Rock the house

William L. Teckmyer III

Akron homes as concert venues

Joe Boyer and Wes Daniels of The Flukes rock out in their Medina basement for friends and fans.

Credit: Beth Rankin

The house looks like an average neighborhood home.

Children’s toys sit in the front yard.

Drapes cover the picture widow.

A car sits in the driveway.

But a steady flow of people going into the house fills it like a clown car.

Inside, couches and chairs are covered with people from different states meeting for the first time.

The whole setting is inundated in the hum of conversation, alcohol and music.

Then, everyone funnels into the basement.

For almost a year, this has been the atmosphere surrounding concerts at Nathan Bowers’ house in Akron. He and his roommates, Russ Gantzer and Mike Tolan, along with others in the area, have begun to literally open their doors to the music scene — and a lot of strangers.

Their home has become the site of regular house shows where music junkies can come to get their fix.

“I am surprised by the amount of people I don’t know at these shows,” Bowers said.

On an average concert night, a hundred people come and go from the house.

When the roommates decided to have shows at their South Portage Path home, they went scouring the neighborhood curbs for old carpet. Their findings now encapsulate the basement in a thick coat of sound-proofing that gives their neighbors a bit more peace during the louder shows.

The concerts often consist of two or three national bands and a handful of local bands that play in the close quarters of an average 1,300-square-foot house.

Some nights, as many as 10 bands will play, lasting long into the morning.

If it sounds snug, that’s because it is, but that’s one of the reasons that area house shows continue to thrive, Bowers said.

“The bands like playing in a house because of the intimate atmosphere,” said Bowers, who plays in the band Dirty Lords with his roommates.

There’s a drastic difference between 30 people going into a bar to hear music and the same 30 people getting cozy in someone’s house for a show, he said.

House shows offer a sharp contrast to their traditional bar-style counterparts by allowing for more atmospheric control, Akron resident Keith Freund said.

Freund, who also holds house shows at his Highland Square home, has performed shows with his band Trouble Books on a fireplace mantle, on staircase landings and inside a tent made of sheets set up in his kitchen.

“One of the best parts is that we get to put ourselves in awkward positions to play,” said Freund.

But he doesn’t like to put the guests in an awkward position, so the majority of the shows are strictly donation based. The bands that play may not get much money, but they can be relatively sure that someone will be there to hear them.

Bowers said that he doesn’t determine how well a show goes by the money that does or doesn’t come in.

“I gauge it by whether the bands say they’re having fun,” he said.

With an eclectic crowd, alcohol, comfortable furniture and live music, it’s rarely the case that people aren’t enjoying themselves.

The local bands serve as the big draw for people. The audience that they bring with them is what’s ultimately important to the bands. The bands want to come and know that people are going to show up and listen, Bowers said.

“More people are likely to show up if they don’t have to pay to come hear you at a sterile club,” said Freund.

If people enjoy themselves, it’s likely they will make a donation at the end of the night. The money is then out of gratitude and true appreciation and not obligation, he said.

The donation box that often sits unguarded in the middle of a crowded room, reflects the sense of community that has developed around this type of show.

“We’ve never had any problems when we open our house up to people,” said Bowers.

Even though he gives all donations to the touring bands, a band like Right Arm Severed from Madison, Wis., isn’t worried about the money.

“We’re living our fantasy. Don’t boo too loud,” said R. J. Remington of Right Arm Severed.

The money has always been a secondary or tertiary concern to Remington.

“We are losing money, but I am having an amazing time,” he said.

The band was able to play at the house for the same reason that many national acts do. They heard of Bowers’ house at another show in Madison, where they play house shows on a regular basis.

“We had a few places cancel on us, so we had an open date,” said Remington’s band mate Sven Bolan.

The power of word of mouth is such that Bowers and Freund have both received calls from bands they don’t know or have never heard of who want to play shows in their houses. Many of them are from other states and have toured with a band that has played in one of Akron’s house venues.

Between them, they have hosted shows with bands from Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New York and Washington.

“It’s important that we are expanding on the music and ideas in our area,” Bowers said.

When the time comes to bring people in for the shows, not much effort goes into the advertising campaigns. “It’s definitely a subculture, a minute group of people who come to the shows,” he said.

Bowers said that when it comes to the music scene, he’s a bit of a purist.

“I figure if people are really interested in the music, they’ll find out where it’s at,” he said, declining to release the address where the shows take place.

He relies on a sprawling network of friends and on the few flyers that he screen prints in his basement and posts around Highland Square and Kent.

So if you’re interested in attending one of the house shows around the Akron area, keep your eyes on the telephone poles and event boards around Highland Square, such as Annabel’s and Angel Falls.

Contact performance arts and entertainment reporter William L. Teckmyer III at [email protected].