From arena to living room: critically acclaimed musician wows audience at Vancouver house concert

From arena to living room: critically acclaimed musician wows audience at Vancouver house concert

In an otherwise quiet house in Vancouver, John Belisle recently found himself sitting alongside 60 or so people watching one of Canada's top musicians playing live.

The performer was critically acclaimed Canadian country singer Lindi Ortega, now based in Nashville, who had just opened for Chris Stapleton at Rogers Arena the night before.

"I don't think too many people get to experience someone of that quality just sort of blasting it out in a living room," Belisle said.

The concert was hosted by Scott Gray, a commercial printer with a passion for music but no ties to the entertainment industry. 

Gray and his family built their home in Fairview specifically with hosting music events in mind, inspired by a house concert in Toronto he went to a few years ago.

"It was quite a mind-blowing experience having this great, hulking amazing musician standing almost on top of you," Gray said.

"It was just such an intimate scene I just thought, 'Oh my god, we have to do this.' "

Cross-country phenomenon

House concerts are by no means a new experience for music lovers in Canada. Homes in cities across the country have hosted live music for years through networks like Home Routes.

Still, it's not everyday that a musician like Ortega goes almost straight from the stage of a major arena to someone's living room. 

In the three years since they moved into their new home, the Grays have hosted five concerts, including Ortega, Wil, and Lion Bear Fox.  

Gray said he contacts the artists through social media and asks them to perform. 

In the audience are music lovers from his personal list of friends, family, clients and colleagues.

Because they're all connected, either personally or professionally, it makes for a friendly environment for people to mingle. 

"I've sort of given up going to concerts in general," Belisle said. 

"I sort of go out of my way when Scott invites me because, it's like, I know this isn't a typical concert."

'I would rather have short sticks put in my eye'

The experience can be equally rewarding for the musicians, albeit with some caveats. 

Tom Wilson, who performs with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and as Lee Harvey Osmond, has performed at both Home Routes and at Gray's home. 

For him, as a musician, the appeal of playing a house concert comes with reaching new audiences who may not otherwise pay to see him at a venue like Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom, where he recently played to a crowd of nearly 1,000 people.

But it took a bit of time for Wilson to warm up to the idea.

"I originally thought about house concerts as something that I thought I would rather have short sticks put in my eye rather than do," Wilson said.

However, after performing at his first few, Wilson quickly realized the concerts weren't much different than the small coffee houses he would play at in the '70s.

Financial benefits

And, Wilson said, financially, the outcome isn't much less than what he would make at a bigger venue after typical touring expenses are taken into account. 

Gray clarified that all the proceeds from ticket sales — tickets cost between $25 and $40 — go directly to the artist, less a few minor costs like a PA system. He doesn't sell drinks or snacks, but people can bring their own.

Still, as much as Wilson does perform at house concerts from time to time, he said the intimacy of playing a small venue can also be a burden. 

"You know, somebody farts in the 10th row at the theatre and you don't care. But if somebody's farting in the chair in front of you, it's a problem," he said.

For Wilson, house concerts may help him expand his audience, but his goal as a musician is ultimately to play larger venues.

"Let's face it. We work really hard for many many years to get enough people that are interested in hearing us," he said.