By Katherine Wright
At 7:01pm last Friday evening in Brookhaven Hamlet, Sarma Kancharla spooned a batch of homemade chickpea curry into a large white serving bowl on his dining room table. His wife, Anne-Mari Jakobson set tumbler glasses on the wooden sideboard, which was doubling as a bar for the night. But the arriving guests didn’t assemble around the table. Their attention, instead, was focused on the living room, where world-renowned jazz musicians Vitor Gonçalves and Yotam Silberstein warmed up their instruments.
Roughly once a month for the last year, Kancharla and Jakobson have hosted musical soirees for around 10-20 people in their home. Guests make a $20 donation towards the musician’s fee, Kancharla makes up any shortfall, and in return they enjoy a private concert from the comfort of an armchair.
“It’s a great opportunity to support artists and in a very intimate setting,” Jakobson said.
House concerts aren’t a new concept, but they are a relatively recent addition to Long Island’s music scene and restaurant- and bar-playing cover band culture, James Ramsden said. This year, Ramsden, has hosted concerts by Americana singer songwriters, predominantly from Texas and Tennessee, in his home in Lake Ronkonkoma. “I want to bring in something different.”
The idea of turning their living room into an occasional performance space came to Kancharla and Jacobson after attending a similar event in an apartment in Union Square, Manhattan.
“Its hard to get to concerts in the city, its expensive, and it’s a long drive,” Kancharla said. “If we can get some great musicians at home, why not.”
House concerts strip the boundaries between players and listeners, who can sit less than an arm’s length from each other, Gonçalves, a Brazilian pianist and accordionist, said.
“There is no real barrier, there is no stage, we are close, we are intimate.”
He and Silberstein, an Israeli guitarist, both enjoy the personal connection they get playing to and socializing with people in their living rooms.
“If there is a break then you mingle around, whereas if you are in a venue you go the green room,” Gonçalves said. “There is something more personal about playing in a house, it is less formal,” Silberstein said.
The audience is also, generally, more focused on the music than they might be in other venues, Ramsden said. “By playing a house concert, [the musicians] get a listening audience…in a bar only half of the people might be listening.”
Silberstein agrees: “It’s nice to play for people who want to listen,” he said.
But house concerts aren’t just a way for musicians to clink glasses with fans; they can also offer an additional and substantial revenue stream to artists. In Manhattan musicians can play for as little as $30 and a beer, Matteo Rini, who organizes a house concert series in Brooklyn called Planeta and links Kancharla up with artists, said. Acts playing at Planeta one night, and Kancharla’s house the next can take home upwards of $1500, he said.
“We don’t take anything,” Ramsden said. “We feed them, and we house them, so they can do pretty well.”
Artists also sell more merchandise than they might when they play in a bar, and gain increased name recognition, he said.
With the guarantee of reasonable earnings, house concerts attract world-class musicians, Rini said. He has had no trouble finding “big shot” musicians to play at Planeta and elsewhere. The artists are all very excited to play in these settings, he said.
This year, the Spanish jazz singer and guitarist, Susana Raya; the Scottish harpist, Maeve Gilchrist; and the South African guitarist, Derek Gripper, who played Carnegie hall two weeks after his suburban Long Island gig, all entertained guests at Kancharla’s house. While visitors to Ramsden’s home were treated to performances by the Texas-based Americana singer-songwriters Drew Kennedy, Gurf Morlix, Susan Gibson, and Robyn Ludwick.
“They make better money coming out here and it’s only an hour out from the city,” Kancharla said. “And hopefully we make them welcome.”