Hillbilly Haiku Presents – James Talley

It’s the stuff dreams are made of and now its a growing phenomenon. The growing trend towards house concert performances seems to be a win/win situation. Artists and music lovers in an intimate setting where all that matters is the music.

Denise Williams of Hillbilly Haiku in Lebanon, Tennessee recently began opening her home and shares her personal experiences with TCB. She certainly will clarify from the onset that she’s no expert, but her insight is indicative of the passion and vision that is driving this revolutionary/evolutionary performance and listening alternative.

Denise will be hosting one of TCB’s favorite singer/songwriters, James Talley on November 10th 2007.Watch TCB for an interview coming up with James in the very near future but in the meantime, we present our conversation with Denise and her thoughts on the house concert phenomenon and the happenings at Hillbilly Haiku.

TCB: What is the philosophy/origin behind house concerts?

HH: If there is an official history of how house concerts have evolved, I’m not aware of it. There may well be, but to the best of my knowledge, it just evolved from people gathering at house parties to socialize and share music. It seems to me in more recent times, it is involving into a valid alternative for musicians who are not fond of the club scene where often patrons are not there for the music, or those that have tired of dealing with less than professional club owners, etc. My personal philosophy is that its the most fun a true music lover can imagine! Its a total win-win situation. The artist gets to play a room where everyone is attentive and appreciative. The audience gets to listen in an environment that puts the music first and to meet and speak with the musicians. The hosts get to share their favorite music with friends, and most importantly give back to the artists whose music so enriches our lives. In our case, we have two bedrooms and a bath we can offer to musicians wanting to stay with us and avoid lodging expenses. For those who take us up on it, that can mean real personal time and friendships established. And it is a legitimate way for the musicians to supplement their income. More than one has told me the pay is better than at many club dates they do.

TCB: How’d you get started?

HH: We developed an online friendship with Dana and Andy Jones of Cuervo Acres in Texas through a Billy Joe Shaver Yahoo group. They were hosting house concerts and introduced us to the concept. I was totally amazed at the level of talent they were telling me would come and play in their living room. Not just Trixie and Butch with their family spoon band from down the road, but actual professional recording artists. Imagine! We eventually made our way to Cuervo Acres to meet the Jones’s and take in our first house concert. One other Shaver-friend couple, Jay and Tammy from Ohio were there for their first house concert also. It was two Canadian musicians, Romi Mayes and Dan Walsh. At some point during the evening I looked over at Jay and he had the same incredulous look on his face, and we pretty much knew we were gonna have to get in on this fun too. Jay and Tammy started Honky Tonk House Concerts outside of Cleveland in June of 2006. It took us another year to gather the required courage but we hosted our first in June of 2007.

TCB: Are house concert venues supportive of each other? Is there an organized network?

HH: My experience with house concert venues is limited to my friends so supportive is a given, but I have not heard anything to the contrary. We are meeting Jay and Tammy to check out Pine Ridge House Concerts in Clinton, TN this weekend, to further our knowledge, network with other presenters, and most importantly to enjoy Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack! There are some online networks, a Yahoo group called HouseConcert for the discussion of hosting and one called HouseConcertAnnounce for the purpose of advertising upcoming shows. The most organized website I’ve found is concertsinyourhome.com where hosts and artists alike can join and be listed and network. Northeastfolk.org is another website I’m aware of that serves as a forum for discussion and news. I’m sure there are others that I’m not aware of.

TCB: Explain me ‘why’ people might prefer house concerts to regular venues?

HH: Several reasons, first being the emphasis is on the music. We have fun, but first and foremost its about listening. One of our house rules is ‘if you’re talkin’, you’re walkin’. I know I’m not the only one who has had an evening of live music ruined because some inconsiderate and quite probably inebriated half-wit nearby insisted on talking loudly throughout the entire show. That won’t happen at a house concert. Secondly, the intimate atmosphere of a house concert means you can meet and talk to the artist. And they tend to share stories during their performances also, so you get to see some of the person behind the musician. If smoky bars bother you, the non-smoking house concert is a great alternative. It is generally an earlier evening than if you went to see live music in a club. And there’s just a kind of magic that happens when a group of music lovers gather and get transported by some great music. It is a sharing that reinforces friendships and raises spirits. If you are our kind of music fanatic, and we get you to come once, we know you’ll be back for more.

TCB: If someone else wanted to start their own house concert series what advise would you give them?

HH: If music is as important a factor to their quality of life as it is to ours, I’d highly encourage them. If you eat, sleep, and breath music, if you wear your friends out dragging them to live music shows, if you’ve got enough space in your home, if you are prepared to be totally addicted to the fun of live music in your home, go for it! If you think it might be a fun way to make some extra cash, this is not for you. I’m told some presenters do keep a portion of proceeds to cover their various expenses, but no one I know does this. We all spend our money in order to have this experience in our lives. But we do it with joy, the way you’d spend money on any hobby you choose. And it involves work and disrupts your household to some extent. You have to provide chairs for your audience, and move furniture sufficiently to do so. You have to have room for folks to park. Some artists require sound systems, though a fairly simple PA is usually sufficient. We are very fortunate to have a friend with some good sound equipment and the skill to man it for us. But we load and unload and set and tear down all that equipment each time also. We have a small stage, although its not required. Lighting needs some consideration, its been our toughest challenge but we’re installing some track lighting. You are opening your home to strangers unless you have a large enough group of friends and family to fill out every show. Although strangers is a relative term. Folks who love our kind of music are not strangers for long, more often just friends we haven’t met yet. If you have pets, their routines are somewhat disrupted. So there is a price that goes along with this avocation, and you should be prepared to pay it before you jump on the train.

