If you want to see a local band in Kalamazoo, you might check out venues like Shakespeare’s Pub, Old Dog Tavern, or maybe even the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. But there’s more live music going on in this town than meets the eye—in the private homes of local musicians and their fans.
Last weekend, college students, post-grads and other local music aficionados grabbed a six pack and headed for the basement to see Indiana band High Dive, Away Game of Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo band Brown Cow.
“So basically I like going to house shows because it’s a bunch of people coming together and playing music regardless of how ‘good’ it sounds or how marketable it sounds,” says WMU student Janet Aladetohun.
“Or playing it for people that don’t want to pay to go see shows or whatever can experience live music and get inspired to play music. And what isn’t awesome about that?”
Abe Epskamp says at these smaller venues, you can often talk with the musicians afterwards.
“Some of the larger shows I’ve been to, you don’t have that chance to really connect with the musician themselves," he says.
Morgan Ramon of Brown Cow agrees:
“You can kind of be like in a personal atmosphere with the band. You’re standing on the same floor, they aren’t standing above you. And you have a face to face interaction with them as you’re playing. And at the same time you’re also like playing these shows with your friends and you’re interchanging members of bands. So you just have this really collegiate energy toward the music scene.”
The concert was at a place known only as “Milhouse.” Jarad Selner is a member of Do It Together Kalamazoo, the group that organizes these house shows. He says DIT doesn’t want to attract unwanted attention by posting the address in public—either from police or, more importantly, the people that are likely to get arrested.
Most of the concerts are held in student neighborhoods. But needless to say, these aren’t the stereotypical garage rock concerts you’ve seen in the movies.
“On any given week night there could be a punk band, or a folk band, or a jazz band, or an electronic experimental band, or a guy literally looping together noise patches for 45 minutes," says Selner. "I mean, it just depends on who’s booking what and who wants to show up and support it.”
Take DIT's annual Valentine’s Day show, for example. It’s an all-acoustic open mic that’s been going strong for six years.
DIT organizers say house shows are more of a way for musicians to share their art rather than make money. Usually there’s no more than a 10 dollar suggested donation—and Selner says that’s only for bands from out of town.
“But that money’s not going towards a bar for bar sales, it’s going towards a touring band that you’re literally helping put gas in their car and put food in their stomachs,” he says.
DIT houses also serve as a ‘home away from home’ for touring musicians. Rory Svekric books shows at Milhouse and rolls out the couch for artists who need a place to stay—even bigger acts like Speedy Ortiz.
“They’ve gotten rather large in sort of the indie scene and playing with Stephen Malkumus and The Breeders. And their first tour, they came to Milhouse, loved it. They’ve played three times since and have like really bonded with what Kalamazoo is doing," she says. "So though they could play these huge venues and are well known indie acts, they’re still coming around here.”
Organizations like DIT seem to be growing across the country.
“I know there’s like a DIT Lancaster and somewhere in Canada. And I just heard about a new one that I think is in South Bend, DIT South Bend. DIT GR [Grand Rapids] is happening," says Svekric. "And a lot of those spawned after Kalamazoo, which is pretty exciting.”
Overall, concert goers like Melanie Decker say house shows are just something you have to experience for yourself.
“It’s just like the most simple form of like playing music. Just come, hang out, enjoy it," she says. "I think it’s pretty easy to understand.”