With the influence of modern technology, music is evolving more rapidly than ever. The MP3 has all but replaced previous formats of music. Records are now more of a novelty and CDs are simply inconvenient to carry around. In a similar way, traditional concert venues are quickly going out of style. The appeal of these venues are dwindling in the face of a more financially and socially appealing alternative: the house.
There are countless musicians in Philadelphia, but finding spaces to host local bands has proven to be challenging. However, some Philadelphia residents have found a solution for this and have created their own space for performance. A house may not seem like an ideal place for a concert, but it has many benefits that a larger venue lacks. As Marshall James Kavanaugh, proprietor of the Dream Oven, a house venue in East Kensington, explains, “Big venues don’t have a personal aesthetic. They don’t really create a space. They have a stage, lighting and semi-good sound.” The aesthetic Kavanaugh describes is a subtle quality that comes from the multipurpose nature of a house. When walking into the Dream Oven, there is a lot more than just a band playing in what would be an empty room; the interiors are mesmerizing. Multiple dream-catchers hang from the ceiling, and the walls feature rotating exhibits of work by local artists.
These personal touches create an inclusive setting, and construct a sense of social comfort. Kavanaugh notes that in a big venue “people don’t really like talking to each other. At a house show, you have breaks, where people communicate. It’s a more engaging atmosphere.”
Being in a home setting motivates people to interact with each other during the breaks between bands. At the Dream Oven, sets are short, usually around 20 minutes long, and leave time for multiple bands to play. At a traditional concert venue, like the Electric Factory or Theater of the Living Arts, two or three bands play for an hour or more at a time. No matter how much one might enjoy a group’s music, this set up can make people feel isolated.
Having several bands performing at a show can make it a more communal affair. In a house you won’t find band members hiding backstage because there is no back stage. Everyone is in the same room. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish where the band ends and the audience begins. “You don’t feel like you are separate from the event, you feel like you are the event,” says Kavanaugh.
“There’s definitely a community, and a specific scene I’m involved in,” says Travis Arterburn, who organizes concerts in his West Philly home, the Clown Can Country Club. He explains, “I think Philadelphia has one of the biggest house show scenes in the country, or maybe anywhere.” Coming from Baltimore, Arterburn acknowledges the difference in scale between the music scenes of the two cities, “there were some shows, but never to the same extent that we have here.”
Using a house as a venue can be risky. Location is often a problem, as Arterburn found out the hard way. When he began putting on shows at his house during his sophomore year of college, noise complaints repeatedly thwarted the night’s entertainment. But he’s had better luck at his current location. Better, at least, than some concert organizers in Boston, a city where police have been cracking down on these types of shows. The police have reportedly posed as concertgoers online to find addresses to these venues.
Aside from some of these isolated cases, the internet has proven to be a vital tool for the proliferation of knowledge about house shows. There is no marketing team behind a house, as there usually is with a larger venue, which has lead people like Kavanaugh and Arterburn to adapt to a new form of self-promotion. “The internet is basically the only way [house] shows are promoted,” says Arterburn, admitting, “That’s how I find out about shows, just Facebook— it’s an efficient way of getting the word out.” On the other hand, Kavanaugh believes that “the best way to get people to come to a show is through word of mouth,” although he acknowledges the usefulness of the internet in spreading the word, saying, “If you talk to someone about an event, then they can find all the information online.”
Whatever one’s opinion on social media is, the effect it has had on Philadelphia’s music scene is undeniable. It has allowed many people to find out about an entire world of music they would have otherwise never known existed. There are a number of Twitter accounts, Tumblr blogs and Facebook groups dedicated solely to spreading awareness about these shows, like DIY PHL and Philly Underbelly.