Share Their Passion By Hosting House Concerts
Written by Rob McCorkle and Photography by Steve Macintyre
On a crisp, starry spring night just north of Las Cruces, the sound of snare drums, fiddle, bagpipes, and guitar seeps through the open front door of a hilltop hacienda as the city lights shimmer in the distance. Scottish folk music group The Old Blind Dogs are entertaining close to 50 people at a High Desert Concert inside the home of Trish Cutler, who has hosted some 40 concerts in her Del Rey area residence since 2008.
Trish’s invitation-only concerts represent a growing movement among passionate music lovers in and around Las Cruces who open up their homes to musicians, both domestic and international, seeking greater exposure. In the case of the Old Blind Dogs, the house concert offers a respite from the road on their tour through the States before heading home.
. . . inside the home of Trish Cutler, who has hosted some 40 concerts in her Del Rey area
residence since 2008.
The band’s show at Trish’s residence is the only such stop on a tour of larger commercial venues throughout the West and Southwest, including a gig in Yuma, AZ, where the Old Blind Dogs played in a 500-seat music hall.
Guitarist Aaron Jones explains his affinity for intimate house concerts. “Traditional music always works better when you can see the people’s eyes and enjoy their participation,” Aaron says. “House concerts afford that opportunity.”
Trish believes musicians love to play house concerts because “it’s a relaxed setting, it’s fun, people are enthusiastic, excited and appreciative.” She draws her patrons primarily from her mailing list of more than 200 fans who have attended her house concerts over the years. They are asked to donate from $18 to $25 per show. She specializes in featuring bands playing traditional Irish and Scottish music.
It’s a two-way street because such performances provide the audience with an up-close and personal interaction with the musicians that doesn’t exist in larger venues, such as nightclubs and concert arenas. High Desert Concerts are held in Trish’s living room, where folding chairs are arranged in a three-deep semicircle and the band plays an arm’s length away against an east wall.
Seated on the front row this Wednesday night is an El Paso couple who have attended Las Cruces house concerts for more than 10 years and are celebrating their 38th anniversary. Others are first-timers, such as Deneen Kickbusch, a snowbird from Wisconsin who heard about the house concert from a friend. At intermission, she expounds on her experience.
“I like that the musicians are so close,” she says. “I haven’t taken my eyes off the drummer. I really like the informality of it and the people are so friendly.”
At present, half a dozen house concert venues exist in Dona Ana County. Most hosts and hostesses follow a proven formula when staging a show. Guests typically show up for a social hour before the performance, which typically starts about 7 or 7:30 pm. The musicians play two sets lasting 45-minutes to an hour with an intermission in between for guests to enjoy snacks and drinks, chat with the artists, buy a CD, or other band memorabilia. Guests are encouraged to bring snacks or potluck dishes and their preferred beverages.
Peter and Suzanne Kane have been staging their private McDowell House Concerts outdoors at their Mesilla Park home since 2011, not long after Peter saw an in-flight magazine story about house concerts written by Fran Snyder. Fran connects artists with house concert hosts through his Concerts In Your Home organization. The Kanes find about half of their featured artists through Fran and book the other half through Reverb Nation.
When weather permits, the concerts take place outside in the Kane’s large backyard, where performers play on a wooden palette “stage” and the audience sits in folding chairs.
“Sue and I like to host those bands who play great music, but also artists who have good rapport with the audience,” explains Peter. “The artists usually stay overnight with us.”
Peter notes that a house concert is not a business, but is held for the love of live music, for the community, and to support the many talented artists looking for a place to perform. Hosts such as the Kanes, ask for a donation, typically from $15 to $20, from guests who R.S.V.P. to an e-mailed invitation to what he terms a “private party.” All donations go directly to the artists. It’s not unusual for it to actually cost a host a couple hundred dollars to hold a concert, but it’s well worth it to these uber music fans.
Scottish folk music group The Old Blind Dogs entertain close to 50 people at a High Desert Concert. “Traditional music always works better when you can the people’s eyes and enjoy their participation. House concerts afford that opportunity,” says guitarist Aaron Jones.
While some hosts and hostesses specialize in booking artists who play a particular style of music, such as Celtic or bluegrass music, others like the Kanes feature solo artists and bands who play everything from jazz and blues to classical guitar and folk music. Upcoming McDowell House Concerts are: Detroit pop jazz singer-songwriter Olivia Millerschin (May 19) and Londoner Claude Bourbon, a Spanish and Middle Eastern blues guitarist (June 15).
Ken Forestal’s Toad Hall Concerts popped up on the house concert scene seven years ago when the 68-year-old went online one day to find out what one of his favorite musicians back in the 1970s, Shawn Phillips, was up to. When Ken saw he was on tour, he decided to book him for a show at his 1949 Henry Trost-built home in Anthony, NM. That was seven years ago, and Ken’s still booking his own artists who perform in a spacious room that can seat up to 35 people.
At Ken’s shows, you’re likely to hear Americana and folk music, often solo performers like transplanted British-born folk singer-songwriter Rupert Wates (August 8) who lives in Boulder, Colo., or folk-rock duos like Chicago’s Ryanhood, who live in Arizona (May 19). Harpeth Rising and Austin-based Rebecca Loebe, a quarter-finalist on The Voice, have been recent big draws.
“You have to have a good reputation because artists talk among themselves,” says Ken. “You’ve got to bring in really good music and your patrons have to trust that they’ll be entertained.”
The Pollards, who live in the “country” in the Fairacres area, discovered that their old barn is the perfect place to host concerts. John and Amy limit the audience to 50, primarily due to limited parking. Patrons sit on hay bales to listen to what Amy describes as “Americana folk” music. Their concerts are held in the spring and fall.
Peter Kane urges those who have never attended a house concert to give it a try. “You really get to truly experience the music. Living rooms are perfectly suited to listen to music because of the intimacy and you get to hear the stories behind the songs,” he says. “It changes your whole attitude toward live music.”
The Lowdown on House Concerts
Listed here are the House Concerts in and around Las Cruces currently featuring live music at least once or twice a year. If you are interested in possibly attending a future performance, please e-mail the host/hostess and ask to be placed on their mailing list.
• McDowell House Concerts, Mesilla Park, Las Cruces
Peter and Suzanne Kane, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Jeff and Ashleigh Curry, Mesilla Park, Las Cruces;
Jeff and Ashleigh Curry, email@example.com
• Harmony House, Las Cruces
Judy Harmon, firstname.lastname@example.org
• High Desert Concerts, Del Rey area, Las Cruces
Trish Cutler, email@example.com
• Pollard Barn Concerts, Las Cruces
John and Amy Pollard, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Toad Hall Concerts, Anthony, NM
Ken Forestal, email@example.com