articles and tips from Fran Snyder and concertsinyourhome.com
As often as I see people get inspired by attending a house concert, they usually start thinking about the reasons they couldn’t do it. The most common, is they think their house is too small, or their living room isn’t big enough. Larry Lyon found a way around that, and a way around a half-dozen more obstacles, to pull off a monthly concert series that is full of ingenuity. I don’t think there’s a single artist or house concert host who can’t pick up a tip or be inspired by this interview.
CIYH: How did Americana Unplugged come about?
For four years I had hosted a house concert series in the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas Firelight Theater. I then decided to sell that wonderful house (and say goodby to a pain-in-the-rear home owner association which had threatened me with lawsuits for years before I eventually prevailed at great, great financial cost to them, not me) and buy some retirement property in the Arbuckle Mountains near Davis, Oklahoma. Well, they used to be mountains several zillion years ago, the tallest one now is about 1,400 ft.
Although we officially live in the DFW area, we knew we would be spending quite a bit of time
in Davis on business and building our solar/wind powered, earthbermed, zero-energy home there. I wanted to put on a house concert series in Davis but our single bedroom apartment there was not condusive to hosting a house concert, so I had to be creative.
Now Davis is a great, Mayberry-ish town with one stop light, and is located on I-35 about 1 hour south of OKC and 2 hours north of DFW. Very convenient for an artist headed north-south on I-35 or east-west thru OKC or DFW.
I was fortunate that about the same time a local family was just putting the finishing touches on a late 1800’s building on the corner at the stoplight in downtown Davis in their efforts to convert it into a coffee shop and luxury inn, the La Ville Inn. I was also fortunate that the owner was a music enthusiast, and was receptive to my performing in his coffee shop occassionally.
After a few of my gigs, I asked if he would be interested in hosting a house concert type event in the sitting area of the Inn on Thursday nights, and he agreed. He also agreed to provide the artist with a free room since it was an off night, which was one reason I chose Thursdays. The other reason I chose Thursdays was because I know that is also an off night for artists and I could probably get higher caliber artists for less on a Thursday, especially if they we staying in a luxury inn and we fed them dinner and breakfeast. I’ll get to the feeding the artists later.
Another thing about Davis is that it had almost no music scene except for the free Saturday night bluegrass shows scattered about the area. Paying for live music was a novel concept, and the Americana-Folk-Acoustic genre was unheard of as probably 99% of the residents in this county had never before heard of any of the artists I have booked here. I knew that getting them to pay $10 would be stretch and getting a quality artist to play for less than $10 a person would be basically impossible.
I knew I needed an angle to help improve attendance and motivate the locals to pay $10 to get off their couches on a Thursday night to listen to artists they had never heard of playing music they did not know existed. Hmm, what to do, what to do?
So I sat and pondered and thought and strained my brain and just when it was about to boil over into hopelessness the siren down the street went off to let the volunteer firemen know they were needed at a fire (like I said, Davis is a small town). That’s when I remembered that my wife Jean had mentioned a few days before that she wanted us to get involved in helping the community, of which I wholeheartly agreed. Suddenly, a great cosmic light flicked on in my head; make each show a benefit for local causes like the volunteer firemen. Surely the locals would come out and support that.
The ambiance of the old beautifully renovated Villa Inn Hotel, along with the owner’s love and support for live music, add the great warm acoustics and intimacy of the room, and the attentiveness of the audience to the lyrics and the songs, provides a wonderfully, relaxed, up-close, and enchanting setting in which to perform an “unplugged” concert.
It’s certainly a songwriter’s dream gig!
Thanks Larry and Jean for your hard work producing this Songwriter’s series in Fort Davis!
But then I doubted the artists who were already playing for a low-end scale of $10 per person would want a portion of that $10 given away, after all, they have to make a living too. Hmm, what to do, what to do?
After pondering a few more days, the cosmic glow in my head was beginning to dim, when I read in the local newspaper, the Davis News, that donations were being accepted for the local animal rescue agency. Hmm, donations?
The cosmic light in my head grew brighter. What if I approach the local businesses and ask them to pledge a percentage of the door to a local cause up to a certain amount? Since we always charge $10 and consider a full house to be 50 people (but we have squeezed a few more on occasion), then for pledge purposes we would cap the door amount at $500. So if a business pledges 10%, or a $50 max, and we have only 25 people attend, then that business (sponsors) pledges 10% of $250, or $25 for that benefit for that show.
But how will I get this money collected, do I have to form a non-profit organization, and how can I avoid the locals wondering if I’m keeping a portion of the pledges for myself? Hmm, what to do, what to do?
The cosmic light begins glowing even brighter. What I would do is after the show I would give the designated benefit a list of the businesses and their corresponding pledge amount based upon attendance and the benefit could collect directly from the sponsors, avoiding all sorts of their regular red tape, and perhaps even some extra large red tape. The business sponsors could write off the checks as charitable contributions, and I would never touch the benefit’s money, so I’m cleaner than Steve McQueen. [ed. - Steve was not clean.]
