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This article was published 17/1/2019 (399 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As arena and stadium tours become more of a spectacle, a quieter, more intimate live-music experience is growing in popularity: house concerts.
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A house concert is exactly that — a musical performance in a home rather than a more traditional venue. It’s a more relaxed setting with guests allowed to bring their own food and drinks, and rather than having a set ticket price, most house concerts run on donations, all of which go to the musicians.
One of the more formal house concert organizations is the Winnipeg-based Home Routes/Chemin Chez Nous, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2007 that creates performance opportunities for both English and francophone artists in rural and remote communities across Canada. There are 11 different circuits, each of which take musicians to a dozen locations over 14 days. Each of those stops on those routes is hosted by a local; the musicians perform the show, and whomever hosts it gives the them a place to sleep and feeds them, helping to minimize the costs of touring.
"The best thing about house concerts, from both the artist and the audience perspective, is the intimacy. If you are in the back row, you're no more than 15-20 feet from the artist. Everyone is in so close, and you hear the instruments in the way the we’re designed to be heard, acoustically," says Leonard Podolak, executive producer for Home Routes.
"Hosts love it because they bring together community and get to host national and international artists, and audiences love it because Bubba from security isn’t staring you down from behind a fence and you get a really special experience."
In Winnipeg, the house concert scene has slowly, but steadily, been growing during the past few years, with some hosts joining on as part of Home Routes, while others are booking bands and running things independently.
The reasons these hosts got started in house concerts vary, but the reasons why they continue to host them are the same; as Podolak says, the intimacy of this format makes for a live-music experience like no other, the community of attendees and performers are some of the most dedicated music lovers around (aside from one or two odd experiences, none of the hosts has had any issue with strangers in their homes), and the snacks are usually excellent.
Here’s a look at five popular house concert venues in Winnipeg and the folks that run them.
If a red children’s chalkboard sign is on the lawn at 1025 Grosvenor Ave., there’s a good chance the StuDome is hosting a house concert. Owner of the Dome, Stu Reid, is often considered the godfather of house concerts in Winnipeg, having hosted them for more than 15 years, first at his Jessie Avenue home and now three blocks north at the current StuDome.
A lifetime music fan, Reid hosted his first concert in 2002 and typically books a half-dozen shows a year, though 2018 was an exception with 11 shows on the calendar. Reid has hosted notable names and newbies alike, both local and from around the world, including the likes of Raul Malo of the Mavericks (but just for one song), Chuck Prophet, Welsh folk singer Martin Joseph and local heroes John K. Samson and Christine Fellows, whose signatures, along with every other StuDome performer, cover the face of a stringless acoustic guitar he displays in his home.
"Gosh there’s so much to love (about house concerts). My stock line is if you had told me when I was 16 years old that my favourite artists would be playing in my living room, my head would have exploded. And that’s what’s happening. It’s amazing," says Reid.
"I’m super picky about who I have here... I can fill this place pretty easy and so if I’m going to go to the trouble to do that, I’m going to make it special for me and have somebody I really care about here. And that carries through to the fact that if something is going on here, you know it’s going on because I really care about it. And I think that helps bring people out, too."
Concerts at the StuDome take over almost the entirety of the main floor of Reid’s home, with the music happening in the larger living room with the famously large selection of snacks spilling over into a smaller side room (StuDome shows are also optional potlucks, and attendees often bring food to share). People sit on the stairs, on chairs or the stand in the kitchen; everyone who attends is respectful and polite, but perhaps a little too polite for Reid’s liking.
"I joke around saying I’m going to institute a policy that you have to break something while you’re here, just to get the edge off because a lot of times I think, ’Oh this is going to get a huge response!’ And everyone just claps politely," he says with a laugh.
And one other thing to know if you plan to attend a show at The StuDome?
"Keep your shoes on when you come, we don’t mind!"
Lots of folks in the music community know Jeff Robson for his weekly radio show, Tell the Band to Go Home, which airs on UMFM Sunday afternoons, but he is also the man behind the Sunset Saloon, a popular house concert venue in Westwood.
The Saloon has been active since 2009, when Robson and his wife bought their current home.
"I had been wanting to do it for a while, I had friends who did shows and it appealed to me, so when we were looking at houses that was one of my priorities. My wife was interested in schools and I’m like, ‘Where can I have a house concert?’" says Robson.
The Sunset Saloon hosts around four shows a year and, rather than purchasing formal tickets, attendees are asked to give a cash donation by way of a fishbowl in the kitchen, all of which goes to the artist
The Sunset Saloon hosts around four shows a year and, rather than purchasing formal tickets, attendees are asked to give a cash donation by way of a fishbowl in the kitchen, all of which goes to the artist performing. Robson has hosted plenty of well-known acts, including Dave Bidini, the lead singer of the Rheostatics, but initially started the Saloon to offer smaller artists a gig in a more manageable space, while at the same time introducing music fans to new artists they will likely fall in love with.
"I love that connection when people find new music that they love, and I love to share music that I’m passionate about, and this gives me a great opportunity to do that," says Robson.
Location: River Heights
In a house on Wellington Crescent that backs onto the Assiniboine River lives Schottland, a house concert venue run by friends Philipp Schott and Al Shankie.
The space is warm and inviting, with deep red walls, delicately paned windows and the rich wood work often present in old River Heights homes. At capacity, 30 people can be seated in the small space; it’s snug, but that’s how Schott and Shankie like it.
