Rec Room Rock

The Gazette – Maryland Community Newspapers Online
Chris Slattery | Staff Writer
February 28, 2008

House concerts bring musicians and audiences face to face … in the basements, backyards and breakfast nooks of suburban private homes

Like a lot of suburban homeowners, Scott and Paula Moore have just completed a renovation on their home.

Construction is never easy, but what they’ve done is unique and beautiful — a perfect fit with their lifestyle. It’s not a new kitchen with fancy granite countertops. Nor is it a custom bathroom with a dozen showerheads. The Moores have reconfigured their basement with a brand new stage, great acoustics and seating for 60. And they’d love for you to come by and check it out.

‘‘As long as I can remember, they’ve been doing musical things,” says their daughter Melanie, 16. ‘‘They’ve been doing house concerts since I was 7. It started upstairs in the dining room.”

Melanie is a typical teen who likes the All American Rejects and Panic at the Disco. She also favors less well-known bands – the bands who come to the family home to perform.

‘‘Valerie Vigoda, Groovelily, Cletus & Lori,” she says. ‘‘We’re About Nine, Eliot Bronson. If it’s not someone I like, I get control of the upstairs of the house!”

Tonight, though, she’s downstairs even before the music begins. Upstairs, her dad is helping guests with reservations check in, collecting the ‘‘artists’ donations” and selling CDs and T-shirts. Later, when he’s introducing tonight’s performers, he’ll refer to his dining room as ‘‘the CD boutique” and he’ll only be halfway joking.

The Moores are not musicians, or businesspeople, or managers or agents. They don’t get a cut of the profits — not a cent — and they don’t seem any more extroverted or gregarious than most folks do. They’re just music lovers, folk fans and acoustic enthusiasts.

And so are the dozens of friends, neighbors and total strangers they welcome into their home every month.

Fair folk

‘‘I’m an event planner, a restaurant, a caterer, a concert venue, a hotel, a bed and breakfast, and a fundraiser,” says Cheryl Kagan, standing in her Rockville basement with its lemon-bright walls and functional navy carpet. ‘‘And now, I’m in human resources.”

Not really. Kagan is Executive Director of the Carl M. Freeman Foundation, a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates, a lifelong Montgomery County resident and a deeply committed fan of folk music. She’s so deeply committed that four times a year, she and her husband David Spitzer open their living room, dining room, kitchen, den, guest rooms and finished basement rec room to the performers they love — and scores and scores of audience members culled from a database of more than 1,000.

‘‘I love creating community,” Kagan says, ‘‘and bringing people together through music and the arts.”

The lady walks the talk, too: Kagan and Spitzer, a physics teacher at Blake High School in Silver Spring, actually met at Scott and Paula Moore’s house.

‘‘It was June of ’99,” says Kagan, who remembers that Diana Jones opened for the folk duo Barton & Sweeney in the basement that night.

‘‘He flirted with me,” she says. ‘‘We started dating a couple of months later, and got married the next year.”

Soon after, when a nearby house concert venue fell through, the couple suggested holding the show at their place.

‘‘Tom Prasado-Rao, Eric Schwartz and Freebo,” says Kagan. ‘‘It was a round-robin of the three of them. We hosted, and it was a lot of fun.”

That was the beginning of the ‘‘Folkin’ Great” concert series (www.folkngreatmusic.org). Nowadays, says Kagan, ‘‘I sell out every show.”

At their latest show, 73 guests showed up, bearing potluck goodies, buying CDs and T-shirts, and observing the no-red-wine rule for the sake of floors and furniture.

Kagan is a political animal, and her concerts tend toward the political, too.

‘‘We are the very first house concert in the country to become a Fair Folk venue,” she says, meaning that Folkin’ Great hires acts that belong to Musicians Local 100 and supports endeavors like the Naked Folk Calendar, a fundraiser that helps supplement the cost of health insurance for musicians. Still, it’s a thoroughly modern affair.

‘‘People think of folk music and they have flashbacks from the 1960s,” says Kagan, who didn’t hit double digits until the ’70s. ‘‘They’re not aware that it’s entertaining, fun and inspiring.

‘‘Once I get them through the door,” she adds, ‘‘they always come back.”

Fan club

Cindy Broome is a D.C. copy editor who lives in Alexandria, but she’s happy to travel to Montgomery County for a house concert.

‘‘I like the intimate atmosphere of a house concert,” she says. ‘‘There’s a chance for a real rapport with the performers, something you don’t have in large venues.”

Broome happens to be president – along with vice president and chairman Scott Moore — of Focus (www.focusmusic.org), a musical nonprofit that presents three concerts monthly. But, she says, nobody gets territorial about shows or performers.

‘‘It’s a very collaborative thing,” she explains. ‘‘We all want folk musicians to have opportunities to perform and share their music.”

Indeed, Joel Pomerantz, a member of the board of the Songwriters Association of Washington, (www.saw.org) calls himself ‘‘sort of a ubiquitous presence.

‘‘I put on showcases, go to concerts. I use people I see at open mics that I judge to be quality performers,” he says. ‘‘There’s a whole network: theMoores, the Panzers, Cheryl & David. There’s a house concert in Kensington that does punk rock in their basement.”

Whatever the genre, house concerts tend to be smoke-free environments: ‘‘A huge plus,” as Broome says.

They also tend to feature performers that folk fans want to see.

‘‘We don’t even have to think,” says Lester Reingold, a folk enthusiast from Silver Spring. ‘‘We know if Scott and Paula have booked the act, we’ll enjoy it.”

That’s what Cheryl Kagan says.

‘‘We only have ‘folkin’ great’ people here,” she says. ‘‘That’s the promise we make: If you like our taste in music, you can trust us every time.”

Kagan says performers come by invitation only; she and Spitzer, like most house music hosts, spend considerable time at folk festivals, like Falcon Ridge in New York and the Memphis Folk Alliance, looking for fresh talent.

That’s what audiences count on; at the Mooreshouse, (www.mooremusic.org) some fans have come from as far away as North Carolina to see the band, which on this particular night happens to be Red Molly. Some are neighbors; some are regulars. Everyone is acknowledged and made to feel at home.

Scott Moore takes the stage before the trio gets on and asks, ‘‘Who’s here for the first time?”

A scattering of hands go up.

There are veterans here, too. Some remember the very first Moore Music house concert nearly 10 years ago.

Red Molly is a roots Americana trio, pretty performers who could give the Dixie Chicks a run for their money with their soaring train-whistle harmonies, bluesy guitar licks and smart in-between-song banter.

‘‘So many dead people — it must be a folk song,” sighs Laurie MacAllister.

‘‘Yeah,” deadpans Carolann Solebello. ‘‘You could take a body count from our set list.”

They sing about coal miners and bein’ done wrong and the long ride home, and it’s hard not to think about Hank Williams and Patsy Cline and Emmylou Harris — until they break into a riff from ‘‘Cat Scratch Fever.” Before you know it, you’re thinking about REM and Mark Knopfler and Patty Griffiths, too — and mostly Red Molly. They’re really, really good.

For awhile, this could have been a party on a Saturday night at anyone’s house, but now the sounds of guitars, banjos and mandolins fill the air and it can only be, well, a house concert.

A nice addition to any home.

Copyright 2007 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./Gazette.Net