Carolyn Kelly cradles a glass of wine in one hand and pats her English bulldog Dudley with the other as she nestles barefoot into a bright red bean bag chair, reclining comfortably as singer-songwriter Charlie A’Court wails on an acoustic guitar.
The sound of A’Court’s powerful voice rolls through the warmly lit room where about 50 people are perched on bar stools, cuddling on couches and leaning on counter tops.
The audience bought tickets to the show, but this isn’t a bar, lounge or any other typical music venue. It’s Kelly’s home.
“It’s unlike anything you would experience in the downtown music scene,” said Kelly of watching a musician play inside her five-year-old house, tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac in the rural Halifax suburb of Hammond Plains.
“It feels very personal and it brings together all of our neighbours and friends. It’s just a really unique experience.”
House concerts are becoming more popular in Canada, with homeowners opening their front doors to friends, neighbours and strangers alike for an intimate listening experience that can’t quite be achieved in a bustling pub or theatre.
A’Court says it’s a way to fill in a tour schedule and visit communities outside of urban centres.
“It allows me to connect the dots between the bigger cities and it gets me across the country and in settings where people are wanting to get more out of it than just listening to music,” says the blues rocker just before taking a makeshift stage in front of a fireplace lit with candles.
“For me, I find it’s a phenomenal way to get across rural Canada and see the country in a whole different way.”
Tim Osmond of the Winnipeg-based Home Routes, a non-profit that sets up house concert circuits across the country, said his organization has grown exponentially since it started 10 years ago. Concerts are being held in homes from coast to coast, with many homeowners offering up hot meals and spare bedrooms to accommodate artists on the road, said Osmond.
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He said house concert attendees have a unique opportunity to connect with other music lovers.
“There’s a human connection that happens both between the performer and the audience and the audience and themselves. People get to meet each other as neighbours and see inside each other’s homes. They get to talk to the artists about their music in a meaningful way,” said Osmond.
“There’s now this culture of living room shows where it’s a very intimate atmosphere and it’s a whole different experience than going to see a show at a theatre or festival – because everybody is on top of each other.”
At the A’Court concert, Kelly leans across her grey shag rug in her open concept living room and kitchen to get a top-up of wine from her husband Kevin. People are tapping sock feet against the hardwood floor and dozens of shoes are piled at the front entrance.
Even from the back of the room, you can see all of A’Court’s subtleties – the veins that appear on his face when hitting high notes and the “Charlie” emblazoned on the back of his guitar strap.
Guests are getting accidentally locked in a nearby bathroom – there’s a trick to the door. A woman knocks three times, signalling she needs assistance.
“I’m locked in the bathroom,” A’Court belts into the microphone, swapping out a line from “Man Like Me,” prompting an eruption of laughter from the crowd.
It doesn’t get much more intimate than that.
“At a house concert, everyone knows each other, or the relationships overlap. With that, there’s a comfort level that comes with hanging out in a nice living room and having a conversation – with music peppered in between,” said A’Court.
It’s also usually lucrative for artists, who can sometimes make more than $800 per gig.
Osmond estimates his organization puts roughly $650,000 into the pockets of Canadian performers every year.
Vancouver-based musician Dan Mangan said house concerts can be invaluable for up-and-coming artists and bands who are building a fan base and international “friend webs.”
“It can lay the groundwork for some very loyal, long-term supporters. People remember that evening,” said Mangan, a two-time Juno Award winner whose label Madic Records has been doing house concert tours.
“If you play to 30 people in a club, it feels hard to connect with those people, whereas if you played to those same 30 people in a living room setting, that can be this beautiful, intimate evening of sharing stories and playing music.”