Giving new meaning to ‘best seat in the house’

Smoky clubs, rundown bars and community rec centres have long been staple venues for performing musicians. Standing on the same beer-drenched patch of carpet hundreds of other concert-goers have stood on,

Smoky clubs, rundown bars and community rec centres have long been staple venues for performing musicians.

Standing on the same beer-drenched patch of carpet hundreds of other concert-goers have stood on, or inhaling the stale smell of cigarettes and sweat seems to be synonymous with live performances.

But these days there is another type of show that more and more artists are seeking out: the house show.

House shows really aren’t anything new at all—Mozart was well-known for the “parlour concerts” he gave to wealthy music patrons and here in the Yukon house shows have sporadically occurred over the last 10 years—but it has always been more of a private event with fewer strangers than close friends.

“It seems to be the punk world and folk world doing it predominately,” said Tim Osmond who manages Home Routes, a concert-promotion agency in Winnipeg that focuses exclusively on organizing house shows.

“It has a different atmosphere than a theatre, bar or festival. There’s hardly any barriers between the musician and the audience.”

Home Routes is in its third year of operation and, this fall, wants to add the Yukon as a new circuit to its touring map.

“So far we’ve been growing exponentially,” said Osmond.

“We’re kind of surprised, we didn’t think that we’d have 10 circuits by our third year.”

Currently Home Routes has touring circuits in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Southern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Next year they’re thinking of adding the East Coast to the roster in addition to the Yukon.

“It’s a great way to create music in different communities. It’s what the Yukon starves for,” said local musician and president of Music Yukon, Grant Simpson, who had the initial idea of bringing Home Routes to the Yukon.

Two years ago, Simpson went on a Home Routes tour through Saskatchewan backing local musician Kate Weekes.

“It really opened my eyes,” said Simpson.

“There are times I’ve played large venues and sold 20 CDs and Kate was selling 20 CDs at a small house show.”

Because people who go to these shows aren’t there to drink or talk loudly overtop of musicians, house shows end up being a much more supportive environment than most other venues.

“People who go to these shows are there to listen. I’m not used to being able to look off and see people I’m playing for in the eye,” said Simpson.

House shows also have the added benefit of giving exposure to artists who struggle to break into the touring circuit.

“Never before in our history has there been so much talent available, yet so much of that talent is ‘stuck,’” wrote Fran Snyder, founder of Concerts in Your Home, a house show promotion agency that has taken off in the United States.

“There are not enough venues where small successes are possible—places that are the necessary stepping stones for an artist building a regional or national fanbase.”

A Home Routes circuit has 12 concert stops, usually in small communities that wouldn’t otherwise get a performer passing through.

At each town along the way, a host provides the performer with a venue, dinner and place for the artist to sleep at night.

“It’s not that panic push that musicians are used to where they’re going 120 miles per hour leading up to a gig and they’re exhausted before they even get going,” said Simpson.

The appeal of the house concert for the performer is that he or she doesn’t have to put up with the usual hassle of booking shows and finding places to sleep and eat at night.

“All artists last year left with money in their pocket,” said Osmond.

“Their only expense is transportation and breakfast and usually the host even feeds them that.”

Each show may have 20 to 35 people in the audience each paying $20 at the door. Eighty-five per cent of the door sales go directly to the artist and the remaining 15 per cent goes to cover the costs of keeping Home Routes running.

And CD sales only add to what the artist makes.

“CD sales are good because you’re getting to really connect with people there,” said Weekes.

The hosts don’t receive any cash from putting on the shows; opening their homes to friends and strangers is entirely voluntary.

“People who host these shows are music-lovers,” said Osmond

To look for hosts in small towns he’s never visited, Osmond has been known to phone up the local librarian and ask who, in that community, might be interested in opening up their home to a musician.

“It’s definitely a challenge to find hosts sometimes,” he said.

“We’re not salesmen. Generally we get hosts by word of mouth.”

Hosts commit to taking in six different musicians over an eight-month period beginning in September and wrapping up in April.

Home Routes is looking to put on shows in Carcross, Atlin, Dawson City, Haines Junction, Teslin, Watson Lake, Whitehorse and Old Crow.

“We’re still looking for hosts in communities between Whitehorse and Dawson City as well as past Haines Junction,” said Simpson.

Confirmed artists for the Yukon tour so far are folk musician Bill Bourne, and Nathan Rogers, son of famed musician, Stan Rogers.

“Home Routes is a refreshing change,” said Simpson.

“I think it’s going to grow and hopefully catch on with people here, that would be great.”

People interested in hosting a Home Routes show or musicians wanting to hit the road with Home Routes should check out www.homeroutes.ca

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com