How to host a HOUSE CONCERT in COVID-times

It's been over a year, and we are all itching for live music. 

I, a professional musician, am desperate for an audience -- live eyeballs I can connect with and not just busking on Facebook. I'm also still not comfortable accepting gigs indoors at events that are slowly coming back in America (while the rest of the world is still very much locked down). But there is a certain situation that I'd be happy to play, and also happy to host: The House Concert: Pandemic-edition.

If you'd like a refresher course on the benefits of a house concert, please read a blog written in pre-pandemic times about the joys of hosting a house concert.

I've long been a proponent of house concerts, and I am here to help you navigate the best way to host one while we are still dealing with the pandemic. The safety of the performers and the audience is #1 priority, but you can still create a magical experience for all.

  1. You'll need an outdoor space. Think: your backyard. A neighborhood park. A cul-de-sac. A school parking lot.

  2. Watch the weather. I'm only planning the events I host about a week in advance because I don't have a tent or awning. Everything is weather-dependent. But it's not like any of us have lots of places to be, so finding attendees hasn't been a problem.

  3. Figure out how many 6-ft radius areas you can mark out in your yard. Limit the number of families to that. Take a large sheet or blanket outside and see how many times you can fit it in your space.

  4. Make note of any households that are podded together, as that will free up space for new families.

  5. Consider marking out areas in your outdoor space with talcum powder or tape or chalk -- distanced pods/spaces to make 6-ft apart easier to abide by.

  6. Ask guests to bring their own picnic blanket or lawn chairs. 

  7. Insist on RSVPs. Remind your guests that space is limited and they need to stick to their RSVP. It's a shame if you can only host five families and then only two show up.

  8. Remind guests that house concerts include donations from the attendees, and that 100% of the donations go to the musicians. It's awkward if they are surprised by the money-part of the event.

  9. Cash is still ok, but tell your guests that PayPal/Venmo/etc are easy, contactless ways to donate to the band.

  10. Make the event entirely acoustic OR ask that the band bring their own microphone. You could also ask the band to bring a PA system if your yard is large, but please provide an extension cord that's just ready to plug and play.

  11. Explain to guests how the evening will go, and make it shorter than a pre-COVID house concert. I suggest one set, rather than two shorter ones. Also, usually there is a mingle/cocktail hour and an intermission, but during COVID times, that's not a great idea. Consolidate the event so neither the guests nor the artists need your bathroom.

  12. Provide a card table for CD sales and other merchandise. The less stuff the musicians have to haul into your space, the easier it will all be. 

  13. Invite your neighbors. Or at least warn them what you're doing, since they will likely be able to hear the event. Some of them may even prefer to watch from their own yard (I have four families whose yards touch my own, so if they stay in their own yards, that's room for four extra families!), but kindly suggest that they tip the band if they are watching the show.

  14. Decide on a mask rule and let everyone know up front. Are you requiring masks? Are you feeling okay about outside because literally everyone you invited is fully vaccinated + two weeks? Discuss what you're comfortable with BEFORE day-of-show, and be consistent. Hot tip: ask the artists how they feel and go with what makes them the most comfortable. We are all used to masks by now, so this should not be a problem.

Sample house concert timeline:

    5:30 Guests arrive and get settled with their picnic blankets and snacks

    5:30-5:45 Musicians arrive and plug in (In pre-covid times, artists would already be set up before guests arrive, but since the artists aren't allowed inside your house, it's best to consolidate this time so no one needs your restroom.)

    6:00 Host makes quick announcement and introduction (but doesn't use the microphone because aerosol germs, folks!)

    6:05 Sound check + music begins

    6:50ish Concert ends. Host reminds guests of virtual tip jars -- or points out a hat people can toss cash in. 

    7:00 Artists either go home, or linger by a merchandise table. Chit-chat and merch sales should be kept at a distance. Make sure the artists know they are welcome to pack up and leave right away (remember the bathroom problem!). In non-COVID-times, the chit-chat after the concert is part of the charm and fun, but this isn't possible just yet.

Happy hosting!

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