Leah Bokenkamp and Mike Rozinsky had never attended a house concert when they hosted their first in 2015.
Seven years later, the Marblehead couple regularly opens their door at 23 Rowland St. – and their backyard – for musicians and fans like Homegrown House Concerts.
“We didn’t set out to start something, it was just that we liked it, our friends liked it,” Bokenkamp said, “and we thought ‘This is a fun thing to do and maybe we can go with it.'”
The couple says it all started with a Kickstarter campaign by Marblehead’s own Hayley Reardon, which included a “house concert” for donors at a certain level if the campaign goal was met.
“We had heard her, we liked her music and we liked her and Kickstarters were kind of new, new to us anyway. There was a level that included a house concert. We had never been to a house concert, we had been to a lot of other live music and it was a new concept for us. We thought that sounds fun, let’s give it a try. And we did and it’s grown ever since,” she said.
The couple said they were impressed that about 40 people showed up for the first concert.
What is a house concert?
House concerts are performances in private homes or venues such as backyards, gardens or even barns. House concerts are donation based.
The music tends to be low, softer without the volume of classic rock or thrash metal. Concertgoers usually bring lawn chairs, picnics, blankets, and something to wet their whistle. Hosts either spread the word by word of mouth, text or social media, their website or their Facebook pages. Some post notices in local coffee shops or music stores. Others, like Jeff Boudreau, who has hosted hundreds of house concerts in the Boston area and throughout Massachusetts, have carefully curated lists of customer contacts to send emails. Some may remove street addresses from notices all together, instead using a web address or phone number as a contact.
Boudreau, administrator of the New England House Concert Network that serves house concert promoters, patrons and artists, said house concerts, like “listening rooms,” are completely different from a night out on the town.
“House concerts are a unique experience, it’s not like going to a club,” Boudreau said.
“When you go to a house concert or the listening room, you’re there for the show… It’s not a dinner theater, you’re not there to have a loud and boisterous time – you’re there to listen. “If you can’t be quiet for an hour or two, don’t go,” he said.
“When the music is played, it’s a completely different environment, respectful of the artist, it’s face to face with the artist,” he said.
Homegrown House Concerts, for example, welcomes young people, although they are asked to be respectful.
“We’ve usually encouraged an adult-only audience, but we love to expose kids to good music… So if your kids will sit back and be a respectful audience member, feel free have them with you.”
The early days
After that initial show, Rozinsky said — in the early years — concerts often had friends on stage and friends in the audience.
“The first two years we were kind of low, a couple (of shows) a year. Then, we got a little more serious. We were interested in doing more of it, with more musicians we had ‘loved’ and with those we were discovering,” Rozinsky said.
During the first five years, before the pandemic, the Homegrown House Concerts effort grew to 5 to 10 shows a year, most outdoors in the backyard with room for about 80 comfortably seated with indoor performances of about 35. The audience usually numbers between 40 and 60, said Rozinsky. Before the pandemic, the couple’s children, Kai, 14, and Joanna, 12, often cooked meals, paying $1 a cookie or bag of popcorn.
A professional sound system makes a difference, Bokenkamp said, but indoor performance highlights are usually all-acoustic affairs, with minimal microphones.
The backyard performance space is becoming a favorite with musicians and fans, Rozinsky said.
“You know it sounds good, tucked away in the corner of the yard, surrounded by giant trees — it sounds really good to us, and I think artists are finding their experience, how they sound, really works for them.”
House concerts can be a staple of touring musicians, especially those starting out. Often, they’re looking to play smaller, more intimate shows on holiday dates that will lower tour costs, make some new fans, and maybe put some money in their pockets.
Networking and traveling to major music festivals like Falcon Ridge, Green Mountain Bluegrass and Arcadia Folk Fest are great ways to find and attract new acts, Bokenkamp and Rozinsky said. The hosts develop relationships with the artists, who often become close friends who hang out, have coffee in town or share meals.
“It also feels good to support the artist — that was a big part of why we started doing this, initially, with that Kickstarter for Hayley, and it’s continued. It’s not easy to make a living as a musician. It feels like a win-win, a win for them, they expand their audience and hopefully make money, we get to experience their music and the audience gets something to do that’s enjoyable,” Bokenkamp said.
History of house concerts
House concerts are not new, however they have enjoyed a resurgence in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Much of the resurgence of house concerts can be traced back to the folk revival that flourished in the 1960s and continues today.
Technically, “house” concerts probably date back to the era of European royalty, when kings and queens would have famous musicians from across the continent perform for a select few in their personal chambers. There is a school of thought that says this is how the genre “chamber music” was originally named.
But for the masses, for the majority, music could only be heard on the porch, around the parlor, the kitchen, or the fire.
House concerts, formal “endowment” ones, appeared in the 1930s in sections of Harlem, when apartments were rented out for blues shows and other entertainment.
American folk, country, and blues all have long and rich histories of artists performing in private homes and backyards.
Love for music
With 100 percent of donations going to the artists, Bokenkamp said they are grateful to help musicians and spread the joy of live music.
“We love music,” she said. “It goes back to that experience with Hayley – it was fun. We love the sense of community, of people coming together. A lot of people were our friends, but the audience has gone beyond our friends. It’s an interesting thing to create a space and an event that brings people together for a shared experience.”
In a town like Marblehead with its strong local music scene thanks in part to Me&Thee Music Cafe, Homegrown House Concerts have been embraced by the community and local music fans, Bokenkamp said.
“We have wonderful neighbors. It wasn’t a problem. We haven’t heard any complaints, quite the opposite in fact,” said Bokenkamp.
Of course, neighbors are notified in advance of future performances. And some, she said, even coordinate their own backyard parties to benefit from the music of Homegrown House Concerts. The couple said that because the audience size is small, there is plenty of street parking. The shows usually end by 9:30 p.m., Rozinsky said.
Live music fits so well in Marblehead, Bokenkamp said, because “we’re in a perfect position above a busy downtown.”
IF YOU GO
Concerts in the Inner House
Rain or shine
Friday, September 2
Doors at 7, music at 7:30pm
Show in the backyard
Saints & Liars
Friday, September 16
Doors at 7, music at 7:30pm
Show in the backyard