TCB: You’ve had some memorable shows in the past year. Can you share some of your favorite memories with us?

HH: Gove Scrivenor was our first, he held our hand and was very gracious with our beginner’s shortfalls. Our lighting was especially lacking for that first one. It was, shall we say, an intimate mood…ha! But Gove is a wonderfully entertaining soul and first rate musician so everyone was wowed and we got off to a great start. Our second show was Steve Young with two opening acts, his son Jubal Lee and Doug Lang from Vancouver, BC. Steve Young is a perfect example of the level of artist I was just floored would play a house concert. But he was so warm and friendly and gave a performance that was beyond my greatest expectations. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Jubal Lee is following in some mighty big footsteps, but he’s up to it. He shared many songs from his latest CD and had the crowd loving it. Doug Lang, an online find that turned into a dear friend, was in the States for the annual Mickey Newbury Gathering in TX and agreed to come to TN and open for the Youngs. Doug is one of a limited number of songwriters who has material worthy of opening for a writer like Steve Young. Steve’s complimentary comments on Doug’s songs testified to that. Then Bob Sima and Rob Thorworth from Maryland rocked our stage in August. Bob was another online discovery, and came to us fresh off an Emerging Artist Showcase at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in New York. Bob’s songs along with Rob’s support and their fun rapport made for another memorable evening of music and fun. September brought Joey Allcorn’s Honky Tonk History Tour. We explored his extensive knowledge of Hank Williams and other early Honkytonkers, not to mention his own authentic songs in this vein. October we hosted our first female artists with Tanya Savory and Cindy Finkle doing a guitar-pull format where they took turns and supported each other’s songs. The highlights for me on this evening included Tanya’s excellent songwriting and Cindy’s picking and humor. Both sing like birds and have been friends for some years, so their chemistry was fun and warm. We have enjoyed every artist we’ve been fortunate to host.

TCB: Who have you got lined up?

HH: Our next concert will be James Talley. I’m rather embarrassed to admit I hadn’t been aware of James before his booking agent approached us. It only took one listen to know I wanted this artist’s music in my life. James is another like Steve Young with a substantial catalog of wonderful songs that deserve an audience. Their CDs aren’t widely available in the most mainstream of music outlets, their music is rarely heard on commercial radio, they aren’t touring extensively. To get to experience James’s music in our home is such an honor. We plan on taking December off because folks are busy with family activities during the holidays making it more difficult than ever to gather an adequate number of attendees. But we’re looking forward to 2008 with much excitement, hoping for a January date with Krista Detor. February will bring an opportunity to host Kim Beggs, down from the Yukon to attend Folk Alliance. Malcolm Holcombe is confirmed for March. We are talking with another Canadian artist, David Celia, about April. So you can see why we look to the New Year with anticipation. And I still have a wish list as long as my arm. Some of the names we’ll be hoping to bring to our stage include David Olney, Greg Trooper, Justin Townes Earle, Tommy Womack, Peter Case, Diana Jones, Heather Waters, and on and on. Just today I heard a new-to-me female singer songwriter that blew me away, Valorie Miller.

TCB: How do people get set up to attend a concert that interests them?

HH: We do require reservations so we know how many to expect and can prepare accordingly with adequate chairs and refreshments. We provide sodas, water, coffee, and ask folks to b.y.o.b. and bring a simple dish or snack to share. It becomes a potluck of goodies that further lends to the social atmosphere of the evening. We have been using evites as a way for attendees to RSVP and it works quite well. We can also be reached by email at hillbillyhaiku@gmail.com or messaged through our myspace: www.myspace.com/hillbillyhaiku.

TCB: How much do you charge? How much goes to the artist?

HH: We generally have asked for a donation of $15 per person. It is not set in stone and we take the artist’s opinion into consideration on this also. We don’t want to charge too much and discourage anyone from coming, or from purchasing the artist’s CDs. And with gas prices as they are, folks are already spending some of their entertainment budget on driving out to our home which is roughly 20 minutes East of the Nashville airport.

TCB: How do you select the artists that perform at HH?

HH: Many of them select me! They find my myspace page or my listing on concertsinyourhome.com. I also have the advantage of having friends who’ve been hosting for awhile, so I draw on their knowledge and connections. And music is what I get out of bed for most mornings so I’m always listening, reading, surfing, going to hear live music. The artists I choose to host are simply the ones I enjoy the most, particularly the ones who I feel deserve a wider audience. And I receive an extra measure of personal satisfaction if our artists have material that speaks to social issues, as well as matters of the heart. I wish to support those that my friend Doug Lang would describe as Artists of Conscience.

TCB: Dream house concert would be?

HH: I have so many, but Tom Russell, Iris DeMent, and Willie P. Bennett are all near the top of my dream wishlist.

TCB: And lastly — if someone wanted to be in your living room to experience the magic of James Talley up close and personal how would they go about contacting you?

HH: Preferably by email at hillbilllyhaiku@gmail.com. Or by message at www.myspace.com/hillbillyhaiku. If they do not have email or computer access, then by phone at 615-500-8717.

One Response to “Hillbilly Haiku Presents – James Talley”

  1. A deluge of thanks, Laurie!

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