House concerts provide musicians, audience with intimate setting
By Kate Carroll
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
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
“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
And she definitely wants to keep this new tradition alive.
“I love doing this. It’s been a real hoot,” she said.
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).
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
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.”