Los Altos resident Tami Mulcahy aims to change the way local residents listen to live music by bringing house concerts – a network of private homes in which owners host up-and-coming musicians and their fans – to the South Bay.
Mulcahy’s Meetup.com group, South Bay House Concerts, has grown to more than 270 members and hosted 77 events since its inception in early 2014. Members make up the bulk of the audience at local house shows in addition to providing the in-home stages for local musical talent.
“House concerts are how most musicians make a living now,” Mulcahy said.
In a performance-driven industry, artists need experience to break into the business. House concerts are a way for singers, songwriters and bands to hone their chops.
Concerts generally seat 30-50 people. Depending on the host, Mulcahy said, they are “BYOWhatever,” with guests bringing their own refreshments. When Mulcahy hosts, she builds in some social time so that guests and artists can get to know each other.
But every house concert is different, from the artist’s musical style to the size of the audience. Concerts reflect the interests of the host, so attendees may experience an array of classical, world, folk and Americana music in a large or small gathering.
House concerts have no formal admission price, just a donation bucket. At the end of the evening, musicians receive every dollar, sometimes taking in as much as $600.
Mulcahy described house concerts as “simple, accessible, intimate, personal, civilized.” Parking is easy, she said, and listeners do not have to contend with large crowds. They can simply enjoy the music in a safe place.
Mulcahy stressed the safe and welcoming environment that typifies house concerts. She speculated that factors like fear of the unknown and perceived inconvenience often keep people from attending such events. But, she added, newcomers are often pleasantly surprised at the high-quality entertainment they find.
Engaging with audiences
Concert attendee Betsy Mease went to her first house concert because “it sounded interesting.” She described sitting in a backyard during summer, taking in the music and meeting “some more musical types.”
Of Mulcahy’s most recent concert artist, San Francisco-based rocker Roem Baur, Mease said “he really got the audience engaged.”
Baur, who has played hundreds of house concerts since he started in 2004, lauds the functions as the “most intimate way of sharing music.”
House concerts, noted Baur, are “the bread and butter of getting started (as a musical artist),” and he credits his own musical start to the home performances.
Baur still plays plenty of house concerts, but he also appeared on season seven of NBC’s musical talent show “The Voice” and has toured extensively throughout America and Europe, playing more than 150 dates per year.
As an artist, Baur appreciates house concerts for pre-existing communities and the friendship networks they provide. In addition, he is free to play any house concert and may play back-to-back dates, a practice often prohibited by large-venue schedulers.
Like Mulcahy, Baur encourages interested yet shy parties to attend a house concert, despite the unfamiliar format.
“House concerts are not weird,” Baur said. “It’s no different than going to a cocktail party.”
But just opening doors to musicians and music lovers does not a house concert make. Mulcahy and her fellow hosts use Facebook, email lists, Nextdoor.com and their Meetup.com page to attract attendees.
Mulcahy still laments the dearth of good South Bay Area house-concert venues, describing the San Jose area as a “tough nut to crack.”
“(House concerts are) still the best kept secret in the Bay Area,” Baur said.
For more information, visit meetup.com/SouthBayHouse-Concerts.