Houseful of harmony: Locals perform in Rockville

The Gazette – Maryland Community Newspapers Online
Chris Slattery | Staff Writer
February 7, 2008

Courtesy of the artist
David and Cheryl Kagan are holding a concert in the round to launch their sixth year of concerts in their home. Cletus Kennelly (above) will be a featured artist.

Silver Spring singer-songwriter Cletus Kennelly been asked to perform in many unusual places: basements, attics, the deck of a buddy’s 70-foot schooner on the Magothy River.

‘‘I get seasick, too,” laughs Kennelly, ‘‘but I put up with having a green face because it’s so much fun.”

A group of naturalists wanted him to headline once – and he didn’t say no, but nothing ever came of that. So you’d think he’d take house concerts in stride.

‘‘I found it kind of odd at first,” admits Kennelly, whose CDs include 2005’s solo ‘‘Thread” and ‘‘Lotus,” made in 2007 with Lori Kelley. ‘‘This antiquated thing that people used to do.

‘‘But now it’s coming back. In the acoustic world, the house concert is really big.”

House concerts are small, medium or large get-togethers held by music fans in private homes. These are open to the public; attendees call or e-mail for reservations and directions, and when the suggested donations are collected, the money goes straight to the performers.

‘‘It’s just a matter of somebody saying, ‘I have the space,’” says Kennelly. ‘‘It’s up to them whether they want to open it up to [a performer’s] mailing list or to the public.”

A Montgomery County native, Kennelly attended his first house concert a dozen years ago. It was Tom Prasado-Rao playing at the Panzer House Concert, he says.

Now, as a performer, he sees the benefits of performing in the home of a music lover.

‘‘You’re not ‘background,’” he says. ‘‘Everyone is there to hear music.”

Folk house

There’s one house on the street where all the music plays – and in this Rockville neighborhood, it’s the house where David Spitzer and Cheryl Kagan live.

‘‘We have bumped into dozens and dozens of friends, neighbors and colleagues,” wrote Kagan recently in an e-mail. ‘‘Each has expressed regret at not having attended one of our folk and acoustic house concerts.”

To make it up to them, Kagan and Spitzer decided to celebrate their sixth season of house concerts with a concert featuring Kennelly plus Julie Clark and Jerry Bresee.

‘‘This house concert is generally nationally touring acts,” Kennelly says. ‘‘And local people get to be opening acts.

‘‘But this time they picked ‘the best of’ lineup.”

As in, the local acts that house concert audiences most wanted to see. Clark, a Virginia-based singer-songwriter, is thrilled to be part of the lineup.

‘‘House concerts are really as good as it gets,” she exclaims. ‘‘There are no pretenses. The walls are down; it’s intimate.

‘‘I just love house concerts.”

So much so that she’s flown as far as Portland, Oregon, to do a basement gig. What’s the appeal? Clark says that because she writes her own songs, being physically close to the audience enhances the emotional closeness her music tends to inspire.

‘‘Cheryl’s format is a great approach,” Clark says, referring to the three solo sets followed by intermission and a musical round robin. ‘‘Initially they get to meet me and hear my songs – standalone.

‘‘Then they get to see the artists interact. We banter and play off each other, and that can be magical.”

Art support

Kagan says the house concert area – a bright, spacious walkout basement – seats 60 folk fans. She also says that concerts in the Folk ‘N Great series tend to sell out quickly. Not surprisingly, those two facts make performers especially eager to play there.

‘‘It’s not only a great way to hear and play music,” says Clark, ‘‘but it’s especially supportive of artists: 100 percent of the audience’s donations go directly to the artists.”

So Clark, Bresee and Kennelly can bring their original contemporary folk tunes to an appreciative audience and not have to split the take at the door with ‘‘the house.”

Clark calls house concert hosting ‘‘a labor of love – and a significant contribution to touring artists.”

What’s more, the easygoing vibe allows the musicians to get feedback from the audience they might not ever hear in an anonymous venue.

‘‘I love talking to people,” says Kennelly. ‘‘I’m an introverted person. It’s not like I crave attention, but when people are touched by a song and want to talk about it, that’s very gratifying.”

Fully clothed, on dry land, and face to face with an appreciative audience: Who could ask for anything more?

Jerry Bresee, Julie Clark and Cletus Kennelly perform in-the-round at a Folk ‘N Great House Concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in Rockville. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. A $15 minimum donation is recommended.

