Women Making Music Possible
By: Peggy Ratusz
With so much happening, good and bad in the world outside, it can be challenging to believe that life is not a big competition. Businesses of all kinds are doing their best to stay afloat in these interesting and challenging times. Music venues, in particular, are reinventing the way they entice audiences. There are theme nights, discounted tickets, earlier starting times, and later starting times, all to attract a certain demographic.
As a musician, I know all too well the challenges that come with filling my calendar with play dates, versus my role as a music booker looking for artists to fill dates open on the venue’s calendar. Hanging out on both sides of the fence has allowed me a unique, dual perspective that I would not have had the opportunity to experience otherwise.
As I continue to hang out on both sides of said fence, my education revolves around what works and what doesn’t. As a music maker, the proverbial red tape and heartache that comes with soliciting gigs sometimes get me down. High profile gigs are few and far between for me, and I consider any high profile performance one where people sit and listen.
Expenses involved in getting gigs, i.e., phone bills, home office supplies, web hosting fees, car fuel and repairs, postage, photo shoots, gear, networking, and advertising are daunting. For venues, the overhead involved in equipment upkeep, advertising, promoting, employing staff, and stocking shelves to elicit patronage is also extremely daunting. The amount of energy and time it takes to do both successfully and continuously is challenging.
A relatively new opportunity for hardworking, independent musicians, a bonus if you will, is the House Concert. The premise is simple: regular folks who love live, original music and enjoy throwing parties in their homes, send out invitations to a select list of family and friends to partake in scrumptious food, spirits and a little night music. Invitees donate money to the musicians who entertain them.
Asheville has been fortunate to find a number of hosts for this not-for-profit, invitation-only party approach to offering live, original music. Here are four caring, organized, and enthusiastic women working separately and together (with nary a worry about competing with one another), who provide hard working independent musicians an additional avenue to pursue dreams, broaden fan bases, and fill touring schedules.
Nestled in a wooded North Asheville rural-feeling neighborhood, Blue Mountain House Concert Series, hosted by resident and child psychologist Julie Maccarin, provides a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the spacious bohemian-styled living room where the concerts take place. A wrap around deck and screened in porch provide additional seating when weather permits. Capitalizing on the beauty of this backdrop, her house concerts begin just as the sun sets over the mountains. The acoustics are so perfect that most of the performers play without amplification. She organizes these parties for 50 friends and friends’ of friends. They start off with a potluck supper for guests to mingle and meet the performers. The donations made to the musicians and the money they make through sales of their CDs is enough to get them to the next leg of their tour. Past performers include Contemporary Folk musicians such as David Wilcox, Sara Hickman, Vance Gilbert, Cliff Eberhardt, Al Pettiway and Amy White, Billy Jonas and Free Planet Radio. Musicians in different stages of their careers leave feeling blessed to be given a chance to play Asheville when traditional music venues haven’t been able to accommodate them. Her first private party concert of 2012 is March 10th featuring Folk/Old Time independent music group, Still on the Hill hailing from the Ozarks.
Julie’s love of music started before her college years. In her earnest intent to attend as many Rock and Folk concerts as she could while attending Boston University, the list of famous musicians she literally accidentally met, befriended, or dated is long. She met Taj Mahal at an ice cream parlor, invited him and his friends to her house, and remained buddies for many years. She met a guy named Crazy Larry LaRue at Boston’s renowned Psychedelic Super Market who was the stage manager for Blood, Sweat and Tears; through him, met Tim Buckley whom she dated on and off for several years. Her relationship with Tim gave her the opportunity to shake hands with Janis Joplin, for goodness sake! She was friends with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. I could continue, but she would say I’m bragging.
Suffice to say, it’s no wonder she’s been hosting House Concerts since 2009. She’s fulfilling part of her life’s purpose, and paying homage to the colorful characters she met during college and graduate school. As her third year begins, she’s poised to offer an eclectic mix of mostly acoustic, mostly solo and duo Contemporary Folk artists. To find outstanding musicians to entertain her friends, she attends the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference and the Swannanoa Gathering.
A culmination of Julie’s dedication to music and the children she helps overcome hardships in her work as a psychologist, is evidenced in her all-original children’s music CD, Little One. We thank Julie for creating music that heals and for opening her home and heart to like-minded independent artists whose lives she’s enhanced.
