening all around. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves – the atmosphere was electric, we were all like kids at Christmas. Thank you so much for the experience.”
- “By the way what have you done to me?! I haven’t stopped playing Jay’s CD in my car since Saturday night.”
- “Heather thanks again for hosting such a wonderful party. What a great night of music!”
- “Great roots music, warm and intimate venue, good people!”
- “Many thanks for a night of great friends, great food, and most definitely, great music! I look forward to your next house concert.”
- “Spent a portion of the cold and snowy weekend in the fabulous city of Toronto. Fortunate to be at a really cool house concert/party that headlined the fine Folk/Country singer Jay Aymar who really was great. Also playing were David Newland, another talented Canadian, and a great fiddler as well. Fantastic!”
For anyone who’s unsure of what a house concert entails, and for those who’ve not yet experienced one, it’s a true musical concert experience in every sense of the word, except it’s held in the intimate confines of a private home. About 30-35 guests (capacity for my place) pay a cover charge at the door, usually around $15, all of which goes to the performer(s). The host provides an array of snacks and finger foods, guests bring their own beverages, and everyone is treated to two full sets of incredible original acoustic music, truly “up close and personal”. The room is set up concert-style, with furniture rearranged and extra chairs borrowed as needed. There is also plenty of time allotted before and after the show, and during the break, for people to socialize.
The house concert format is a win-win situation for everyone. Guests experience an unforgettable evening of great music and ambience. It also provides hard-working independent musicians with a respectful listening audience, a decent chunk of change at the end of the night, and a chance to expand their profile and sell some CDs.
Our fine independent artists need and deserve this kind of support! I probably don’t have to tell you how hard it is to carve out a living in the music industry or in the arts in general. Creativity, virtuosity, and dedication often produce remarkable art, but actual remuneration for all that talent and hard work can be abysmally slim. There are lots of exceptional songwriters and musicians in this country, many of whom we’ve never heard. There are also others of whom we may have heard, those who are “successful” in that they’ve won or been nominated for awards and may have even had their songs played on CBC radio. But even that level of exposure doesn’t guarantee a living above the poverty line, and raising money to record and produce that next CD is a perpetual struggle. As grants for the arts from every level of government continue to dry up, it’s more important than ever to nurture, promote and support those who enrich our lives through their creativity. Hosting a house concert is one very rewarding way of doing that.