Guest Post: How to Be a Home-Based Venue (we’re figuring it out)
First off, a confession:
McArthur Castle doesn’t have a moat, nor tower, nor anything you would expect of a conventional fortress. Its only aspect of such is that it stands high against a hill above a residential street (McArthur Drive in Kamloops, BC).
We didn’t put more thought than that into the name, because we didn’t expect much to come of listing our house as a potential venue with Side Door, a then new micro-gig booking company that my wife Brittany and I had only just heard of.
But we decided to give it a try anyways, being intrigued by the idea of a service that matches artists with hosts, facilitating intimate performances in all varieties of spaces. To us, this seemed what music was created for.
It’s what live art, at its purest, is about.
At its best it is a shared yet personal experience. The genuineness, spontaneity, and direct affiliation between artist and audience when separated by mere metres is a thing akin to magic. It’s what live art, at its purest, is about.
Not long after we signed up on a whim, we were clinking glasses with Tim Baker of Hey Rosetta!, toasting the success of a stirring solo recital he had just delivered in our living room.
A month after that, former CBC Searchlight winner Desirée Dawson stood in the same spot with fellow ukuleleist Jody Okabe, sharing harmonies and spreading smiling sentiments of positivity. Yet one more month found us seated cross-legged on our backyard deck, chatting late into the night with folk artists Logan & Nathan and Mary Matheson, whose unplugged sets contained every bit as much energy as any amplified act we have hosted.
The enthusiasm of the crowd
By then, we were hooked. The mixture of raw professional talent and personal connection at these concerts surpassed that of any largescale presentation we had known. In the year or so since, we have continued to open our doors to musicians and audience alike.
Without exception, the results have been remarkable.
Of course we are amateurs at this, and naturally there have been some challenges along the way. These have ranged from general concerns of how to best promote and prepare for a show, to specific snags like candle debacles during Laura Reznek/ursidae, or the time Rachel Beck/Adyn Townes and company were delayed en route and arrived just 20 minutes shy of showtime (though they still managed to set up on schedule and deliver a phenomenal performance!).
Such are the sorts of things we’ve gotten better at handling, several concerts in, with help along the way from Side Door and its supportive community of fellow hosts.
Garnering a reputation
The trickiest thing about being a fledgling home-based venue, however, has been garnering a reputation. We try to find an ideal balance between spreading word that we exist, while maintaining the allure of being a somewhat off-the-mainstream-radar secret.
Our name and logo are out there in the world, though our precise location and identity remain obscure to most who haven’t yet attended one of our events.
As such, we find that people can be somewhat leery about purchasing tickets in advance for something when they aren’t sure what that something is, exactly. They may recognize an artist’s name yet hesitate at the ambiguity associated with the designation “house concert.”
But consistently, the people who take that chance are amazed by the experience. It’s the enthusiasm of the crowd that most encourages us to keep on doing this. Group singalongs have become a regular occurrence in our home, along with laughter, applause, and other visceral reactions.
We’re no longer just a house in our community; we’re THAT house
“How did you get involved with this?” our guests often ask, as though it’s something difficult or exclusive, and our answer is always similar: Anyone can do this! Homeowners, tattoo parlours, the neighbourhood pizza joint—with Side Door, any space can be a music venue!
And we do have recurring visitors, because they know the high degree of quality to expect from a Side Door show with us. You’ll get to witness—up close—expert fiddle playing, guitar/banjo duets, storytelling, and all manner of other exhibitions. You’ll likely have a chance to interact one-on-one with some of the most talented established and up-and-coming entertainers all across the land. You will be thoroughly entertained. We might even feed you cupcakes.
Our reputation is finally getting somewhere. Now when we go out to promote our shows, it’s slowly becoming less typical to be met with “What’s McArthur Castle?” and more common to hear “Oh! You’re McArthur Castle!” We’re no longer just a house in our community; we’re THAT house—the one where the best, least known moments of live music sometimes happen. And it’s all thanks to Side Door.
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