Opening Letters

My First House Show

a newbie’s introduction to a unique type of music venue

Jessica Behrens, illustrated by Catlin Felix Kramka |

One weekend, my husband Nathan and I were looking for a reason to get us off the couch. Perusing an event calendar, something different caught our eyes - a house show on Gilbert Street, close to downtown Eau Claire. The idea of a house show seemed new and exciting to us. For those of you who don’t quite understand what qualifies as a “house show,” the basic idea is that it’s a music show that isn’t at a bar or venue, but a private happening in someone’s residence ... for the public.

“At the moment of truth, we almost chickened out, but something told me to throw all inhibitions to the wind and take a leap of faith. And, boy, am I glad we did.”

At first, we weren’t too sure of ourselves. I mean, really, is it OK to just show up at someone’s house? Shouldn’t we know someone who lives there? Or, at the very least, know someone who knows someone who lives there? So then if we show up and get an awkward “what-the-heck-are-you-doing-here” kind of look, we can say “Blanky McBlank told us to stop by.” But we figured we’d be bold, and a listing in a calendar of events that says “public” is invitation enough.

So, on a wing and a prayer, my daring husband and I decided to set out on an exciting quest for something new to do. We arrived and, much to our surprise, the house wasn’t a college duplex, but one of the many really cool old houses Eau Claire’s downtown is known for.

Now all we had to do was gather a little courage, and actually go in. I’m gonna be honest: this was far and away the hardest part. At the moment of truth, we almost chickened out, but something told me to throw all inhibitions to the wind and take a leap of faith. And, boy, am I glad we did.

We walked in and immediately met the members of Kalispell and Moro, the bands playing that evening. We took a seat on a comfy couch and chit-chatted, as they voiced surprise and delight that virtual strangers would take the dare and check out an evening of music in such an out-of-your-comfort-zone way.

I have since learned that this wasn’t the typical house show. Or, at least, the stereotypical one that comes to mind for this area. You know, the jam-packed filthy basement smelling of stale beer and sweat that plays host to a handful of really loud metal/punk bands. House shows around here have recently made a move to the root origins. That is to say, folk-type shows in someone’s living room instead of hard rock-type shows in someone’s basement. The band Farms, for instance, used to throw sleepover theme night shows that involved barbeques, nacho cheese, or piles of candy. While others like Wisconsin Built and Adelyn Rose have had low-key apartment shows and chill backyard gigs, respectively. 

In the case of this evening, a duo called Moro started things off. The best way I can describe them is one part music and another part performance art (wacky microphone mask and all). They created an experience, not just any ole’ song to listen to, that added up to a feeling of being inside a giant calliope at the circus. Then the three talented guys from Kalispell took the stage, and as they played their well-crafted tunes, I could feel these guys had a serious chance at success. 

Besides having the opportunity to meet these musicians, the friends who attended the show were likewise welcoming. A fact I was thankful for, seeing as how that would have otherwise made us stand out like sore thumbs. 

All in all, everyone had a great time and we were honored to be a part of such a unique and enriching experience. I love the idea of people opening up spaces to hold house shows – it’s just one more thing that helps build community here. I just hope the next step is connecting those house show experiences with the small venues in town, giving us the best of both performance worlds.

As one of the night’s performers, the wise Scott Kirkpatrick, said: “It’s great to know the people I already know and its great meet some new folks, and that’s cool because next time I come back they will become the folks I already know!”

Tips to Make the House Show Experience More Fruitful

1) Bring your own beverages/cooler, and keep it someplace safe

2) Bring a friend for courage

3) If you don’t have a known music scene name to drop, but feel you need one, say “Bill Hamilton.” Ninety percent of musicians in this town know him, and it’s a fact that everyone thinks he’s a cool dude.

4) Wear layers – it might be packed and warm or an old cold house 

5) Have a lawn chair in the trunk of your car in case of a backyard hangout or a living room with little available seating

6) Talk to people – even bands

7) Take it all in