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Home on the road: House concerts open doors for traveling musicians

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Dwight Diller plays a song titiled 'Yew Piney Mountain'on the Clawhammer banjo for an audience of 20 at the home of Cindy Harris in O'Hara. Holly Tonini
Dwight Diller plays 'Abe's Retreat,' a song he says is best played on the fiddle. Holly Tonini

Dwight Diller asked for no applause after he finished a song on his clawhammer banjo.

The West Virginia strummer told his audience of about 20 that it's easier for him to judge if they liked the song without clapping. The silence also made it easier for him to launch right into tales surrounding the history of Appalachia music.

“This is music that has been passed down through families,” explained Diller, 66, of Marlinton, W.Va. “It has its roots in Africa, it has roots in Europe.”

Diller's captive audience was not in a club or at any public event but inside the home of Cindy Harris in O'Hara.

House concerts have been performed for as long as anyone can remember, but they are on the rise as artists use the Internet to find venues and fans.

Fran Snyder, a traveling musician who lives in Tampa, started the website after he performed a house concert in 2006. The site lists more than 2,000 events per year, involving about 350 artists and 600 hosts around the world. Artists pay a membership fee to be listed.

“There wasn't a resource online about house concerts,” Snyder says. “I created the site as a resource and ended up creating a business model around it so it could pay for itself.”

To encourage hosts to have shows during the week, Concerts In Your Home started promoting “Dinner And Song,” where hosts can invite a smaller number of guests. Snyder says hosts are encouraged to offer the artist a place to spend the night and meals.

“Many hosts are empty-nesters who have the extra room and love to entertain,” Snyder says. “It's a great new hobby and a way to bring art back into their life.”

For artists, it's a great way to earn money and promote their work. Unlike at clubs, homeowners are not looking to make money, so an artist can survive with fewer people in the audience. Plus, merchandise sales — CDs, T-shirts — are typically better in a more-intimate setting, Snyder says.

Brad Yoder, 46, a musician from North Point Breeze, has hosted house concerts, as well as performed at them around the country.

He holds monthly potlucks at his home, where he hosts fellow musicians from out of town.

“I'll play a few (songs), a local friend will play, and then I'll have the touring musician play,” Yoder says. “Sometimes, depending on time and who is there, we might do a collaboration at the end.”

Money is collected by passing a jar around the room. Yoder says the artist suggests a donation amount.

“Nobody is policing the jar,” he says. “If the amount is decent, two-thirds of it will go to the traveling musician. If the take is small, they get it all.”

Harris, 55, who hosted Diller's Appalachian music concert in her home, used the Internet to invite friends, friends of friends and fellow house concert hosts. Concerts In Your Home lists several hosts in the Pittsburgh region.

Harris says she has hosted more than 50 house concerts in her home since 1998. Like other house concert hosts, she picks the type of music she likes, sticking with folk artists.

Her email list is large — with more than 500 people on it — so she asks for an RSVP. But everyone on the list has a different taste in music, she says, meaning they each attract a completely different audience.

“They are the very best at what they do,” Harris says of the artists she invites into said her home, “even if they aren't well-known outside the community.”

Holly Tonini is a writer with Point Park News Service. The Point Park News Service is sponsored by Point Park University, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Richard M. Scaife Journalism Foundation.

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