When I was in college, a house concert was the collection of a few garage bands playing in the corner of a friend’s basement while oodles of young adults gyrated and guzzled PBR. The music was loud, often distorted. The audience was either zoned out or rocking out. And the neighbors were not very happy.
In Northfield, the house concert experience is exceedingly more refined.
Often starting as friendly social gatherings, Northfield’s house concert scene has grown to a modest size with a dedicated following. Semi-exclusive and in beautiful locations, these small shows attract Minnesota’s biggest talent, like The Cactus Blossoms, We Are the Willows and more.
“What we learned is that people love small, intimate venues. At the same time, musicians love to play for small audiences with a guaranteed sold-out space,” said Northfielder Dan Rustad.
Rustad, along with Ray Coudret and their friends, curates two Northfield concert series that are built on that principal. One is the popular 411 Concert Series, sponsored by the Northfield Arts Guild. The 411 is open to the public and has attracted acts like The Pines and John Gorka.
But the 411 was inspired by a private concert series called The Red Barn Concert Series (not associated with the The Red Barn of Northfield pizza kitchen). Running for about five years now, Rustad said the private series has hosted big name artists like Chastity Brown, members of the Jayhawks and Dan Wilson of Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare fame.
“It started as a monthly music listening and sharing club for our friends,” Rustad said. “One of the guys had a 40th birthday, and his wife through a party at a restored barn in the Montgomery area with a concert by David Wilcox. A bunch of us thought it was really cool, so we decided to keep it going.”
Now, about 120 people attend the Red Barn series. Rustad calls it a “concert cooperative,” since attendance is mostly members only.
But Rustad and his friends aren’t the only ones with their classy, intimate house concerts. KYMN radio host Jessica Paxton and her friend Jennifer Severtsgaard recently began their own concert series titled “little pond presents,” while musician and producer for Rice County Records Michael Morris has his own series at The Chapel.
“We’re just like-minded music lovers that want to enjoy an intimate concert experience by some of our favorite Minnesota musicians in the comfort (and beautiful setting) of our own homes (and without the hassles of going to a bar or venue in the big city),” Paxton said in an email. “Plus, our admission goes directly to the artists so we can guarantee their fees and know that we’re helping to support and sustain independent music.”
Reach reporter Cristeta Boarini at 333-3135. Follow her on Twitter.com @CristetaBoarini