Saturday, August 29, 2009

Russ and Julie's House Concert - Venue Review

If you had to pick one house concert series to visit in SoCal, whether as an audience member or as a performer, the answer is a "no-brainer". Without a doubt, nearly anyone in the know would tell you, go to Russ and Julie's House Concerts!

Its ironic that one of the last house concerts in our area that I am reviewing would be Russ and Julie's because, not only was their's the first home where we attended a house concert, but they are known in this area as the "Godparents" of the house concert movement. Russ and Julie Paris have been holding house concerts in their home in Oak Park, CA for almost 13 years! That figures out to having hosted over 130 concerts featuring almost 100 different acts! I believe it is the longest continually running house concert series in SoCal. Here is a link to their website:

Becky and I first found Russ and Julie's House Concerts back in March 2005 when an old acquaintance of ours from back in Conn. , Jeff Pevar, played there. We had seen the show listed on Jeff 's website, and, though we had never even heard of a house concert before, we decided to check it out. We've been regulars ever since, we only wish we had discovered them sooner!
The concerts are held at the Paris' lovely home in Oak Park, CA in the eastern end of Ventura County. The concert space is in their living room/dining room/great room with high ceilings and excellent acoustics. Check out the picture above of their stage area. They have a small PA system which is more than adequate to provide great sound in this size room. The room has track-type lighting hung unconventionally on the walls aimed at the stage area and this provides remarkably effective lighting for the performers. They generally have 60 or so chairs set up and with additional seating on their staircase which serves as somewhat of a balcony. With standing room, we have been there when they have had over 100 people in the room. While this kind of crowd makes for cozy togetherness we have never been uncomfortably crowded.

Here you will find most of the regular house concert features, the "donation" bowl at the front door (usually a $15 recommendation), mailing list sign ups, and of course, the potluck appetizer and dessert table. The hosts graciously provide coffee and soda and cups and usually the guests have put out a selection of wine to share. The crowd at Russ and Julie's can vary in make-up depending on the act, but there are usually a core group of "regulars" that we recognize from other visits. They also seem to attract a bit more young people than some of the other venues for whatever reason. I find this encouraging, as I always worry where the audiences of tomorrow are going to come from and I hate feeling like this great acoustic music is some kind of nostalgia trip for us aging baby boomers.

Russ and Julie also book the greatest variety of music compared to other house concerts in the area. In addition to the best singer/songwriter types we have seen country, jazz, rock, pop, Celtic and bluegrass music here. Many artists we have seen here were acts we already knew and were fans of. Over time, we have learned to trust Russ and Julie's taste explicitly and we have seen several acts we have never heard of much less heard before and we have NEVER seen a show we didn't enjoy a lot. Sure, some have been better than others but I have never felt disappointed in any music I've heard at their house. And because they have been doing this longer than everyone else and because of their involvement in other acoustic music organizations, they have the best acts clamoring to appear there. Some of the acts we have seen there include Wendy Waldman, Freebo, Jim Photoglo, John Batdorf, James Lee Stanley, emith, Kiki Ebsen, and many others. We really have been there a lot in the last four or five years!

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in addition to hosting this wonderful concert series, Russ and Julie have been amazingly generous with their time, expertise and promotion, helping others get started in the house concert game, helping artists connect with new audiences and supporting these artists and venues with their attendance at many other concert venues. They are also quite active in the Far-WEST and Folk Alliance acoustic music organizations and, as part of their "day job" graphics business, Russ maintains websites for many other house concert presenters and for many musicians. On top of all this, they are two extremely friendly, outgoing and gracious people and wonderful hosts. I'm not only glad we found their concert series years ago, but also that they have come to be our friends. You can't have too much good music or too many good friends in your life!

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