Email interview with Zak from Tumbleweed Wanderers, a folk/bluegrass/rock group from Oakland, California (see their site: http://tumbleweedwanderers.com/). I sent them questions after their show on November 2, 2011, at a house on Douglas street in Davis.
In regard to yesterday’s show, I am interested if you always have such a reaction from the audience? Is it different at regular shows? How would you describe the difference between playing at house shows versus playing in other types of venues?
We have played a number of house shows for very different audiences. The reaction is pretty much always different, but I would say the reaction of the audience at the show in Davis was fairly typical. With other types of shows (clubs, bars, cafes, etc.) the audience results also vary greatly. We’ve played for almost empty bars as well as packed houses. The audience reaction seems to be most importantly based on how full the venue is (house or otherwise), a crowded place will be the most likely to dance and get deeply involved with the music (20 people in a small room is better than 20 people in a large venue). House shows definitely have a more relaxed atmosphere, we don’t have to deal with sound checks, bookers etc. Though we often get some free alcohol at other venues, the alcohol (and other forms of intoxication) usually flows more freely at house shows, both for us and the audience. House shows are far more unpredictable, crazy things can happen there that would never happen at other venues.
One type of “show” we do most often is busking, and there are certainly similarities between busking and playing house shows. We play often outside of large venues as big shows end to catch the audience as they leave. These regularly turn into long performances for large, attentive and participating audiences (sometimes as long as a couple hours). Perhaps the biggest similarity is that the audience is there because they are enjoying the music, and they didn’t have to pay to do so
Do you often play house shows? Where did you played house shows so far? Can you talk about the differences between various local and regional house concert scenes (in the US)?
We play a mixture of clubs, bars, cafes, house shows, weddings and other private events, as well as a heavy dose of street performance. I’m not sure I could remember every house show we’ve played, but here’s what comes to mind: A birthday party in Santa Cruz at a student house, the one in Davis, an Anniversary party for a middle-aged couple in Santa Cruz, an afternoon backyard show in Oakland for 20-30 year olds, our keyboardist’s Dad’s birthday party in his backyard, and Elkfest, which was on a large property in Moss Landing with mostly 20’s, where people camped overnight. I don’t know how scenes vary between different areas, but there are certainly differences between shows for different age groups. The most intense shows are the college shows, and the most laid back are the ones we’ve played during the afternoon. I’ve heard that certain areas have very strong house show scenes, and that seems like it is mostly true in college towns. We haven’t played enough house shows to make generalizations about these scenes from experience.
Why do you think people organize house concerts?
I think the abundance of bands and musicians today certainly plays a part in the ability of people to have house shows. It is easy to find bands that are willing to play for little or no money, and live music can make a party awesome. Many small scale venues (the types that almost any band can play) are hardly better venues than a living room, with small or no sound system or stage, and hardly any pay. It is easy to get people out to a house show, whereas the payment and restrictive atmosphere can keep a lot of people away from clubs and bars. In short, they’re free, easy to get to, fun, and you can pretty much do anything you want at them.
As far as playing house shows, it depends on the type of show. We have played paid house parties as well as public, unpaid ones. We do it for free to reach a new audience and to have fun.
Why do you think they are important?
They are fun. They can create a music scene in places where one might not exist otherwise. They can provide a place for up and coming bands to reach an audience.
Can you describe some of your more memorable experiences with house concerts? Or describe some of more interesting houses that you played at?
We played a big house party in Santa Cruz where many of the dancers in the audience got naked and jumped into the pool. That was probably the most interesting thing to happen. We’ve played a number of house shows (without amplification) that have been shut down because of the noise.