The Gazette – Maryland Community Newspapers Online
Chris Slattery | Staff Writer
February 7, 2008
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.”
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.”
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. Visitwww.FolkNGreatMusic.org.
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