For bands that don't yet have the following to fill a venue designed for several hundred fans, local ventures like Chattanooga House Shows make the city a viable tour stop for emerging artists.
Founder Kristy Graves was involved in a thriving house show community in her former hometown of Seattle, and felt the Scenic City's shortage of small venues left a hole that she could help fill. Combining her love for bringing people together through music with her desire to support emerging artists, Chattanooga House Shows has been her passion project for the past two years.
Here's how it works: People can visit Graves' website to request an invite to future shows, which are held in private homes or spaces around town that don't typically host music. The acts and general location are announced via email, but the exact address isn't sent until just before the show, and then only to the people who RSVP. Donations are requested from attendees to pay the artists, and are paid either in cash at the door or beforehand online.
The first show, at Treetop Hideaways in Flintstone, Georgia, featured Ballroom Thieves, a band Graves had seen perform at a festival in Seattle. They just so happened to play Nightfall a few weeks later and, after a few drinks at The Bitter Alibi, they put her in touch with their manager. Since that show, which around 70 people attended, the band has returned to play Moon River Music Festival and to open for Phillip Phillips at the Walker Theatre, and is headlining Songbirds South on Nov. 1.
"I'm pretty sure Chattanooga would have fallen off the touring route if they hadn't played [a Chattanooga House Show] to build their audience," says Graves, who tries to pay the artists as much as they'd make with any other gig, using donations from attendees, and also throws in a place for the band to stay.
She says her goal is to bring in professional touring musicians who have at least a full album and professional video, and who are on an upward trajectory in their careers, as opposed to dabbling musicians just starting out.
No matter how much Chattanooga House Shows grows, Graves says she'll always keep the location secret, for both the utility aspect and the fun of it. Past locations range from the roof of the former RootsRated office to En Root House hostel to Speed Deluxe coffee shop to the back porch of Graves' home on the North Shore. She's also hosted shows at other people's houses, The Daily Ration, Stone Cup and a daytime pop-up at Wildflower Tea Shop & Apothecary. One Chattanooga House Show Graves coordinated was "super-secret," in which people who requested invites were given a parking lot address (Heaven & Ale) where The Chattanooga Hop trolley picked them up and took them to an undisclosed location (Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center) for performances by Planes on Paper and Josiah Johnson of The Head and the Heart.
Graves also helps promote the musicians through giveaways, in which attendees earn chances to win prizes — albums or a Chattanooga Whiskey tour, for example — by signing up for artists' email lists or buying their merchandise. Sustainable practices like bringing your own cup or biking or carpooling to the show can also get concertgoers a chance to be entered into the giveaways.
Graves says invites are sent to almost everyone who requests them and attendees are encouraged to bring friends — and the word is getting out. The biggest artist she's hosted, Kishi Bashi, who played at ArtsBuild in January, was the first show for which Graves had to turn people away. Though, of the 20 or so shows she's done in the past two years, about 70 percent have been at capacity, with between 20 and 100 in attendance, she says.
In the future she'd love to have a dedicated space that would accommodate around 100 people, along with helping others host house shows.
WANT TO ATTEND?
» Chattanooga House Shows hosts shows about once a month, with the next set for Oct. 25. To request an invite, visit bit.ly/chatthouseshowsinvite, and visit chattanoogahouseshows.com to learn more.