House concerts gaining traction in R.I.


How many times have you been to a local nightclub to hear one of your favorite singers, only to have her drowned out by some drunk Celtics fan yelling at the TV behind the bar?

It doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, how’d you like to get that singer into your living room for a private recital, surrounded by friends and family?

House concerts, which have come into vogue in recent years, are providing a welcome alternative for an increasing number of artists who seek an attentive, appreciative audience. At the same time, they give fans an opportunity to enjoy music in an intimate setting — with no distractions.

“If I could do mostly house concerts, I would,” said Allysen Callery, a singer-songwriter from Bristol.

At a nightclub or restaurant, she said, an audience “doesn’t necessarily know who’s even playing that night. They’re there to have a good time and they can be really loud.”

But a house concert is all about the music.

“There’s something about the intimacy of a house concert. No one’s talking loudly and they’re very reverent. People are really listening to you intently,” said Ms. Callery, adding that the home settings suit her music particularly well. “They’re especially good for artists on the quieter side, like myself. Generally, people are there to listen to music.”

She recalled a house concert she played in Newport last year. “There must have been 50 people in there and you could hear a pin drop,” she said.

Big nationally, but fairly new in R.I.

Billy Mitchell, a singer who handles performance bookings for the Rhode Island Songwriters Association (RISA), agreed that the hospitable setting a house concert offers is one of the biggest attractions for musicians.

“An audience of 15 to 20 people that’s hanging on your own music and enjoys it — there’s nothing better,” said Mr. Mitchell.

Although they haven’t quite taken off yet in Rhode Island, house concerts have become a big trend nationally, said Mr. Mitchell.

“It really started four or five years ago as a stopgap for touring musicians,” said Mr. Mitchell, who credits a Tampa, Fla. musician, Fran Snyder, for starting a clearinghouse for “mostly folkies” who wanted to play in friendlier surroundings.

“It’s primary intention is to get the music out, and to provide some sort of connection between smaller audiences and touring musicians,” he said, adding that many singer-songwriters prefer smaller settings anyway. “The reason that coffeehouses are so big for folkies is because of the intimacy and the real connection with the audience. That’s what’s driving a lot of these singer-songwriters.”

Not every performer is a good fit for a house concert, however.

“It takes a unique individual to pull off that kind of intimacy. You need to be a real A-level performer,” said Mr. Mitchell. “There are tens of thousands of people with an acoustic guitar, but few that can bring a room to life.”

Many homeowners or renters in Rhode Island don’t know how to go about hosting a house concert, which may explain why they’re still fairly new here, Mr. Mitchell said. “It hasn’t really gotten big traction yet,” he said. “Homeowners aren’t sure: ‘Is it legal, are there liability issues?’”

To answer any questions potential hosts may have, he and others started a website,, that explains the process. One question many people have is about charging a cover fee in a private residence.

House concerts, however, are intended to profit the artist and not the host. Hosts collect donations for musicians either at the door or by passing a hat.

“You can’t charge for it,” he said. “Once you charge for it, it becomes a money-making venture. You have to do it by donation and keep it low-key. You can’t open it up to the public; you have to keep it private.”

Some people may be leery of hosting a concert in their home because they don’t feel they have the space.

“You’ve be amazed by how many people you could pack into a 15-by-30 room,” said Mr. Mitchell, adding that hosts must use “common sense” not to overcrowd a room for safety’s sake.

Although potlucks are common at house concerts, hosts must take caution with their BYOB policy. “It’s like a party, but it’s not,” he said. “You have to be careful that people don’t get slammed at your house.”

In addition, they must remember the true purpose of the event. “The whole premise is that it’s a concert. It’s not a sing-along,” said Mr. Mitchell, adding that performers often sell their CDs and other merchandise at the shows.

No clapping, please

Although house concerts aren’t held in commercial establishments, they still have to abide by local noise ordinances — sometimes to the extreme, as Ms. Callery discovered during her tour of Germany last year. She was invited to play a concert in the city of Oberhausen in western Germany.

“It was in a private residence inside of a large house,” said Ms. Callery. “There was a noise ordinance. I guess you can’t have plugged-in house concerts.”

Not only that, she said, audience members weren’t even allowed to put their hands together.

“People would snap instead of clap,” she said.

Money is better

Becky Chace of Barrington is another singer-songwriter who’s sold on the concept. House concerts have two big advantages over more traditional gigs, she said.

“You know the people more. You’ve got 30, 40 people in the room and everyone is hanging out and talking with the artist and you really get to know the people you’re playing for. They’re much more focused events and they’re just cool,” she said, adding that she’s played at only one house concert that she didn’t enjoy. “I think anybody that does one is into music and that’s the thing that you get.”

There’s also an economic benefit to playing house concerts, Ms. Chace said.

“You make more money than what you make in a club because the kind of people who go to house concerts are happy to go, bring their own booze, bring a dish and pay 10, 15, 20 dollars. Whereas at a club, you get a flat rate, you get noise — all that,” she said.

House concerts are not to be confused with private parties, where a singer may be hired for a backyard barbecue and get splashed with pool water, she said.

“For that I charge much more than a house concert, because that’s what I do at a bar and you’re gonna pay me a flat rate. A house concert is a chance for me to share my music with people in a cool way,” said Ms. Chace, who does about 25 private parties and another five house parties annually in addition to her regular gigs.

Host’s perspective

Mike Cellemme hosted the Newport house concert that featured Ms. Callery and some other performers, and he deemed it an unqualified success.

“We wanted to provide a intimate chamber music environment where people could really focus on the music,” said Mr. Cellemme, adding that the concert had a “beatnik Hawaiian theme.”

“It was great — and no amplification whatsoever,” he said.

For more information about house concerts, in including information on how to host one, visit or

“Once people have their first successful house concert, they’re hooked,” said Mr. Mitchell.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.