While talking to Betty Friedrichsen by phone one morning in mid-December last year, she was in the middle of baking homemade Christmas cookies for her friends and family, using a collection of old recipes she’d never tried before. This labor of love, this risk she was taking (some baker’s might say) comes from an innate desire to find new ways to share something tasty with the people she loves.
As our phone interview began, she explained that at age seven she started classical piano training and played throughout her teens. After graduating high school in San Antonio, Texas in 1971, she was accepted to the University of Houston. In her quest to find friends, she walked by a coffeehouse on campus where she heard a musician baring his soul, beckoning her to enter. The domino effect from that one act sparked a romance between Betty and music promoting and production.
A girl named Dalis Allen ran the place; when Betty asked how she could become part of the scene, Dalis told her that all she had to do was want to. During that time, she became acquainted with and befriended future household names like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, and Jimmy Buffet, all part of the Houston scene. All the while, she nurtured an enduring relationship with Dalis. They met another girl, Jackie, DJ at a prominent Houston radio station, and for a while after college, the three of them ran their own music booking agency.
Betty ended up marrying and moving to Germany and then to Miami, Florida. Dalis went to work for the Post Office, and Jackie stayed in the music realm, moving to California and joining a well-known booking agency. Betty and Dalis stayed in touch and Dalis stayed connected to the music scene, so much so that she is the producer of the now infamous Kerrville Folk Music Festival.
In 1999, after Betty’s beloved husband passed away, Dalis went to Miami as part of a Kerrville Music Cruise in conjunction with the South Florida Folk Festival. Hanging out with Dalis allowed Betty to meet the organizers, passengers, and musicians on the cruise. Very soon afterwards, the bug to get involved in music-related projects bit again.
Volunteering for the South Florida Folk Festival led Betty to her stint as Volunteer Coordinator, which led to her becoming director and organizer of the festival’s songwriter competition which, much to her delight, returned her to some of the musicians she had heard and or booked back in Houston!
In 2001, a colleague introduced Betty to the world of House Concerts. As the domino-effect continued, she moved to the Asheville area six years ago and immediately began hosting House Concerts, one per month under the moniker Betty’s Place.
Last year, she became Co-Director of the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference. With all the work that goes into that position, yet still desiring to regularly host House Concerts, she joined hands with sister music lover, and former Asheville House Concerts on the Hill coordinator, Kelle Olwyler (also profiled here) and BK House Concerts was christened. Together they’ve exposed each other to musicians they would not have known and expanded the genres they book, one every other month.
With their combined list of invitees, their reputation for hosting notables and under-the-radar, standout independent performers is big enough so that any style of music they feature is guaranteed to sellout. It grows through word of mouth.
As her journey continues to unfold, Betty finds her dreams realized at every turn. Years ago she promised herself to fulfill a three-fold wish: to live on the beach, to live in the mountains, and to live in France, all the while continuing her efforts to support independent musicians and uplift her respective community. As you see, she can check off two locations and aims to pursue the third in coming years. She can rest assured that the House Concert options in WNC she spearheaded will endure, keeping those endless dominos rollin’ on down the line.
The stress so many of us endure takes a toll on our bodies and spirits. For Louise Baker, her body’s stress is relieved by her chiropractor, and her spirit is renewed through promoting independent musicians.
Louise Baker and her husband Don started the Mountain Spirit Coffeehouse Concert series in 2004. Like all the motivated and astounding women in this feature, Louise was driven to better her community through music, based on her personal passion for playing and creating music.
Growing up in Boston, she played in a Peter, Paul, and Mary-type trio 1960’s and 70’s. They mostly played coffeehouses and church coffeehouses. She remembers playing at Harvard Square’s Nameless Coffeehouse, still in existence, with pride and inspired light.
The Bakers moved to Asheville in 2001 and joined the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville. In no time at all, Louise sized up the space inside and begin her tactical process of convincing the church board to allow her to host live music concerts. Larger portions of the ticket sale proceeds would go to the artists, a small remainder would go directly to the church, and profits from baked goods would go to church-supported charities. She would ask volunteers to bake goodies to sell and help provide and operate sound equipment. Consequently, members and friends readily answered.
David LaMotte, noted folk artist with a sizeable draw in the area, was their first booking. I attended the show in the fellowship hall and found a seat only because I arrived very early. While the powers that be from UU church gave them a three-month trial, after seven years Louise and Don have not looked back.
They’ve come a long way since that first concert with a homemade stage, borrowed lamps hanging from the rafters by bungee cords, and metal folding chairs. Don and Louise did not know early artists LaMotte, Chuck Brodsky and Amy White and Al Pettiway. Each musician enthusiastically agreed to perform to help the series grow. Concerts now take place in the larger sanctuary with cushioned seats, ideal sound equipment, and professional lighting.
