Thursday, October 29, 2009

Music Is In The House

First, I have to say it feels good to be back at the key board. It was a rough week when I couldn't make my original post and then being out of town. I did think about The Heights quite often when we were on our vacation. Old Quebec was built in the 1600s and the city is gorgeous. It's very regal- big stone buildings nestled in to the sides of hills. Then there was St Johns, Newfoundland- the oldest city in North America. It makes me laugh, thinking what is considered old in Houston and it makes me sad that too often the conventional wisdom is old = bad. What would those other cities be if that was the prevailing attitude? How much history would have been lost? Anyway, I digress...

And on to the real story...

A couple years ago I heard chatter about something called "house concerts" happening in The Heights. I was really intrigued by this whole concept. "Where have you been?" you might ask, but it was all new to me. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to experience but didn't know how to find them. None of my friends were attending house concerts and I started to think of them as being along the lines of Masonic rituals or Skull and Bones.

I don't remember at this point even how I stumbled across Lindsey Lee and Deb Rouse and their house concert series, Rouse House. I am just glad I did. A few weeks ago I was able to attend a concert at their wonderful home on 7 1/2 St and learn more about the house concert tradition they are carrying on.

Deb and Lindsey met while they were students at South Texas College of Law. These days neither practice and Lindsey like to say, "The best thing I got out of law school was a wife." It has been my experience that marriage introduces you to a lot of new things- your spouse's family will have their own traditions and when they become your family, those traditions become yours as well. Lindsey never could have forseen having musicians set up shop in his living room and opening his home to strangers to hear them- even providing these strangers with dinner. It was Deb who grew up around folk music. Her parents were regulars at the Kerrville Folk Festival, which they started attending in 1974, and they were the original Rouse Housers, holding concerts at their home in Austin for almost 15 years. During that time, they hosted over 100 musicians, including the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Gary P. Nunn. So, Deb had really been raised around music but she took her own path and did not have much of an interest in following her parents folky footsteps after graduating from Rice and going off on her own. The closest she got was playing the oboe in highschool band.

Then it was 2002. Lindsey was out of town at a political function and Deb decided she would join her parents at the festival. She came back "raving about how much fun it was and we needed to go back at Labor Day for The Kerrville Wine and Music Festival." They did just that and little by little the traditions of Deb's parents became a passion of Deb and Lindsey's as well.

Deb and Lindsey have lived in or around The Heights since before they were married (which was incidentally Halloween weekend. Happy Anniversary, guys!!) When they 1st started dating, Lindsey was living in an apartment in the Heights and Deb lived off of Washington. This was the late 80s/ early 90s and neither area was remotely like what it is now. When they got married, they lived in Oak Forest in a house purchased from HUD for $40,000. After a decade in that house they were ready to upgrade. The couple "looked for about 2 years before finding the house on 7 1/2." When Deb's father, Bruce, came down to check out the house before they signed on it the first thing he said when he walked in was "It's perfect for a house concert." Indeed!

Our hostess for the evening, Deb Rouse.

After Bruce passed away, Deb and Lindsey decided they would carry on his work of promoting singer/songwriters via house concerts. They had their 1st house concert in January of 2006 with 50 people attending.

Lindsey introducing the evening's musician, KC Clifford. He gave me a nice shout out as well! Thanks again, Lindsey.

On October 3, I attended a performance by Oklahoma singer-songwriter KC Clifford. This was a great night to attend as it was also a food drive for the Houston Food Bank. Lindsey and Deb agreed to let me bring my husband and kids along, which was very nice of them. I'll be honest, I am all about dragging my kids everywhere but if you decide to attend a show, get a sitter. They would never frown on kids, but it's such an intimate venue and quarters are close. Better for a date night. Still, my older son is obsessed with instruments and, before sneaking quietly out the back door during the 1st set, he did sit cross legged on the floor and stare intently at KC's guitar.

My big boy, who at one point was actually tapping his toes.

Included in the price of admission is dinner. Deb made red beans and rice for the 65 guests in attendance. This is extra generous since all the money from ticket sales goes directly to the musicians; none to the hosts. When we first arrived, people were mingling, including KC. Honeslty, I was not familiar with KC Clifford before the show at Rouse House. When I 1st got there, she said hello to me and chatted up my son. I didn't realize it was her until later when she gave me her card. I guess that is the point of the concert, though. Exposure.

Jessica, right, lives in Rice Military and came to the show with her mom, Laurie. Even though Laurie has known Lindsey since they worked together in the late 80s, this was the 1st house concert for both. Like me, Jessica was not familiar with KC Clifford before the show but thought a show in this kind of environment would "have to be worth checking out."

Anyway, people were eating and drinking and chatting. I got a chance to talk to a lot of them and was suprised to find that most of the concert goers were actually not from The Heights. There was a group of friends from Champions area and a couple in from Pearland. These folks did kind of confirm for me that house concerts are part of a secret society. I mean, not intentionally secret, but when I asked how they heard about Rouse House and ended up coming to the shows, their answer was "word of mouth." They almost could have said "secret handshake" with the same effect. Ha! In the end, it can all be traced back to Kerrville. Someone met Deb there or someone goes to house concerts at a home in Spring Branch whose sister knows Lindsey or their niece is a singer and she told them to find them at the festival.

Terry, Kay, Kent and Jim came in to see KC's show from Champions. They have attended 3 or 4 Rouse House concerts after finding out about them via "word of mouth."

Beverly and Jim live in Pearland and know Deb and Lindsey from Kerrville. Beverly sais she really enjoys the atmosphere of a house concert where you get to meet the artist. She also mentioned that a lot of people think "60s" music when they think folk, but Kerrville and house concerts are more about "acoustic music and singers who also write their own songs."

It was definitely an new experience, being that upclose and personal with the performer. KC Clifford played her guitar and sang without a microphone. It was just the pure projection of her voice. The crowd watched and interacted with her between songs. Lindsey says the initmacy of the venue is a perk for the performers as well. I can imagine it's nice to be able to sing your songs and tell the stories of how and why they were written to an audience who definitely wants to hear it.

KC and her partner played acoustic guitars and she sang, unincumbered by sound checks

Yes, Deb and Lindsey did start Rouse House in Houston to carry on a tradition started by her parents. Still, the plight of the musician does resonate with them. They know the life the singer-songwriter can be hard and is rarely glamourous. This type of venue offers a performer an opportunity to gain exposure with a new crowd and make some money, sell some CDs. Word of mouth goes a long way.

KC's cds for sale in Deb and Lindsey's den.

As far as I know now there are 3 series of house concerts in The Heights. Rouse House is one. You may have seen another, Kolanowski House Conerts, in our weekly Heights Happenings. The 3rd is Cortlandt Street House Concerts hosted by Mary Scott Hagle. Lindsey says they have become good friends with the other proprietors of house concerts and that they all work together to support eachother and the musicians. Quintessential Heights, I tell you.

Kim and Greg Kolanowski were at the show and talked about upcoming shows in their own house concert series

What it looks like to pack 65 people in to the living room of Deb and Lindsey's house

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