From the Stage

Students can’t get enough of house concerts, and it’s because of COVID fatigue

Maddi Jane Brown | Staff Photographer

After the isolation of quarantine, many students are excited both to attend and perform at house shows.

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Hours before Sami Miller was planning to host her first concert of the year, she found herself calling everyone she knew, asking if they could host the event at their home. That morning, a person who lived at the house where Miller had planned to host the concert tested positive for COVID-19.

“It was really just crunch time. I was reaching out to anyone I could think of just to see if we could make something happen,” said Miller, a junior in the Bandier Program at Syracuse University. “I was terrified I was going to have to cancel the show.”

Miller is also the city curator for the Syracuse chapter of Sofar Sounds, a national company that hosts music events at small locations such as houses, coffee shops and breweries in cities across the country. Eventually, Miller chose the backyard of a house in the Westcott neighborhood in Syracuse. Michaela Martin, who lives in the house, remembers bursting into her housemates’ rooms to tell them they only had four hours to clean up and set up for the show.

“I was running around this house like a chicken with my head cut off. I was sprinting around, cleaning. I spent about 30 minutes just trying to untangle a string of lights.” said Martin, a senior biology major. “But when it finally came together, I couldn’t stop smiling. I absolutely loved it.”

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Martin’s house, named the Backlot following Miller’s show, and Sofar Sounds are part of the house concert scene that has quickly picked up across the university. Students who run concert venues said house concerts boomed after live shows and events were canceled due to the pandemic. But the shows themselves have also become a safer, more welcoming space for both hosts and audiences, they said.

Josh Feldman, a senior studying entrepreneurship, runs the Summit, another concert organization that helps different house venues host their own shows. The senior said he drew inspiration for the organization after attending concerts at some of the older house venues such as The Ark, the Underground and The Deli.

Although these shows were fairly popular before the pandemic, Feldman said that house concerts are more popular this year than he’s ever seen. The Summit hosted its first concert on Sept. 10 and plans to host another one this Friday.

“There’s probably been almost 20 shows, and it’s still the beginning of October,” Feldman said. “If there’s not a house show on a weekend, it’s strange.”

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The rise in house concerts came after so much live music was canceled due to the pandemic, Feldman said. Concert hosts often book artists through word of mouth, Miller said, or they can reach out directly. Several students have already applied through Sofar Sound’s Instagram page, and Miller can go through them and see who would be good to perform, she said.

“Artists throughout quarantine had so much time to hone in on their craft that every artist in the game right now wants to perform live,” Feldman said. “Throughout quarantine, they were preparing that live set for whatever amount of time, and this is finally the culmination of it all.”

But concert hosts had a similar feeling, and many said they’ve been planning for the return of live music — and house shows — throughout the pandemic.

Last spring, Kenneth Barrist, a junior studying television, radio and film, found a TikTok that explained how to create a grass wall. The wall eventually served as his inspiration for The Garden, a basement concert venue. Barrist and his friends spent the rest of the semester planning The Garden, which they said helped them get through pandemic.

Students dancing at a house show

House concert hosts are working to make house shows safer, more welcoming spaces for artists and audience members.
Maddi Jane Brown | Staff Photographer

Barrist, and two of his friends, Lauren Brennan and Jen Jordan, who are both juniors studying music industry, used a grass carpet, rugs and flowers to create a venue in Brennan’s and Jordan’s basement that caters more toward acoustic music that they said is calmer than some of the concerts that happened before the pandemic. They also plan to host open mic nights and comedy nights in addition to more live shows, Brennan said.

During their first show of the semester, Barrist and Brennan had to turn about 100 people away because the basement venue hit full capacity. Although it was difficult to ask people to leave, they didn’t want to create a space that was too crowded where people couldn’t enjoy the actual music.

“We definitely create a calmer atmosphere. We’re not here to all rage, party the whole time,” Jordan said. “We cap it at a point where the people inside feel comfortable and they’re not shoulder to shoulder with each other.”

Smaller shows can be a safer alternative to large festivals and shows with thousands of people, especially while coronavirus cases are still high, Barrist said.

Artists throughout quarantine had so much time to hone in on their craft that every artist in the game right now wants to perform live
Josh Feldman, SU senior

People who attend concerts at The Garden must be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter. Audience members don’t see coronavirus requirements as an inconvenience, Brennan said, but rather, many of them appreciate that venues are ensuring that the show is as safe as possible.

Small concerts also create a more welcoming community where everyone in the audience is there to enjoy music, Miller said. Sofar Sounds typically doesn’t advertise who is performing at shows, which creates an audience that is there to support music, even if they don’t necessarily know the artist.

“It’s simple and it’s really about the music. People can just sit there and vibe and genuinely just enjoy it,” Martin said. “Here you can come, bring a blanket, bring a lawn chair, bring a bag of popcorn and listen to the music.”

The house concert scene has become less competitive this year, which helps make the shows calmer and safer, Feldman said. Many of the concert venues, including The Garden and the houses where the Summit hosts shows, share a virtual calendar that includes dates for when and where each concert is happening.

Student band Picture Us Tiny performing at a house show

Student band Picture Us Tiny performs at The Summit earlier this semester. Students organize the concerts themselves, sometimes fully independently or through an arm of a larger national venue system like Sofar Sounds.
Maddi Jane Brown | Staff Photographer

The calendar has also helped create a community among people hosting the concerts, Feldman said. A few weeks ago, he realized that The Garden was planning to host a concert on Oct. 8, the same day as the Summit’s next show.

Rather than canceling one of the shows, Jordan and Feldman decided to host the concerts at different times on the same night — the show at The Garden will start at 8 p.m. and run until about 10, which is when doors for the Summit show will open.

“Essentially, Jen (Jordan) is helping us out because she’s going to have a show and then after her show, she’ll be telling everyone to go to our show,” Feldman said.

But concert hosts said that above all, the wave of house shows has been fulfilling.

Putting on shows is an opportunity to help new artists thrive and bring music to people who have been deprived of it for over a year, Miller said. Concerts bring joy to everyone involved, she said, which is what makes them such an amazing experience.

“I’m really glad that we took that chance with that four-hour concert,” Martin said. “Because in the end, it’s going to be one of my favorite college memories.”







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