One of our first shows was at the former IHOP House on Diamond Street. Doing what most bands do, we tried to get everyone we knew in our area to come out. So sure enough, we had a dozen or so of our friends catch a train and experience Philly.
Turns out, most of them had never been to a local show, much less a house show. Needless to say, the reactions gave me chuckles. Whether they expected an amphitheater or perhaps just a little more standing room, I can’t say, but they certainly did not expect what they got.
House shows have tiny rooms, loud crowds, even louder bands and enough energy to light up South Street.
Typically, house show culture is not bound by genre or style, but just a similar passion for the DIY environment. When a indie singer/songwriter is followed by a hardcore band that exclusively wears tank-tops, it doesn’t seem out of place. In fact, it makes sense. Both are there to enjoy the music and experience.
“Communal, totally interactive,” is how Jake Detwiler described house shows. Detwiler hosts shows out of his townhome in East Falls. The “Don’t Tread On Me House” is your typical Philly home with a basement turned mosh pit. Like most show hosts, Detwiler’s experience is both rewarding and taxing, but to him it makes sense.
“Bands walk away happy, crowd walks away happy and I walk away happy,” Detwiler said. “That’s really what it comes down to.”
Even for those who have never been to a house show, it’s easy to imagine the situation. Anxiety rises when strangers open their doors to anyone who can pay the cheap cover charge.
“House shows constantly walk the line between spontaneous and organized,” Detwiler said. “I try to keep things under wraps so that our neighbors don’t complain and the bands have a good time, but I never really know what’s going to happen or who’s going to show up when I let 50-plus strangers into my house for the night.”
So why bother, then? In a city like Philly where venues and bars are everywhere, why take the risk? Like Detwiler said: community and interaction.
If you want to watch a band as a spectator and stay a spectator, then watching cover bands play at TGI Friday’s is fine. But for those who embrace music as a lifestyle, there is connection that cannot be made anywhere else.
“I can walk into an environment where there’s a sense of community and of people having the same mission, unlike some bars and venues,” Detwiler said. “Nobody goes to a house show just to drink, but you know they’re all looking for good music.”
It’s that environment that keeps musicians going. When a band is in its infancy, touring would be impossible without these local connections. Small acts from 500 miles away aren’t jumping on shows at the Electric Factory on their first tour through Philly. They have to start somewhere, and there is no better place than a house full of passionate listeners.
Perhaps the best thing, though, is the uniqueness of each of those listeners. Crowds only need one common denominator, and that’s a love for the music being played – but the variety does make for some interesting scenarios.
“There’s definitely nothing stranger than walking downstairs the next morning and finding your living room full of the touring band,” Detwiler said. “Plus your friends from high school, plus the frat guys from the college up the street, plus the kid who slept in the bathtub.”
Needless to say, this world of house shows has its quirks. But once you get past these oddities – the tiny rooms, deafening volumes and touring bands in need of a shower – it becomes a place that fosters both creativity and old-fashioned good times. Besides, if you are going to have a great party, you might as well accompany it with an amazing soundtrack.
Jared Whalen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.