Getting people together is a hard art to master. With so many different ideas as to what makes for a good time, and so many obstacles to overcome, breaking out of the living room rut can be a tough sell.
But who says you have to leave the comfort of the couch to do something new? Have you ever considered turning your own home into a one-night concert venue?
That's right folks, tu casa could be Winnipeg's next hot spot.
Just ask Julie Vogelsang, a 40-ish accountant by day who has thrown numerous house concerts for friends -- and friends of friends -- in her humble Fort Garry abode.
"I certainly never had as a goal when I was growing up to be the proud owner of 50 folding chairs," says Vogelsang. "But here I am!"
The formula is simple: if you build it, they will come. "The way I typically arrange it is I bring the place, the musician brings the music, and the audience brings the food," said Vogelsang. By food, Julie means a favourite potluck dish, plus your beverage of choice, of course.
These house concerts usually range from 25 to 60 people. An email is sent out to friends two to three weeks in advance, and people are asked to RSVP. Everybody pays an entrance fee, typically $15, and, in Vogelsang's case, all proceeds go to the artists.
Vogelsang was originally introduced to house concerts while living in Europe. When she moved back to Winnipeg, she felt it was one of the things she would really miss.
"To my great surprise, Winnipeg has a thriving cultural music and arts community; it's really quite fantastic for its population," says Vogelsang, who has hosted about 30 house concerts. "But it's very hard to make it as an artist. This is one of the ways of helping out. There's no middle man, there's no upfront cost, they get 100 per cent of the proceeds.
"I had one concert that sold out in 24 hours."
Singer-songwriter J.P. Hoe has played a couple of Vogelsang's house parties. He's a 20-something Winnipeg native who's garnered quite the buzz. His music hits the feel-good button, with a sweet but strong voice and catchy acoustic guitar riffs. The Edmonton Journal said, "He's got a voice that bleeds at times into Rufus Wainwright," while the Saskatoon Star Phoenix commented that his show "showed a highly attentive and appreciative audience that he has some thoughtful lyrics."
"Frankly, (house concerts) are some of the best shows a musician will do, especially for someone like me who likes to interact with the audience," says Hoe, while setting up for a Beatles tribute concert. "When you do a house show you can have a conversation, whether it's with one person or more. There's just a different dynamic in the house setting and people listen to lyrics -- they actually listen!"
Musicians and audiences seem to have similar peeves when it comes to playing the big stage: the crowd is impersonal, it's loud and it's messy.
"There's a good-naturedness about (house concerts). People bring food and beer, so there's people nibbling on each other's food and listening," says Hoe. "The reaction has been phenomenal. I can't think of one that hasn't gone well yet, knock on wood."
The word is getting out about these salon soirees.
"I definitely have more demand from musicians than I can meet," says Vogelsang.
Although Julie's setup might sound a bit ambitious -- 50 folding chairs is a lot -- it doesn't mean everybody's has to be.
"The first one I did, we had 50 people stuffed in the kitchen and they had no chairs, and I had no idea how we were going to do this," recalls Hoe. "But the people stayed and they stood, and we ended up doing two sets and, like, three encores, and I thought, 'This is one of the best experiences of my life.' They just wanted to be there, and it's just one of the best feelings."
House concerts can be arranged however you want, and almost whenever you want. It doesn't take a drum kit (probably not recommended in a small space anyway), and it just takes a small PA and a couple of musicians. So, if you know of any local talent you'd like to hear play, why not see if they want to come over?
J.P. Hoe is certainly game.
"I plan on doing as many as possible as soon as possible," he says. "These can fill your pockets so that you can take on a couple of shows that maybe aren't as profitable."
Julie's Top 10 House Rules
1. Have fun!
2. The host provides the place, the musician the entertainment and the audience the food.
3. Pick a musician whose stuff you love -- enthusiasm sells.
4. Do not use your karaoke skills to kick off the evening when you have the mike to introduce the band.
5. Do a trial run of where the audience chairs are going to go so you know how many you can comfortably accommodate.
6. Try for a minimum audience size of 25.
7. Have people prepay in advance to reserve/confirm their spot.
8. Plan the details of the evening with the musician in advance: how the payment will work; who is responsible for the sound; length of performance (usually two sets of 45 minutes each with a half-hour break in between).
9. All proceeds go to the musician.
10. Have more fun!