Huge thanks to Piet Levy at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for the fabulous article bringing awareness to House Concerts and for featuring The Barn!
Published February 5, 2015
by Trudie Gauerke
As fans begin to arrive at the concert, parking alongside a corn field in the rural community of LaGrange, Wisconsin, they are greeted by a particularly friendly bouncer--a toddler named Jack, who is so excited by all the visitors that you'd think it's Christmas. On this particular Saturday night in October, Jack's house is having its grand opening as a "house concert" venue--or rather, the barn behind his house is. Folk music fans who made it onto the guest list will get an untraditional and intimate musical experience with the same artists sought after by commercial concert halls.
"By law, I have to know you," says Jack's mother, Rebekah, one of tonight's hosts. Larry, her husband, explains further: "We're a non-profit. We are not a business; this is a private residence. Most people don't have the facilities to do it--they just do it in their living rooms." Despite tonight being the debut, the hosts have already been hassled by the county after their "Live Music Coming Soon" sign worried local residents that Woodstock was springing up nearby.
However, concert-goers coming tonight will quickly learn that the rural setting is where any comparison to Woodstock begins and ends. As Jack's presence proves, this event is family friendly. Guests aged two to silver fox get to know one another as they haul lawn chairs, coolers, and pot luck dishes up the stone steps to the barn. Coworkers, couples, and college students have all come to see Bob Sima's acoustic show, traveling the hour from Milwaukee or from as far away as Baltimore. Entering the barn, many seem to know they're in for something special by the framed Rumi quote in the doorway that says, "We've fallen into the place where everything is music."
Inside, it's immediately clear how much work has gone into transforming the barn for the grand opening. White lights, guitars, and posters of artists such as Willy Porter hang from big exposed beams and on the refinished knotty pine walls. A bar was built at one end of the barn, and a stage at the other, complete with A/V equipment and a shiny repurposed corrugated steel barn door as a backdrop. The audience is bonding with one another over a full-to-bursting food table, sharing mulled wine and other BYOB treats.
"I've done a lot of house concerts. This is probably one of the coolest places right here," says Bob Sima. It's easy to see the appeal: Large copper buckets and an antique sewing machine have been converted into planters and shelving for dozens of fall flowers.
There's no bad seat at a house concert. Even from the last row, the fifth row, the audience can easily make eye contact with Sima from twenty feet away on stage. It's this very same feeling of connection that appeals to not just the audience, but to Sima as well. In fact, he sings a song about it. House concerts aren't new. They're part of a tradition that dates back to Mozart and a practice that gave chamber music its name. Contemporary artists who have done house concerts include Susan Enan, Pat DiNizio (of The Smithereens), and Rhett Miller (of Old 97's). These concerts may be on the rise though due to rising commercial ticket prices (a 14% increase in 2011, 40% from 2000-2008, according to the tour industry trade group Pollstar). In the barn, the simple donation box with 100% proceeds going to the artist is the only admission fee.
Sima grins as a fresh wave of cheers erupts when he sings a Patty Griffin cover. Many sing along. By the end of the night, Jack is curled up half-asleep in his father's lap and the applause is as loud for the hosts in gratitude for all their prep work as it is for the artist. Sima seems to agree, saying, "Larry and Rebekah are the folk angels of the world."