articles and tips from Fran Snyder and concertsinyourhome.com
I am a performing songwriter. I write songs for self expression. My career allows me to create, and to communicate my thoughts and emotions with a lot of people in an intimate, exciting and fun way. I’ll perform just about anywhere people are willing to gather AND listen.
But I was given pause recently when I was invited to perform a concert in a Christian church. When it comes to religion, I don’t subscribe to a particular world view. I recognize man’s spiritual nature, and I’ve studied many religions, but despite all their useful teachings, I’ve never identified strongly with a singular book.
In a way, I identify with a line from Martin Landau’s character in the movie “Rounders.” In one scene, he explains to a student why he never became a Rabbi, despite family pressure and his extremely thorough and advanced knowledge of the Torah. He intimates softly, “I never saw God there.”
Most would agree that Christian churches are trying to bring people closer to God, and to secure their soul’s place in the afterlife. However, much like a Buddhist, I’m primarily concerned with my time here on earth. If I can lead my life in a way that enriches the world around me, I will peacefully and happily exit when my time comes.
(Christians gasp in collective horror at my impending doom.)
But this upcoming church gig led me to think about what I might have in common with the church’s philosophy. If I had to distill my mission statement to a few words, it would be to “entertain, educate, and inspire.” But I also had to ask myself, “Inspire what?” And I was made to think of what Christian churches do that inspires me.
One clear example comes to mind. Although churches have long been centers of aid to the poor and homeless, the events in New Orleans reminded me of the thousands of families who took in the newly homeless in dozens of cities like Dallas and Houston. Much of this southern generosity was inspired by church leaders, and people who’s faith in God instills a willingness to do good deeds.
So in my practical view,Â I believe the church is trying to inspire people to goodness - and that ethic is what resonates with me. After all, what is Jesus Christ if not an example of goodness?
So I gladly accepted the invitation to do a show as the opening act for Cosy Sheridan, at the Second Presbyterian Church of Little Rock.
When the time came, I packed my bags for Arkansas, and departed for a scheduled performance at the Acoustic Sounds Cafe - a twice-monthly concert series in the church’s great hall. They offered me a reasonable fee, as well as lodging at Camp Ferncliff - a quaint, Presbyterian-affiliated retreat in the woods just outside the city. It was a great place to recoup from the 7 hour drive, and to rest up for the next morning’s TV interview to promote the evening show.
The concert was fun, and I warmed up an appreciative, though slightly sedate crowd of 100 or so with songs that, you might say, “stretched the subject material” one might hear in a church auditorium. In the middle of “I Left the Seat Up,” I was compelled to mention I never thought I’d be playing this song in a church, which drew as much laughter as the song itself. In addition, my more “uplifting” material really connected, and I was busy after the set shaking hands and selling CDs.
It turns out that all around the country, Christian churches are embracing secular music as another means to bring their community together. I suppose they realize that you don’t have to invoke the name of Jesus Christ to have a positive effect on people. Secular artists can also inspire goodness, make an audience reflect, and put them back in touch with their often neglected, soulful side.
Unity and Unitarian Universalist churches have been doing this for years. But I find it encouraging to see more mainstream Christian churches are also seeing that artists like myself are not off topic at all. For a few hours a month, they allow their house of God to also be a House of Blues, where secular artists entertain, educate, and inspire people to do good - even if it only applies to this world. Fortunately, that still leaves them plenty of time to talk about the next.
Fran Snyder is an artist based in Lawrence, KS, and the founder of concertsinyourhome.com.
Back in the previous century, 1979 as a matter of fact, in the mythical land of New York City, a band of primarily local political activists, many of whom were songwriters and musicians, came up with a radical idea for the time - compete toe-to-toe with the commercial “establishment” that was successfully running a number of popular “folk” clubs. This would take place in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan… some of the priciest real estate on this or any other planet!
There were a number of regional organizations such as “Songs of Freedom and Struggle”, that held weekend gatherings in the country, for sharing musical and political expression; or supported such organizations as Clearwater and Greenpeace. But they were largely inter-connected by virtue of the fact that they shared a common bond of socially-conscious music and philosophy.
At this point, a number of us began searching out possible rental areas suitable for such an undertaking; and thought we’d struck the “mother lode” when a very prominent organization, with a reputation as the “lynch-pin of liberalism”, gave us a weekly space from which to promote our agenda. THE PEOPLES’ VOICE CAFE was born!
The very first night, after hearing some of the sentiments musically offered by our band of “revolutionaries”, we were deemed “too liberal” by this bastion of liberalism; and asked…or rather TOLD…to move elsewhere! After a couple of similar “adjustments to our accommodations”, we thought we’d finally found a “home.” To celebrate, we were able to secureÂ Peggy Seeger as our featured “performer du jour!”
We were in a “shared” space, since apparently everyone in Manhattan had keys to the place. We were so giddy, not just for “snagging a Seeger” for our first event, but also from the audience turnout, and because it had catapulted our rag-tag group into one of “honor.” Then, someone made off with our humble “sound system,” that we’d probably pieced-together for a few bucks and a lot of masking tape!