Other businesses also contribute services; the local Mexican restaurant, Las Cascadas, pledged 5% and to provide dinner for the artist, the 77 Grill provides the artist breakfeast, the Davis News runs a 1/4 page ad per show, the La Ville Inn provides the venue and lodging, and on occasion the Sulphur Springs Inn has also provided lodging for acts with with more than one person. In addition to the tax write off, our sponsors get mentioned in all of our posters, web page, a hand out at the show, and a verbal mention before the second set.
Next thing you know, after Jed’s a millionaire, businessess are contacting me wanting to join up and become sponsors too, we even added one during our last show. Currently, we have about 150% in sponsorship, which means for every $10 collected at the door for the artist, $15 goes to the benefit. We even have a sponsor, The First National Bank of Davis, who agreed to pay a large portion of our $300 guarantee, so the minimum a benefit gets is $450, which is a lot of moolah in these parts.
Since our first benefit in October 2006, we have raised over $10,000 in pledges and contributions for local causes such as a local abuse shelter, the volunteer fire & police departments, the FFA, the high school band, and the local kids association. Also, several of our artists have performed free mini-concerts for the local Veteran’s hospital and retirement home.
CIYH: What’s been the key(s) to building and maintaining your audience?
The first thing to remember is attendance is going to vary. You may have a full house one show and only 1/4 attendance the next. You may have events occur beyond your control affect attendance. When we had Sisters Morales here for their first ever Oklahoma gig, we had a storm front blow in with a tornado warning and only 5 people dared to come out to the show, and we were all well aware during the show of where we needed to go if the tornado siren went off.
The second thing to remember is to always book quality artists that fit with your audience’s expectations and tastes. There are some acts I booked in Houston I would not book here.
A third, and probably most important, especially in these parts, is to build an audience’s trust in your artist selection. You can book 10 great shows in a row but if the 11th one is a bomb, that is the act people will talk about.
One last tip…it helps, even though artists hate it, to have your show on a regular basis on a set day. For example, we now host our shows on the first Thursday of the month.
CIYH: Please share one of your favorite moments from Americana Unplugged….
One of my favorites is when I have audience members tell me after the show that it was the best show yet… and it was the fifth or sixth time they had told me that.
The other is having hospitalized disabled Veterans smiling, laughing, singing and clapping along with the artists who have played for them. Americana Unplugged makes every effort to let them know how much we appreciate their sacrifices.
CIYH: If you have time, a little of your personal history would also be great…
I was a charter member of the Ecology Club and a member of ZPG in high school back in the ’60’s, a charter member and president of the Research Association in graduate school, built my first radio in the 7th grade, and built one that worked in the 8th. As far as occupations I’ve been a restaurant manager, a carpenter helper, a steel worker, a 220 ton yard crane operator, a 35 ton forklift operator, a railroad engineer, a computer technician, a professional photographer and videographer, a gigging musician, and for the past 16 or so years a self-employed licensed professional counselor providing vocational rehabilitation services.
If you go to to the Americana Unplugged web page you can view some of the photos I took as a freelancer for the Kerrville Folk Festival. I’m also a songwriter (Allen Damron recorded one of my songs), guitar and harmonica player, and still do a few paying gigs each year.
My wife, Jean, works with me and also contributes greatly to Americana Unplugged. I am truly blessed to have her in my life, she helps me keep a lid on my insanity which sometrimes runs rampant. We have 3 grown children and 4 grandchildren. We are hoping to finish our mountaintop zero-energy retirement home within a year or so (we’re doing a lot of the work ourselves) so we can host house concerts in our own home and get out of this one bedroom apartment when we’re in Davis.
So if you’re near Davis, Oklahoma on the first Thursday of the month, drop in for a really great time. You’ll be glad you did!!!
Banners anyone? (click to see a selection)
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Do you have a grand piano in your home? Does it bother you how often it is unused? Or do you simply wish you could hear someone do it justice? What if you could have a major label talent do a concert in your home for you and your friends?
Born in Winston Salem, North Carolina, in June of 1954, Wayne acquired his love for music at a early age. At the age of five, Wayne moved to Reading, Pennsylvania. Inspired by his kindergarten teacher, Wayne began playing the piano at age six and studied piano into his high school years. He then began studying guitar. With the onset of cool keyboard bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, and Genesis, Wayne decided to return to the keyboards.
Over the past 15 years, Wayne has released 10 albums of original compositions on the Narada Label and 4 albums of cover music on the Enso label. Wayne also contributed to some of the most memorable compositions on Narada’s best selling collections, The Wilderness Collection, A Childhood Remembered, Piano Solos, and two Christmas collection albums, all of which are available at most retail music and book outlets. Wayne’s music can also be ordered directly from Narada Records www.narada.com or www.waynegratz.com or www.itunes.com
We are pleased to welcome Wayne Gratz to concertsinyourhome.com - contact him directly through the website, and explore this blog for tips on how to create a memorable concert event in your home. It’s not out of reach!