They have hosted a mix of local, regional, national, and internationally known independent folk artists such as Pierce Pettis, Bill Staines, Chris Rosser, Annie Lalley and Joe Ebel. Folk rock duo, The Kennedys have performed and so have Celtic artists Robin Bullock and Jamie Laval. Soliciting these draws is easy; after all, Asheville is a destination location for music and art. Capitalizing on that and offering these singer songwriters a guaranteed audience is paramount to their vision.
Their concerts take place on the second Sunday of the month at 7 p.m. and have been a godsend for touring independent minstrels performing on the House Concert, college, and church coffeehouse circuits. Affordable ticket prices and discounts for students in an atmosphere where music lovers attend solely for the intimate listening experience is an exciting way for fans to hear and meet their favorites and purchase autographed CDs. Don and Louise have built such a stellar reputation that their need to solicit independent musicians greatly diminished. Since they both work full time, this is truly a labor of love. Only the church, church-supported charities and the independent artists profit from the concerts.
Louise and Don see no end to what they’ve built right here, right now, and right down the street. Don’t wait, though; go renew your mountain spirit! www.uuasheville.org/coffeehouse
Kelle Olwyler’s father, an accomplished pianist and guitarist, handed her a guitar when she was seven. Because of her tiny hands and fingers, he taught her bar chords and, as years passed, she figured out the rest herself and began to compose. Their relationship was closer than close because of their shared love of music. No wonder, since he sang and played to her while she was still in the womb!
While Dad was fixed on Jazz and the old classics and could barely stand to listen to the World Music she grew to love, he inspired and nurtured her natural talent and they co-authored many songs. When Kelle was a baby, her parents moved to Mexico where she lived until the age of sixteen. She remembers fondly the evenings they played and sang together after supper. Though her dad encouraged her to get on-stage as a solo performer, her fear was too much to overcome and she found herself a closet musician and songwriter.
Her mom left Mexico after a divorce; at age 17, Kelle went to live with her in Dallas, Texas. Her father, for the most part, remained in Mexico.
For a short time he lived in California where his current band broke up while touring the United States. He began managing the music careers of notable musicians such as Chris Williamson and rubbed elbows with the likes of Bill Graham of the Filmore and Jerry Garcia. Inspired by his ability to orchestrate and uplift the careers of his artists, Kelle’s latent desire to follow in his footsteps bubbled after moving to the Asheville area eleven years ago. She registered for classes at the Swannanoa Gathering and fell in love with the music of several artists she met there.
The wheels turned and while talking with friends about her desire to host House Concerts for the musicians she met at the gatherings, the couple offered up their fabulous home off Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. Kelle spent the next three years booking a plethora of acts at House Concerts on the Hill, a.k.a. Elk Mountain Series. An estimated one thousand people attended their House Concerts before the series closed after the couple moved from the area.
Simultaneously, she put the word out to several women songwriters and poets about forming a group to meet monthly at each others’ homes to eat, drink, play music, talk, sing, listen, and provide safe critiques of each other’s material. Consequently The Song Sisters was born and, as a member, I can tell you that it was a much needed jumping off point in my own songwriting education and experience. I credit the group Kelle started for introducing me to lifelong friends and for helping me formulate a writing ethic. An added benefit of being part of the group is the songwriting workshops she organized and offered to members, facilitated by award-winning tunesmiths such as Craig Caruthers and Steve Seskin, both Nashville songwriters that she met through the Swannanoa Gathering.
Currently, as Co-Coordinator of the BK House Concert series, she and Betty Friedrichsen (profiled above) continue to provide a much needed and sought after opportunity for touring, independent artists to play in our beloved WNC.
Unsung Heroines are appropriate labels for Kelle, Betty, Louise, and Julie. Their cooperation in making sure that their events do not fall on the same evening reveals a camaraderie rare in this selfish world. They open their hearts and homes for the love of music, nothing more. As Kelle so eloquently states, “Hosting House Concerts is like preparing a beautiful meal for the people you love. You cook it up, set it out on the table, then sit back and observe the joy on their faces because you know it tastes so good.”
For more information on upcoming performances, check out www.bkhouseconcerts.com
Peggy Ratusz is a songstress, writer and vocal coach. firstname.lastname@example.org www.reverbnation.com/peggyratusz