So three years ago, that’s exactly what he started to do.
“I like live music. I think live music is marvellous, but you either go to a concert or you go to a bar,” says McGee.
Concert venues can sometimes be big and have less intimacy, and in bars, people’s conversations often compete with the music, he adds. House concerts tend to draw a crowd that is there for the music.
The idea of house concerts seems to have grown in recent years, although Darren Arsenault, a musician from the South Shore, did his first one in Ottawa about 15 years ago.
Arsenault describes playing in someone’s house as personal. The musician is able to be close with the audience.
But Arsenault does say it’s not always easy.
“Sometimes it’s harder to play in front of a few people than 1,000 people. It’s very intense and eye to eye,” he says.
McGee and Arsenault connected through a mutual friend, and Arsenault played at McGee’s house by the sea last autumn.
His first year, McGee had seven concerts, the following year six and this year seven.
Chris Walker has been to each one.
He says he mostly started going because he knew McGee and wanted to support the shows.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” he says about house concerts. “It links communities, it gives you a chance to meet people.”
Much like Arsenault, Walker likes the intimacy of house concerts.
“It’s nice to be that close to the performer, especially if you’re able then to go along and ask questions afterwards,” Walker says.
When people get to McGee’s house for a show, they gather and chat before it begins. The sitting room, where the show takes place, has a good view of the ocean, says Walker.
Walker describes the shows as somewhat informal, in the sense the musicians introduce themselves and audience members may ask questions during the show. He says sometimes the musicians ask the audience questions, too.
Following the first set, McGee has a 15- to 20-minute intermission. This is a time for people to mingle again. McGee always has food and drinks out for concertgoers.
“A sociable event,” says Walker.
After a second set, people might chat with the artist or artists again and maybe buy CDs.
“That would be a typical evening,” says McGee.
Not far from McGee’s, Pam Samson holds similar shows at her house in Beach Meadows.
“Sometimes it’s harder to play in front of a few people than 1,000 people. It’s very intense and eye to eye.” - Darren Arsenault
Samson likes music and has been going to the Stan Rogers Folk Festival for years. Many of the artists she heard were just getting started and having trouble finding venues.
She says she had heard about house concerts out West. That’s how she got on board, and there were close to 50 people at her first concert about six years ago.
Samson puts chairs in her living room and welcomes people to bring their own chairs.
“They play for 45 minutes or an hour. We take a 15-minute break and people eat and chat and drink, and then they have another set,” she says.
Everything is pretty well finished by about 10:30 p.m., and people head home.
“I only get artists that I know and enjoy listening to,” says Samson.
“The artists are just really happy to play. They love coming to house concerts because they get to talk to people. They sell some CDs; sometimes they sell a lot.”
Some house-concert hosts put artists up for the night if they have the space. McGee and Samson are two of those hosts.
One challenge of hosting is not knowing how many people will show up. The number of guests determines how much money the musician or musicians make.
“I find that it just depends,” says Samson about how many people she might see at a show. “It’s a crapshoot each time.”
McGee says he see a number of regulars, but there are sometimes new people who come. He says they seem excited about the experience.
“The intimacy of being able to hear the music, being able to talk to the musicians, being able to meet new people, eat new foods and stuff like that,” McGee says.
McGee says people have been having Ceilidhs and house concerts with family and friends in the Maritimes for a long time.
“With families being dispersed and communities being scattered, that process has probably diminished to a certain degree, and it’s being replaced by a combination of local people and come-from-aways,” he says.
House concerts help to maintain a similar tradition to Ceilidhs and kitchen parties. He says he sees house concerts as having grown from an existing tradition.