If you were to take an evening walk through the quiet, tree-lined streets of a certain Agoura Hills neighborhood, you’d never have any idea that a full concert venue is hidden within one of the houses.
A growing phenomenon in the music world during this age of do-it-yourself ethics, house concerts are reminiscent of the punk rock basement shows popular in the 1980s and ’90s, except they tend to focus more on acoustic-based artists, for obvious reasons (such as the potential mosh pit destruction of the living room).
At the heart of a house concert, of course, is the home owner, who acts as booker, promoter, soundman and clean up crew. It is a labor of love, and in the case of Concerts at the Bodie House, the driving force is Renee Bodie.
Bodie’s involvement in the house concert world started back in 2000, when she celebrated her 45th birthday with a concert in her home. The event was so popular with Bodie’s friends and fellow musicians she was inspired and encouraged to try it again. Fast forward to 2008, and Bodie has now hosted nearly 100 concerts from artists ranging from local performers to Grammy winners and Rock & Roll Hall of Famers such John McEuen and Chris Hillman.
“It all started with my birthday party,” she says. “It was such a great time, I thought this could actually work on a regular basis. The whole thing really just snowballed, and I got hooked. Gradually, our reputation for attendance and promotion grew, and it opened up the door to agents for larger artists. Now we do a show nearly every month.”
What sets Bodie’s concerts apart from the hundreds across the country is the stunning amount of professionalism. “With the help of my extremely supportive family,” Bodie’s living room is transformed into a full-blown seated venue, complete with plastic-covered carpets, a quality sound system and a top-notch spread of appetizers and drinks, many of which are donated by attendees. The admission is a suggested donation that goes directly to the artist, thus avoiding any legal issues of running an actual business.
If Bodie — an accomplished musician herself and vice president of the Folk Alliance Board West — is the driving force of the concert, the extra bit of magic comes from the audience. Many of the attendees are present at every event, and a familial vibe is instantaneous upon entry. The regulars are inviting to newcomers, and there is utmost respect given to the artists. There are no conversations, cellphones or clinking glass during the show. It’s a dream setting for artists and fans.
Last month, the Bodie House played host to Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband, Johnny Irion. Guthrie, who comes from folk music royalty — she is Woody’s granddaughter and Arlo’s daughter — sees house concerts as an exciting alternative to more traditional venues.
“We’re pretty new to playing them,” Guthrie said in the Bodies’ kitchen between sets. “We find ourselves at a lot of festivals and theaters, but it’s so much more intimate and friendly here. Where else can you put your baby to sleep for the night in a quiet bedroom then go downstairs and play a show?”
The vibe definitely has a positive effect on the performers. In Guthrie’s case, she and her husband played not one but two lengthy, relaxed sets peppered with stories and crowd interaction. Their encore was a rousing audience participation version of the “Free Bird” of folk music, her grandfather’s “This Land Is Your Land,” including guitar accompaniment from a crowd member who was asked to take over so Guthrie could bring her daughters on stage. According to Bodie, moments like that are commonplace.
“Since the artist is in such a relaxed and intimate environment, you really get a special show,” she said. “Like when Doug Haywood played with Rosemary Butler. They hadn’t played together in 20 years. The spirit that was in the room was remarkable. We did Crosby Loggins’ first ever house concert, and to see how much he was touched by the reaction was inspiring. The Jimmy Lafave concert was regarded by many who attended as the best live concert they’ve ever been to, period. It’s nights like that that feed the soul and keep me as excited and enthusiastic to do this as when we first started.”
Concerts at the Bodie House hosts the Buccaneers on March 15. Reservations are required at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a list of upcoming shows and more information, visit www.bodiehouse.com.