Ellie and I went to a little show last night. Doug Hacker and his lovely wife, Caroline, their son and dog open their home in Manchester to musicians and music lovers in a terrific enterprise called Billsville House Concerts. Doug has his finger on the pulse of what’s fresh and worthwhile, musically — musicians who are maybe just below the radar, musicians who are moving through the area, musicians who might want a break from the normal routine of larger venues or playing in noisy nightclubs and bars. So he invites an artist or band, sells tickets and everyone comes with food to share and things to drink and he throws a good, old fashioned house concert. Totally old school and truth be told, what I’d like to see happen one day in the world of “religion.” I know it was a very, very sad day when Notre Dame burned, in terms of architecture and history, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking … it’s about time those crusty old institutions went up in flames.
The other great thing about Billsville shows is that all of the proceeds go to the musicians. Doug and Caroline don’t take a penny. How’s that for doing something truly great for this weary world? Naturally, I ran into a bunch of people I know there and got to catch up with them, which is not hard to do when you’re in someone’s living room. I don’t drink and so going to the kinds of places where live music usually happens is a drag for me. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way. Why is it that the sharing of music came to mostly take place in drinking establishments? Dark, stinky bars where everyone is talking and getting drunk. Jesus, if I had to preach in places like that I’d quit my job. Musicians work hard at what they do, they have something important to say (most of the time) and they deserve our clear-headed attention.
I think this is why Billsville and places like it are so appealing, to performers and to listeners.
The music last night was terrific: Margaret Glaspy is super cute with a tremendous voice and charming presence. I had seen her when she opened at Billsville for Rayland Baxter a few years ago, but it was just a few songs then. It was nice to see her with her own full show.
I’m always curious to see what a musician’s banter will be like, in-between songs. It tells you if they’re clever, smart, funny, shy, tired. If you go to more than one show and they tell the same stories over again you know they need a freshening-up. It’s one of the things I love the most about the band called Darlingside. Those boys are really funny and quick. They’re quick with the intelligent funny, which is the very best. One of the funniest musicians I ever saw was Cheryl Wheeler, at Caffe Lena many years ago. I have no idea what was said or sung, but I do recall laughing until I cried; she was hilarious.
There was a lovely moment during the show when everyone started kind of humming/singing along. It happened spontaneously, which I loved because it meant that everyone was sitting there wanting very much to sing, too, and so when the opportunity came … we sang. This is one of the things I love the most about church, the intermingling of voices in song and prayer. I think that it’s very important that we join together that way. Get out of our own thoughts, get out of our own skin for a little bit of time and become part of something larger. There is something that feels so good about not just being sung-to, but singing all-together.
The shows at Billsville are not expensive at all. And it’s a totally uncomplicated process: Doug sends out an email before the show with their address and a plea to not block the neighbors’ driveways. He greets you at the door with his phone, no ticket necessary, no wasting of any paper. “It was nice to see your name on the list,” he said to me when I arrived. “It’s nice to be back,” I told him. And then it was into the kitchen to see Julie and have a cookie and catch up on stories of our kids and then to our seats with a hello and a hug to the sound man, Will. An hour or so of great music, sitting behind Troy and his kids and Olivia and Bo and Jake and Erin, who are getting married in June. A ride home under a starry, starry sky with me lovely friend Ellie. T’was a charmer of a springtime eve. You should go to Billsville sometime.