Naturally, we were devastated! Barely off the ground… and now back to square one! Within a few days, the caretaker for the church that had become our weekly “arena”, called to ask where we wanted the packages stored, that had just been anonymously shipped to our attention. When we went to see what he was referring to, since we had no funds with which to order ANYTHING, (especially since our devastating burglary,) we were speechless!
Person or persons unknown had purchased us a “State-of-the-Art”, for its time, sound system to replace our loss! It was some time later that we learned that our benefactor had been PEGGY SEEGER, who, to this day, 30 years later, denies any knowledge of the gift!
Thirty years ago, the landscape was filled with any number of excellent places for the singer/songwriter to learn and perfect their craft. Today, unfortunately, most of them are “history”… replaced by fast-turnover, fast-food outlets; but fortunately, today we have the renewed, revitalized “house concert” atmosphere, enabling the performer to be heard, appreciated and enjoyed virtually anywhere, rather than having to drive long distances to be able to compete with a noisy, inattentive bar crowd for attention.
This arrangement also allows the performer to offer their own CDs, DVDs, Videos, books, artwork… and any number of items directly to the audience members, without going through a middleman, thereby realizing more of an earned profit on a variety of independently-generated items. This also allows the audience members to physically interact with the performer, giving candid feedback almost simultaneously, permitting the performer to alter a particular lyric to mirror a region, or situation, in effect assuring that the content is as “current” as the individual concert dictates!
All performed through a non-existent or “humble sound system.”
I received 50 recommendations in the first 24 hours! You guys are terrific, and I know that everyone who uses the site will benefit from it. It will take a while to get them all in the database, but thank you… and keep them coming!
Here are some of my favorites so far…
Joe Crookston did an outstanding job.Â Really connected with the audience.Â Had them singing at lot (which is something - considering we were mostly Presbyterians).Â Several people nearly rolled out of their chairs laughing.
James Hurley has played for us several times to very enthusiastic audience response. Â
Great musician, for all ages, great humor. Â We’ve had folks ask us to bring him back time and again.
John Wort Hannam is so amazing that when we couldn’t fit him nto our regular schedule, we went out-of-pocket to give him to our friends as a Christmas present at our annual “thank you” party for our audience. JOhn’s great song about Halifax Pier 21 (Canada’s version of Ellis Island), where his parents immigrated, is just the beginning of the Canadian historical connection in his songs. Â
Based out for Fort McLeod, Alberta, he writes equally poignantly about the east and west coasts as well as his beloved prairies. Think comparisons to Ian Tyson, but a little less countrified (no cowboy hats here!) Â John calls his music “blue collar”, and definitely connects with the stories of working mena and women, from farms, to mines, to factories…. to the world’s oldest profession! Â Singing along is encouraged and made easy by great tags. My absolute favourite concert experience in a long list of wonderful evenings.
Jack Williams is an exceptional performer, mixing incredible guitar work, excellent original lyrics, and Â masterful narrative to weave a delightful, thought-provoking, and Â witty delivery that very few musicians can match. He never fails to draw a crowd of appreciative listeners. Highly recommended!
Joe Jencks - This guy is great! He is a trained singer with a powerful and wonderful voice, a great guitar player and a talented songwriter/storyteller.
Marc Gunn connects with his audience and is able to tailor the music - straight Celtic, or folk/filk, etc. to what folks want to hear. Â he is also highly personable and just a nice person!
Richard Gilewitz - A perfect house concert! Â The sets were just the right length, the music was beautiful and the stories were of so entertaining. Â I can’t wait to have him back again.
Stevie Coyle and Roy Schneider (2 separate shows) were simply awesome…great original music as well as warm, funny and personable. I’d welcome them both back any time.
Beth Wood put on an absolutely outstanding show. Her vocal range and incredible talent on the guitar wowed our audience. You will never go wrong booking Beth Wood for a House Concert.
We’ve booked Hans York again for October and have gone to see him play at other venues. Â
His guitar playing is outstanding, great songs, stories, humored high energy performer.
Any time Hans can play our venue, we welcome him!
Gove Scrivener was very personable with everyone. Â Blew everyone away with vocals, guitar and autoharp. Â The best possible show. Â I would do that again for sure.
Siobhan Quinn & Michael Bowers are a very talented duet. Siobhan has a beautiful voice and is a great performer. Very warm and talented pair.
and thanks for this one!
Fran Snyder really connected with our audience and put on a great show. PLUS, he helped us make our series even better with lots of hints and tips. What he does as an artist as well as a House Concert promoter is invaluable. Thanks for coming to Nebraska, Fran!
I did this pretty quickly, and didn’t include the author’s names. Those names do appear in the actual recommendations in artist profiles. What are you waiting for? Check out some artists!
Find out more or send in your recommendations (check qualifications).