When Whitney Luckett and her husband, Marc, moved into their Skyway home in 2000, Marc's sister, Erika Luckett, took one look at their huge main upstairs room and said something like, "Well, you could turn it into a bowling alley or host house concerts."
Erika, a world music singer-songwriter, spoke from experience in the international house concert scene. With these kinds of shows, newbies gain people's attention, and well-established artists can connect with their fans in a meaningful way.
But for house concerts to succeed, you need, well, houses.
Music lovers already, Whitney and Marc didn't need much convincing. Less than a year later, Erika christened the Lucketts' living room with the first Friends House Concert (FHC) performance.
Intimate concerts in people's houses are nothing new. In fact, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Paris, female patrons of art would invite avant-garde musicians into their homes to perform for groups of their friends. Pianists Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel both had their first performances in this type of venue.
Whitney, 46, moved to the Springs from the New York City area, where it was common to find 25 people crammed in one room, sitting on floor pillows, swaying to acoustic guitar. In her home here, she welcomes people coming to hear music ranging from folk to blues to Americana.
"House concert artists aren't mainstream," she says. "But if you're listening to evening programs on KRCC or coffee-shop programs on XM or Sirius, you're hearing the type of musicians FHC brings to Colorado Springs."
Burning down the house
This Sunday, Whitney and Marc welcome touring contemporary folk trio Girlyman.
Ty Greenstein, one of the three-part vocal blend, says Girlyman is "in the style of Indigo Girls meets the B-52s."
Greenstein should know; Girlyman had a long opening run with the Indigo Girls in 2004 and 2005.The Atlanta-based band also opened for Dar Williams for two months in 2005, and regularly sells out renowned venues such as Virginia's Barns at Wolf Trap and the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.
With this type of work coming its way, why does Girlyman still play house concerts?
"I don't know if this is a cliche," says the 34-year-old, "[but] with an acoustic group like us ... it's really nice to have an intimate show. A small room. Usually less than 100 people. ... Everybody is there to listen to music."
She adds that house concerts bring them opportunities to meet longtime fans, as well as be invited to places like Colorado Springs they've never been. In those places, they welcome the chance to increase their fan base, typically thanks to an excited and well-organized promoter.
"It's a huge leap of faith for an artist to take up an invitation for a house concert," Whitney says. "They deserve good outlets for their product."
And while Whitney says more outlets are popping up in the Springs, house concerts aren't always all hugs and kisses. The oft-remembered Everyday House, for instance, first attracted teens looking for free beer and a party downtown. It grew into a viable scene for those in their mid-teens to late twenties, but ultimately the owners were evicted in 2006.
Sometimes, neighbors take issue. About five years ago, a Springs resident reported another local concert venue to the police, who said the event was illegal and shut it down. However, the city disagreed, saying that paying a musician for entertainment in a private home was similar to hosting a Tupperware, Pampered Chef or wine club party that pays consultants for their product.
Unincorporated Boulder County just wrapped up a long house-concert struggle. Concerts were shut down in 2007, but reinstated by county commissioners this March with restrictions on size (no more than 99 people), gatherings per year at one location (12), and hours (over by 11 p.m.).
While house concerts are legal in the Springs, Whitney says in order to help control the situation, they don't openly advertise their address; they sell out most of their concerts beforehand, thanks primarily to simple marketing through the FHC Web site, e-newsletter and word-of-mouth exchanges.
You've got a friend
Now 55 parties in Whitney couldn't be happier. It is a passion for her, welcoming artists and building community. All types of people come to their home: mid-20s to mid-70s, retired military and "women who you'll find dancing barefoot in the park."
And then there's food. FHC asks that guests bring a favorite dish or beverage to share. Some guests go all out for what Marc calls the "moveable feast." In the past, they've shared freshly churned ice cream and homemade goat cheese (not necessarily together).
House concerts also support the larger community; Whitney says FHC does three to four fundraisers per year. Artists may offer to give donations from a performance directly to a local nonprofit, or they may participate in a secondary event a pre-concert dinner or second evening of music and give proceeds from that event to a charity of FHC's choice.
It's been FHC's growth that's allowed the Lucketts to give back in this way. The bottom line, Whitney says, is "if people didn't come, we wouldn't exist." And she says they'll keep doing the concerts as long as there's someone out there who tickles their fancy.
Who might that be?
"John Hiatt ... Bruce Cockburn ... and J.T."
She laughs, revealing her pipe dream. Who wouldn't love to have James Taylor in their living room?