Copyright ©2008 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./Gazette.Net


Music lovers singing ‘home sweet home’

The Washington Times

By Amy Rogers Nazarov
Published March 1, 2007

Edsall Road, a Celtic band from Northern Virginia playing to a crowd in Phil and Teresa Metcalfe’s living room in Sterling, Va., had just put the finishing touch on a set of Irish reels when, in the audience, a cell phone trilled — in nearly the same key as the band’s last tune.
That made it almost OK.
“It didn’t sound too terribly out of place with the music,” says Mr. Metcalfe, who with his wife has been hosting live music at home since 2000. “It was more amusing than irritating.”
Right there you have one distinctive feature of the house concert, a live-music format that’s pretty much what it sounds like: acoustic music played in one’s house for listeners to enjoy.
It’s informal, it’s intimate, it’s packed with music lovers who’ll forgive a cell phone if it’s in tune.
“This is the type of thing that’s been going on since human civilization began — people gathering in someone’s home and entertaining one another — but has in large part gone by the wayside,” says Nina Lantis, who runs AtLantis House Concerts at home in Ashburn, Va., with her husband, Bob. Nowadays, she says, “people tend to be glued to their TV sets.”
The living room as stage
Generally serving as showcases for contemporary or traditional folk music, house concerts can and do feature other musical genres: bluegrass, jazz, classical, world, blues and more.
Because the performance space is small, other types of music — hip-hop, go-go, metal, opera among them — are better suited to a club or fine arts hall.
Those who host house concerts are typically avid music fans committed to introducing artists they’ve hand-selected and whose music they adore to new audiences.
For instance, Julia Gordon and Geoff Berman, who last month hosted the Robyn Helzner Trio in their Silver Spring home, describe themselves as “proselytizers” of the musicians they bring in to play. In fact most house concert hosts are equal parts emcee, social butterfly and impresario.
“I’m there to make sure everyone is comfortable and that everyone has a good time,” says Karen Helbrecht of Alexandria. Along with her husband, Gordon Johnston, Ms. Helbrecht, who plays cello and banjo, has hosted house concerts — often in partnership with the Folklore Society of Greater Washington — since 2002.
The Lantises have been house concert hosts since late 2005 in an effort to encourage their circle of fellow music-lovers to turn off the tube, meet new people and savor an up-close-and-personal musical performance.
“We want to boost what we think is a more satisfying type of entertainment,” Mrs. Lantis says.
Play and party: a trend
A typical house concert is a hybrid of party and performance. Musicians set up their instruments and gear in the host’s great room, living room or kitchen, wherever a phalanx of folding chairs or a clever rearrangement of comfy couches fit best.
Those who have called ahead to reserve a seat — and often have paid in advance, depending on the host’s policy — may arrive with onion dip or a bottle of wine to contribute to the evening’s repast. Some house concerts are known for their potluck food, while others are simpler, cake-and-coffee affairs.
Before and after the music, as well as during the typical house concert’s intermission, there’s free time when musicians, hosts and listeners mingle — to talk about what inspired a particular song, to buy or sell the performer’s CDs, to catch up with old friends. That’s when the social aspect of a house concert tends to blossom.
“It’s almost like a networking event that takes on a life of its own,” says John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange, a D.C.-based nonprofit organization created to collect royalties for musicians.
Mr. Simson, whose career in music has spanned everything from serving as Mary Chapin Carpenter’s manager to practicing entertainment law, has both attended and hosted house concerts.
“You find them everywhere now,” he says, noting that some nationally touring artists will often use house concerts as “routing dates” — if they know they’ll be playing a venue in, say, Charlottesville on a Saturday night, they might slot a house concert in Alexandria for Sunday on their way back up north.
“It’s a trend that’s really growing,” he observes, noting that music conferences, such as those sponsored by the Folk Alliance or the Americana Music Association, are now offering workshops to give artists and bookers tips on how to find and book house concerts.
The payoff
Listeners usually pay $10 to $25 each to attend a house concert; many choose to ante up more on arrival simply because they love the music and the low-key format of the event.
Most hosts turn all of the collected funds over to the performers, though some may deduct the cost of refreshments. When CD sales augment ticket sales, the musicians enjoy a performance that’s not only creatively satisfying but lucrative as well.
“Sometimes I’m surprised at how much [money] we have made at a house concert,” says Jen Smith, who with husband Scott performs with their band, Naked Blue, whose music she describes as Americana-inflected pop. The couple live in Baltimore, and they include house concerts in their steady run of gigs up and down the East Coast.
What musicians earn by performing in clubs, bars, concert halls and other traditional places for live music varies depending on the city where the gig is played, the venue, number of drinks sold, or whether the owner is in a good mood.
For example, a band playing in a restaurant may be guaranteed a set payment by the owner, such as $250, with additional proceeds attached to the amount of food sold or patrons drawn. Or the artists may be earmarked a portion of the cover charge patrons pay to enter the venue.
Not surprisingly, these percentages are often smaller for the artist than for the owner; members of a five-piece band, for example, might clear as little as $25 or $50 each after the money is split among the musicians and the venue.
