Email interview, conducted between November 4 and December 1, 2011, with a folk and bluegrass performer Evie Ladin, from Oakland, California (http://www.evieladin.com/), after her show with Keith Terry at Bill Wagman’s house in Davis.
I am assuming you mainly perform within folk scene?
When we perform under my name it is predominantly in the folk or bluegrass scenes. But when we perform with Keith it is often in the dance world, world music, jazz, children’s performances – we really perform in many many different scenes and venues as Keith and I come from different musical backgrounds.
Can you describe a difference in performing (or attending concerts) between regular venues and house concerts?
There is more intimacy between the audience and performers – a more fluid interaction, plus without a sound system to deal with, the music and experience is in many ways more pure.
How does a space (domestic versus public space, or architecture) influence the performance and interaction?
The audience may feel free to ask questions, or be more personal – but again, without microphones, I feel freer to move around and I know the sound is heard as it is intended, unmitigated by electronics. Often you share food with your hosts, or even stay in the home overnight, and it only extends the warmth of the experience. In a regular venue, no matter how much the audience appreciates you, there is much less personal interaction, and more separation that can leave one feeling lonely.
How would you describe the interaction between performers and audiences at house concerts (versus other venues, if applicable)?
People feel free to directly address performers, for better or worse.
What is in your opinion the importance of house concerts for folk music scene and wider?
House Concerts are fantastic in that not only do you get the benefits of building community and creating a real scene (which is missing in much of American culture), but both the comfort and the financial arrangement are much more appealing than playing clubs.
Does that mean you get more at house shows than at clubs? How big is a difference? What’s the difference in types of arrangements?
It really depends, except at house concerts usually the musicians get all the donations, or the hosts take a small cut to cover any costs – clubs have to take a much higher cut, plus they often charge less. People pay on avreage more for the ease and comfort, and the socialness of the scene.
What do you think are the reasons for organizing house concerts?
People want to bring their communities together around music – and in this culture there is a lot less connection around playing music together, and enjoying socially in a personal way, so this brings people and music much closer. People tend to have larger houses here, and room for such events – frankly I am impressed at how many people are willing to open their homes to strangers. For the audience it is often more comfortable, and often there is food involved, a pot luck or such, so people eat together, meet new people, etc in a safe and friendly environment.
When (and where) do you think this all started?
I have a feeling it started during the folk revival of the late 60s, early 70s – I remember going to house concerts as a kid – because there werent’ many folk venues to start, so people invited touring performers into their homes.
Do you remember some of your early experiences of house concerts?
Not specifically to where I can comment on them. Likely I was off playing in a back room
In how many states did you already perform (house concerts)? Which ones (with cities if it’s not too many)? What are some of the differences between these local and regional house concert scenes? Is it usually like it was at Bill Wagman’s house (in Davis), or are there any regional and individual differences between house concerts throughout USA?
I have performed in most of the 50 states, too many to list – as for regional differences, they are a lot just like the regional differences in other ways – southern California might be fancier, not quite as laid-back, but honestly it depends more on the people. I am pretty sensitive to understanding where I am and appealing to that particular crowd – the US is huge, and there are lots of regional differences in the population.
What about internationally?
Not so much internationally – people generally have smaller houses for one, and I think it’s not as commonly accepted to open your house to strangers.
Would you point out to some of more unique houses that you played at, or some memorable experiences?
We had a club double book us, and through the house concert circuit immediately found someone willing to put on a show when the club screwed up. Some people have beautiful spaces, and perhaps have built a stage in their living rooms just for this. We’ve had dogs participate in the concert, wandering around our legs during a show. We’ve had people who set up special lighting and curtains, and some who just move the couch aside.
What about through time? Are there any changes in that respect? (When did you start performing at house concerts and how is it different now?)
I’ve been performing for 20 years, but haven’t noticed a huge difference over time
What are in your opinion demographics of audience / performers within folk concert scene (age, ethnicity, education, income, gender …)?
Often middle aged folks, predominantly white, middle class. But this is the common audience for folk music these days. If anything has changed over time, the crowd has gotten older.
How does touring look like for you? Is it hard? Pleasant? How long are your tours? Can you describe them a bit? What percentage of venues on your tours are houses?
Tours can be brutal, but I usually plan them so they are not too taxing anymore – not too long drives, nice venues, decent schedule, not too many in a row, time with friends or family along the way. Tours are anywhere from a weekend to 2 months. I am pursuing more house concerts than ever as they’ve become more popular and organized and easier to find, and a fantastic alternative to other venues. Financially they can’t be beat. I’d say about 30% of venues are house concerts.
How do you book your shows? Do you have a manager? How does that work? Or how do you get contacts of house owners? Are there any useful Internet sites for that? Is there a fixed circuit of “folk” houses for touring musicians?
I have always done my own booking and find house concerts through word of mouth and a database I’ve kept up, meeting people at conferences, seeing where other musicians have played, and using websites or facebook. There’s a lot out there if you are looking.
What would you say in general about contemporary folk scene and its main values (in terms of social interaction, music industry, performance, lyrics, politics …).
Generally a friendly scene, liberal politics, though not always, very much a “people’s experience” – meaning it’s not regulated by any larger industry and that is a joy. As I said before, it’s much nicer to interact, to get to know people where you travel, and not just get on and off the bus and wave to people form afar. To me, the personal connection is part of the reason why I do this – both on and off the stage – you just never know who you might meet.