The audience is silent, and the lights are low. Everyone is still for a moment, and then the Jacksonville University Honors String Quartet breaks into an emotionally charged piece by composer David Stone. Just prior to the performance, viola player Mamie Lue Small explained that although the composer is British, this music has a very French Impressionistic feel to it, and that we should be able to “hear the river” in certain parts.
The venue’s mood is casual and intimate, but it also feels deeply inspired. Everyone is connected to the music, and the musicians seem to know that. After all, they are sitting only a few feet from the listeners, not on a stage, but in the home of the famously interesting Wayne Wood.
The quartet is followed by several other performances, including the University of North Florida String Trio, a piece titled First Coast Groove, and the famous Cole Porter song “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).” An elegant table is set up with hors d’oeuvres catered by Biscotti’s, and the evening is punctuated by wine, beer and rich desserts.
This cozy evening of music and conversation is one of many hosted at this Riverside home; each concert is very different, yet each offers communal synergy for both musician and audience.
Growing Community through Concerts
So far, Wood has held a dozen concerts in his home, which have raised more than $10,000 for various charities. He began hosting concerts a few years ago when a friend asked him to host world-renowned musical artist Morley. “The first time I ever heard the term ‘house concert’ was from my friend Jimmy Saal,” says Wood. Saal had an extensive network of friends that were musicians from his career in the music industry in New York City. After Saal and his wife, Felicia, moved to Jacksonville, they started inviting their musician friends down from New York to visit their Riverside home. They would hold small house concerts produced by Saal’s company, Atypical Arts. The audiences grew, and they began to run out of room at home, so Wood offered his house.
Each of Wood’s concerts is connected to a charity, either initiated by the artist or by a member of an organization interested in partnering for a concert. The chamber music house concert raised funds for Prelude Chamber Music, Inc., a group of professional symphony and chamber musicians who offer a summer music camp for youth and adults in Northeast Florida.
When asked about his favorite concert, Wood recalls a particularly romantic one: “The Flagship Romance was one of the best, because they were newly engaged, and their music exactly reflected their relationship. Their harmonies were so tight, it’s like they were born in the same skin. It was the very first house concert they had done. They were about to take off across the country doing house concerts, and they were so juiced!”
Though not technically a house concert, Wood’s lawn party and music festival held in May 2015 was extraordinary as far as private concerts go. About 350 people attended Wayne Woodstock, a day-long hippie-themed tribute to the original 1969 festival, complete with great bands, long hair, nudity and plenty of alcohol. In addition to the vast number of potluck dishes (Wood typically asks guests to bring a dish to share), there was no shortage of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a snack signifying the concert’s charity match: PB&J.
Creating the Vibe
Ody Anderson, owner of Fireside Sounds, is a promoter in Fernandina Beach who brings bands from across the country to play in private homes. He’s originally from Denver, and shortly after moving to the First Coast area, he began booking house concerts. “I received a call from a friend and well-respected San Francisco musician, Tim Bluhm, who fronts the band The Mother Hips,” says Anderson. “Tim wanted to come spend some time in Fernandina in early December, and asked if I could put together a house concert to help pay his travel expenses.”
Anderson charges admission for each concert, typically about $25 per person, and attendees bring their own beverages. It keeps the cost low so that “people are able to see quality music in an intimate setting” and the musician can still make a good wage.
In addition to paying the performers, the ticket sales also go toward a good cause. “All of my shows at this point have been attached to a local or personal charity. The ticket price goes to paying the artist a nice wage for their work, travel, some minor expenses and the rest goes to charities.”
There are several elements that go into making a house concert successful, says Anderson. It’s important that the band is not competing with the noise of the audience. “I usually keep my concerts to 50 people so that I can control the crowd, and generally they are a seated event where folks really get into the music.” Many people use the phrase “you could hear a pin drop,” when talking about the vibe at a house concert, and that’s exactly how Anderson likes it. If you’re planning a house concert of your own, he says, keeping it intimate and quiet is essential, but things like parking and seating are important too.
“My favorite concert was in a home in Fernandina where the musician was sitting in front of a large window overlooking the ocean, so as the audience watched the performance, they looked out at the ocean,” says Anderson. “The sound was good in that room, and the lighting was unbelievable.”
Singer-songwriter Billy Shaddox was the performer that night, and he remembers it as a magical experience: “It was the perfect gathering. Everyone was in tune with the music and locking eyes with me. I felt like we were really ‘touching.’”
A few years ago, Shaddox left his day job as a civil engineer to become a full-time touring musician. His home is in the mountains of Colorado, but he spends long periods on the road, playing mostly at bars and nightclubs. He finds a sense of rejuvenation in house concerts. “When I’m on the road, I need those intimate experiences. Six nights of noisy barrooms sort of defeats me. It doesn’t serve my soul the way that it does when you sit down in front of people who are engaged with you.” Each time he tours, he makes sure to schedule a few house concerts to keep his momentum going. His most recent one was the beach house in Fernandina, and, like Anderson, he feels that it was his best so far.
Shaddox and Anderson both agree that in order to have a successful house concert, the host must set it up for the audience to be receptive. “It’s not supposed to be like a big party or a social event. It’s for people who appreciate music,” says Anderson. “It’s a way for the audience to connect to the music and the musician.” Every concert he’s done so far has been sold out. “I try to do about eight high quality shows per year.” At the end of each show, there’s usually at least one guest who asks about becoming a host. “It’s a great way to show off your house, and it’s never a rowdy crowd,” says Anderson, who is always looking for new hosts. “The more people who come forward as house concert hosts, the more shows we can put on.”