By contrast, a performer at a house concert is likely to end the night with $500 and up, in part because the host almost never diverts any of the money. When the audience numbers 70 people — as it tends to do with Cheryl Kagan and David Spitzer’s Folk N’ Great series in Rockville — performers may be looking at a four-figure evening.
Smaller than life
The money-making potential of house concerts is an obvious plus for musicians like Edsall Road and Naked Blue, but it’s hardly the only draw.
At a festival or in a large venue, “there is a sense on a big stage of [performers] having to be larger, to put more energy into it,” Naked Blue’s Ms. Smith says. “The way you move has to be bigger; the way you talk has to be bigger. You have to have a different attitude to cut through.”
On the other hand, a house concert “is more personal,” she says.
“We can let our guard down. We tend to tell more stories and to be more impromptu, to be goofier and sillier.”
Yet Ms. Smith cites a paradox: The intimacy of the house-concert format, the very thing that attracts many participants, can also be the most challenging thing about them.
With virtually no separation between musicians and listeners, the artist may feel a vulnerability he or she wouldn’t experience in larger rooms where listeners’ faces are obscured by spotlights and missed notes aren’t quite so obvious.
Mr. Metcalfe says some musicians have turned down his offer to perform in part because of the closeness of the audience.
“They’ll say, ‘That’s too intimate for me,’ ” he says.
Edsall Road’s flute and mandolin player, Billy White, says he got a taste of that intensity.
“It was a bit unnerving at first,” he admits, describing the early moments of the band’s show last month at the Metcalfes’ home. It was Edsall Road’s first house concert.
“But once we got going, it felt good. It was really nice to have an audience that was truly engaged; you could see the reactions on their faces and hear them chuckle. You don’t get that in a true stage setting.”
Room for many genres
More and more, non-folk genres are finding a home in the house-concert format. For example, the music of J.P. McDermott, whose band Western Bop plays a rollicking mix of honky-tonk and rockabilly, might not at first blush appear to fit well with the cozy quarters that typify a house concert.
But Mr. McDermott, captivated by the intimacy that enfolded him and his audience in October 2005 when the power failed mid-song at a Silver Spring club — and his band played on unplugged as the audience lit candles — says that ever since then he’s wanted to do an acoustic show.
“It was kind of magical to see the effect on the audience,” Mr. McDermott says of that candle-lit autumn night at the now-defunct Half Moon BBQ. “There’s nothing between your mouth and people’s ears.”
Named last month as 2006 Country Vocalist of the Year by the Washington Area Music Association, Mr. McDermott says he is talking with several house-concert hosts about performing. Among other things, such a gig would afford him the chance to play his favorite ballads by Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and others.
Then there are the classical concerts, and those that hosts turn into benefits for a favored cause. Kristin Gilbert and Aileen Pisciotta of Falls Church sometimes combine the two: A portion of the funds received from their classical music concerts go to a scholarship fund named for Thurgood Marshall, the late Supreme Court justice who was a longtime resident of the Lake Barcroft neighborhood where the women live.
Close and personal
Ultimately, the social component of a house concert is just as crucial as the musical one.
“Most likely you’re there with a number of your friends, all enjoying the experience together,” says Lawrance Binda, a freelance writer in the District who has attended and hosted house concerts.
“Some of the folks who began coming to our shows in the beginning are now very close friends of mine,” says Regina Derzon of Lake Barcroft, who hosts house concerts with husband Jim. Mrs. Derzon’s genre of choice is bluegrass.
Indeed, many things separate a house concert from a night at the 9:30 Club or an evening performance at Borders.
“There’s no bouncer and no cigarette or cigar smoke,” says Richard Weil, whose long-running house concert series in Takoma Park is called Weil Sing, in part for the audience singalong Mr. Weil asks each of his performers to offer before the night is through.
“You’re meeting and talking with the artist,” he says. “You’re in a cozy space where you experience a great unplugged concert with an appreciative audience. And you may well laugh and cry before the end of the show.”

Where to catch a house concert
House concerts have always hit the right notes for sociable folks who love to hang out in someone’s living room, hear tunes and mingle with the artists. Now they’re becoming the thing to do.
Here’s a sampling of what’s coming up — and remember to confirm all information with the hosts through the e-mail address or Web sites provided.

• Folklore Society of Greater Washington house concerts: Alexandria. The Syncopaths, March 24. E-mail
• Sleepy Hollow Folk Club: Falls Church. The Kennedys, March 25. See sleepyhollow or e-mail

• Folk N’ Great Music house concerts: Rockville. David LaMotte and Kate McDonnell, April 21. See
• Dawsonconcerts: Silver Spring. Terri Allard, April 21. See dawsonconcerts/index.html.
• Bluegrass House Concerts: Falls Church. Tony Ellis and Louise Adkins/Little Windows (Julee Glaub and Mark Weems), April 28. See lakebar or e-mail

•Rusticway Chamber Music Series: Falls Church. Elisabeth Adkins, violin, and Edward Newman, piano, May 13. See /cm/arts/rusticmusic.shtml or e-mail

Copyright © 2007 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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 ( 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 (, 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, ( 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, ( 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