Music : After Sunset

A crawl through the San Antonio club scene

Playing to the room

When I read on Sarah Sharp’s email list that she and two musician comrades (Dallas’s Kristy Kruger and Houston’s Glenna Bell) were looking for a San Antonio volunteer to host the final house concert of their “Texas Angels Tour,” I immediately stepped up. I love the opportunity to interact with other musicians, especially those I particularly enjoy. The idea of having live music right in my own living room was too good to pass up.

Brooke Palmer hosts a house concert with three singer-songwriters.

To plan for the event, I read a New York Times article by Neil Strauss about the growing American house-concert trend. In it, Strauss discusses hosting strategies. I’d like to add my own lessons learned, because I believe that San Antonio has the passion and grassroots mentality to begin its own run of house concerts, house art shows, house poetry readings, et cetera.

My advice: Host musicians that you personally admire. I think if I were hosting artists that I wasn’t familiar with or particularly fond of, I’d lack the inspiration to make the experience great. I’ve been a fan of Austin’s Sarah Sharp since I first heard her perform live on KSYM. I became a fan of Dallas artist Kristy Kruger when I saw her perform with Sharp at Sam’s Burger Joint. I was thrilled with the opportunity to expose the talents of these two kick-ass musicians at home (and as it turned out, Bell was amazing, too). I started sharing Sharp’s CD, saying, “Check this out, she’s going to be playing in my living room!”

Invite more people than you think you should. The musicians wanted a 30-member audience and a $10 suggested donation. After determining who could attend from my own circle of friends, I asked them to inform others who might be interested. I also invited some people from work (and Sharp invited a few of her San Antonio fans). All invitees were told to RSVP to reserve a spot since audience space was limited. I assumed that everyone who confirmed would come, so once my list of confirmations neared 40, I stopped inviting people. Disappointingly, many who said they were definitely coming did not show up, and the actual audience number was closer to 20. This was a good number for comfort and interaction, but fell significantly short of what the musicians had hoped for.

Choose your performance area wisely. “Setting the stage” is important, because it will set the tone for the entire experience. I chose my living room because it’s large, has open space and high ceilings, and has a segment (normally a tiny dining area) perfect for separating the musicians from the audience. I moved out all extraneous furniture for the night, pushed the sofa against the back wall, and lined up every chair I possessed into rows facing the performance area. When I ran out of chairs, I placed large pillows on the floor for anyone brave enough to sit in front. The room could squeeze in about 40 people; still, just right for acoustic guitars and vocals.

Once the evening began, I worked on creating ambience. I wanted an atmosphere of close comfort and sensual musicality, like a scene from an old Parisian café in an Anais Nin novel. I used one lamp with movable parts for “stage lighting,” and lined the performance area with candles. I also burned incense and played old, scratchy records while everyone settled in.

“The ambience was perfect, especially for my style of roots music that goes way back to the Carter Family,” said Bell. “The Bessie Smith tunes playing on a real record player made the experience complete.”

Food seemed to go well, too. Over a simple card table in the hallway, audience and musicians intermingled, becoming friends. In order to minimize the mess, we provided tidy foods, like hummus and pita, fresh fruit, and M&Ms. I also provided a few bottles of wine.

Pass out tequila shots at the start of the second set. This wasn’t something I’d planned, but after the musicians had taken turns performing songs to a respectful and quiet audience for an hour, it seemed the mood was ready for a change of pace, a little more interaction.

“My favorite story to tell about that night was that when we showed up everyone was so uncomfortable,” says Kruger. “We did our first set and took a break. Then the entire crowd did shots of tequila and the second set was like we were playing to a bunch of banditos. It was hilarious, like night and day.”

“Hands down one of the best concerts I’ve ever experienced,” said Paul Wadlington.

“It was great to be heard because the moment seemed right to open way up,” said Sarah. “People are rarely interested in a long story in a club setting. Usually people who come to house concerts are fans for life because they feel like they have a piece of you and a personal interest in seeing you become hugely successful.

“Y’all have a genuine cool factor that comes from being self-fulfilled, varied, good at finding genuine means of self-expression,” Sarah said of the SA scene. “I would be easily inspired with new song material if I got to hang more in your circle.”

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