House Show Rules: Or, Five Ways to Avoid Fucking Up A Good Thing

houseconcertAbout a decade ago I attended my first house show. It was in Grand Rapids, MI, somewhere just off of Eastern. The performers were Bunkbed Nights and Breathe Owl Breathe. It was so much better than most of the concerts I had seen in larger, less homey venues. People listened better. The performers were way more into it. People seemed unafraid to be their crazy selves. Now as a performer, I not only prefer attending house shows but also prefer playing at them. I have more fun. I make more friends. I get more money. House shows rule.

But these days pay attention to discussion boards and live conversations about house shows and you’ll realize they aren’t perfect. Hosts have their belongings stolen. Attendees find themselves in danger and without bouncers to protect them. Musicians have to fart into a bullhorn just to get attention from the audience. Simply put, house shows are in danger of becoming just as shitty as the more traditional venues that they are supposed to challenge.

That being said, here are five ways we can prevent the genuinely interesting, genuinely enjoyable, and genuinely necessary house show movement from devolving into a steaming, corn-filled, horrendously foul turd of a formerly good thing.

Here they are:

1) R-E-S-P-E-C-T
A proper house show is all about respect. Respect for the person putting it on and opening their home to strangers. Respect for the performers. Respect for the people you are sitting next to. Respect for the people in the houses next door. Respect for the community. That means you thank the person(s) putting it on and, if you can, offer to help clean up after it. That means you don’t yell into your cell phone while someone is performing. That means you don’t  talk so loud that the person sitting next to you can’t hear a goddamn thing. That means you warn your next door neighbors that there may be less parking but that they are warmly invited. That means you respect the space and the incredibly welcoming vibe that the architecture of a home opens up to to the people inside. The limited space of a house show becomes an invitation to respect your fellow humans. We must not take this for granted.

2) If ANYONE feels unsafe then it’s already being done wrong
House shows, and alternative venues in general, have often started because people became disillusioned with more traditional bar venues. If done right, you can hear the music much better at a house show. If done right, there are less drunk people yelling and acting as if they, not the music itself and the overall communal vibe, should be the centre of attention. And if done right, house show attendees feel safe to fully be themselves. Regardless of your race, sexual orientation, gender identity, size, age, hair, height, you feel not only welcomed at a house show but also  affirmed. You feel like you not only can be yourself, but that the people around you will defend you if somebody is a threat. Like listening to records in your bedroom or writing songs in your garage, house shows are a way for people to escape the shitty world around them and, for one evening, feel safe, not judged, not in danger. I daresay if ANY one person feels that a certain house show venue is not 100% safe then perhaps it’s time to close it.

3) Set limits
No one likes limits. No one likes rules. I hate them as much as the next person. But there are ways by which limitations can be set that will actually make a show better, and open up more freedom for the participants. If you host a house show, highlight on the Facebook invitations that no hate speech or any sort of harassment will be tolerated. If you’re hosting, try introducing each act and ask the attendees to not chat during the show, encouraging them to do so in between acts instead. If you’re a host and are worried about too many people showing up or aren’t quite ready to allow complete strangers into your home then consider a  creative “no more than X amount of people” approach (i.e. “Only 25 spots! Get ‘Em While They’re Hot!”). I hate to sound like a curmudgeon (I truly would never want to prevent anyone from hearing music) but sometimes setting limits can prevent bringing in the folks that will inevitably ruin it for the rest of us.

4) A House Show and a House Party Are Different. Keep them that way.
I’m all for house parties. I’m all for the 1990 comedy “House Party” featuring Kid n’ Play. We should have these in our community, often. Maybe there are even ways to bridge what I think is a needed divide between a “House Concert” and a “House Party.” Still, a house concert should be first and foremost about the music being performed and the “togetherness” of it all. House shows offer such a unique, rare chance for artists to communicate directly with their audience without the barriers of crowd noise, bad sound, bouncers, you name it. After the show then by all means go crazy, get drunk, get high, fool around, whatever. But during the show, make a quiet space for the artists(s) to nail it and connect with those listening. Of course some genres allow for a louder audience than others (punk vs. folk) but you know what I mean. If we can hear you more clearly than the performers then you are probably too loud.

5) Think BIG Picture
House concerts are collectively becoming a world-wide movement. This is a good and needed thing. We need to protect this movement, guide its evolution, encourage it, criticize it when needed, and MOST of all invite people into it, with open arms, big smiles, and bowls of chilli. But if we don’t have some intention behind it, some collective agreement to save it from destructive horse shit, and just an overall RESPECT for every person who helps put one on then the movement will simply not sustain itself. Cops will be called. People will stop attending if they don’t feel safe. House shows as a venue alternative will gain a bad reputation and hosts will as a result not dare host. All that hard work will be for naught. Our only choices will be shitty bars run by crooks, Conway Twitty cover gigs, loud venues where you can barely hear yourself piss in the never-cleaned urinals, much less the performers on stage.

Do something well and something better will proceed it.

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