House concerts provide musicians, audience with intimate setting

By Kate Carroll
Staff writer

The venue

It’s Saturday night. One of your favorite bands is getting ready to go on. You’re surrounded by your friends and other cool people who are sipping their beer or wine and munching on snacks. You’re having a great time.

No, you’re not out at the local bar: you’re in your own family room.

Welcome to the life of Beth Fizell and Paul Gumerman, a husband and wife team who have taken their love of music and good times and brought it close to home in the form of Cooldog House Concerts.

“We know a lot of musicians, because my husband used to do sound engineering for a band,” Fizell said in a phone interview. “We hung around with a lot of musicians, and we always knew the room we had would be a pretty cool place to hold a concert.”

About a year ago, the Delmarva Folk Festival organizers were told by a performer’s management that for him to agree to play a show, there had to be more than one booked in the area.

That’s when Cooldog House Concerts was born. Fizell and Gumerman booked the performer themselves, and turned their family room into a tiny concert hall.

“It just sort of grew from there,” Fizell said. “We’ve been doing them practically once a month since then.”

Not just anybody can attend a concert, though. Since the venue is someone’s home, guests must sign up for Cooldog’s email list, and call to make reservations in advance.

“When they RSVP, I ask for a home telephone number, so at least I have some contact information,” Fizell said.

So who’s the ideal Cooldog guest?

“Just people who are enthusiastic about music,” she said. “People are generally very respectful about the fact that they’re in someone’s house, which is really nice. House concerts are great because people are generally very quiet and attentive to the musicians, which the musicians just adore,” she added, comparing it to the bar experience where people are there more to see each other than to listen to the musicians.

And she definitely wants to keep this new tradition alive.

“I love doing this. It’s been a real hoot,” she said.

The music

Musicians are big fans of the small stage, too.

Enter Mad Agnes, a versatile trio comprised of Mark Saunders (vocals, electric, acoustic, steel, and bass guitars, mandolin), Margo Hennebach (vocals, piano, keyboard, acoustic guitar, bass) and Adrienne Jones (vocals, guitar, bass).

They’re based in Connecticut, and got their start as a group before a crowd of about 60 people at Williamsburg Public Library in Virginia. They’ve performed at some fairly large shows since then, including the Bethlehem Music Fest and the Oswego Music Fest in front of crowds of between 1,000 and 1,500 people.

But there’s a special appeal to the little shows, Saunders said.

“A lot of people don’t get a chance to experience music without a PA system – just you and the music with nothing in between. House concerts let you do that,” he said.

So, what kind of sound do they have?

“We kind of fit under that folk umbrella, but maybe a little reluctantly sometimes,” Hennebach said. “We have classical training, most of us,” she added, mentioning their show includes a “lot of theater … we can surprise an audience any given moment.”

“[There’s] a lot of three-part harmony, and anything from spare a cappella to a full range, where Margo’s using a keyboard to create orchestral sounds, along with guitar and bass, or mandolin and bass … from a very small to a very large sound,” Saunders said. “Many times people say they don’t believe there’s only three people on stage.”

Saunders also said the house concert fills a specific need in a musician’s career.

“House concerts are kind of in a resurgence right now … It’s great to do a big gig that pays a ton of money, but you’ve got to fill those in with other things if you want to be doing music full-time,” he said.

However, the ones who really benefit from the arrangement are the ones who open up their home.

“The house concert host is a great match-maker,” Hennebach said. “They’re able to pull together all the things they love in their life.”

Who: Mad Agnes; Justin McNatt opens

When: Saturday, Aug. 14

Where: The home of Beth Fizell and Paul Gumerman

Cost: $15 (all proceeds go directly to performers) and a snack or beverage to share

How to RSVP: Visit http://houseconcerts.cooldog.com/ and follow instructions.

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Karaoke with Tia Clarke – 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12
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