"The intimacy, being up close with the music. It’s music the way its meant to be heard. Before the recording age, this is how people listened to music, in people’s living rooms or tents or wherever else," says Schott, describing why he has developed such a fondness for house concerts.
"The shows are warm, personal and interactive. The band/audience dynamic is different than a concert hall, club or bar. We’re practically in each other’s laps so picking an act with a suitable personality and presence is the key," adds Shankie.
Schott and Shankie met more than a decade ago when their young children were in school together, but it wasn’t until Schott attended a show at the StuDome a few years ago that they thought about venturing into the world of house concerts together.
Shankie, who had a basement band at the time, did the first gig at Schottland in January 2017, and they’ve hosted five more since then with performances from Winnipeg-based acts such as Sweet Alibi and Casati. Their seventh concert is on Saturday night, with local duo the New Customs, and it’s sold out.
Schottland has a mandate of highlighting local talent, and tends to lean toward more folk, roots and alt-country styles because of the acoustic-friendly setting
Schottland has a mandate of highlighting local talent, and tends to lean toward more folk, roots and alt-country styles because of the acoustic-friendly setting, though they like to say they are stylistically agnostic. Like most other venues, they ask for an RSVP in advance and payment at the door, all of which goes to the performers. Though the two weeks before every show are filled with anxiety, wondering if everyone who said they would come will actually show up, they haven’t had a problem filling seats so far, and Shankie and Schott credit that not just to the talent, but the format as well.
"It’s a cliché but it’s a win-win because there’s a hunger for this out there, too, from the audience; most people, you see their eyes or talk to them after their first house concert and they’ve had an absolute epiphany that, ‘Oh, music can be like this!’ So personal and direct," says Schott.
"It’s the natural swing of the pendulum given how digital everything is and this virtual engagement we have now with people, there’s a hunger for the more direct, immediate, even artisanal, if you will, and this really fulfils that. It’s kind of the farmer’s market of music, in a way."
T & A Garage in Westwood may have a name that sounds a bit untoward, but in actuality, it’s a lovely house concert venue run by husband-and-wife duo Terry Friesen and Marianne (Annie) Siemens.
Annie’s family collection of Saskatchewan licence plates from 1929-1979 provide the backdrop to the performance space in the garage, which has been upgraded with a heated epoxy floor to make things more comfortable in the cooler months. In the summer, they open up the door into the backyard, throw some food on the barbecue, and have an even bigger party.
Unlike most other house concert venues, most of the shows at T&A Garage aren’t acoustic; they are plugged in and turned up.
Terry and Annie started hosting around two-and-a-half years ago when they purchased their home, realizing the garage was an ideal space for performances. Both of them are music lovers, often travelling to see their favourite artists, so it was a natural progression to begin hosting shows themselves.
T&A Garage hosted three shows in 2018, the most recent being a barn-burner featuring the Small Glories (the duo project of JD Edwards and Cara Luft), which brought in around 50 people, around 10 of whom Terry didn’t know.
"There were two ladies who were sisters, and one of them brought their parents. We started talking later, and they have family in the same small town in Saskatchewan that I grew up in, and we’re talking a town of 850 people. Their nephew was one of my high school science teachers, so you might think they’re strangers, but then you find out everyone in this town is connected in some way," Terry says with a laugh.
"Around the house concert scene there’s a real sense of community from the first time you walk in, so I’m very much at ease about having strangers in my house now knowing that they’re not going to be strangers very long."
For up to date information about concerts at T&A Garage, email TAGaragemusic@gmail.com to get on their email list.
Location: West Charleswood
For life-long friends Connie Kippen and Barb Reimer, music has had a healing effect.
The women grew up on neighbouring farms near Plum Coulee, but as time passed, families grew and careers took off, they saw less and less of each other, though they always kept in touch. When Reimer’s father died in 1997, she started attending more concerts and volunteering at the West End Cultural Centre, finding healing in her time spent surrounded by music. Then, five years ago, Reimer lost her husband. Three years later, Kippen lost her’s as well. And that’s where the house concert journey began.
"Barb, the good friend that she is, started introducing me to the music world. My first house concert I went to was mid-January 2017 and we saw the May Hemmingways, and from there, to make sure that I go out and enjoy the world instead of staying home, we started going to all these house concerts and other venues," says Kippen.
When Kippen moved into her new house a year ago, she realized she had the space to become a host herself. The ladies saw that Home Routes was looking for more venues, so they signed up
When Kippen moved into her new house a year ago, she realized she had the space to become a host herself. The ladies saw that Home Routes was looking for more venues, so they signed up.
As part of Home Routes, Cafe Connie is on the Agassiz Route, which includes 12 different stops in Manitoba. Home Routes vets the performers and doles out the performance dates (which works out to hosting about six shows a year). Reimer, a retired nurse, handles most of the admin — posting the shows on social media and emailing with potential attendees — while Kippen, a senior project manager, hosts the musicians in her home, gives them a place to play a show and sleep, and feeds them before she sends them on their way to the next stop.
"It’s like having family coming over. They’re very friendly and very appreciative that we’re helping them, they wake up in the morning and they’re all smiles, it’s just beautiful way to meet people... and if we’re helping them in any way to expand their success, I think that’s just great," says Kippen.
"Because there’s really nothing in it for us, we do it for the love of music," adds Reimer.
For up to date information about concerts at Cafe Connie, visit the Home Routes website at Homeroutes.ca.
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Updated on Friday, January 18, 2019 at 8:42 AM CST: Corrects typo
11:08 AM: Corrects address, date reference regarding StuDome.
3:20 PM: Marianne Siemens' name fixed.