House concerts are a longstanding tradition in Boston. They happen in basements, living rooms and lofts, often sporadically, with varying levels of success. But The Whitehaus in Jamaica Plain has been packing them in every week for nearly three years.
If you’ve never been to a house concert, it can seem a little weird at first, especially if you show up before the music starts, according to Danielle Leone. ”We sort of wandered in, and we were like, ‘Alright, where do we go?’” Leone says. “‘We’re in somebody’s house. There’s a lot of stuff.’”
Leone lives in JP and sees a ton of live music in clubs and bars, but this is her first show at The Whitehaus. She came to see The Flotation Walls, a band on tour from Columbus, Ohio. The opening act is a local girl: 16-year-old Olivia Buntaine of Sherburne, Mass.
In front of the crowd, Buntaine is gleeful. “Hey guys!” she says. “This summer I made a little CD, this little CD’s name is ‘One Mile Reservoir’ and this actually is my first time playing any of the songs on it.”
Her cute confession is greeted with applause. Then she plays. And she’s good.
Now, house concerts are nothing new to Boston, but this one venue’s longevity — in a transient, young city — is remarkable, according to indie concert promoter Dan Hirsch.
“Places tend to have a life span, they thrive for some amount of time,” Hirsch says. “They get shut down, other places disappear and something else comes to take its place.”
Hirsch says the Whitehaus has survived, despite noise complaints and the occasional police intervention. It’s also evolved into a collective, with its own recognizable brand, Hirsch says.
Musician Morgan Shaker is a founding member. “I’d say everyone who lives here wouldn’t mind quitting their job and being a full-time musician,” Shaker says. “But it would be a goal that would have to be done with an honest core.”
Right now 10 people live under this roof. They share instruments, food, bills and rent. Making music, not money, is what motivates the Whitehaus, according to Shaker.
The aesthetic here is deliberately non-commercial. The house has its own homegrown record label, but the CDs only cost $5. You can listen to the recorded shows for nothing on the Internet. And get this: the shows themselves are free.
The Whitehaus is clearly a labor of love, and it has been from the start.
It all began three years ago when Shaker and some friends moved to Boston from the Cape. They had separate apartments and were forming their own bands, but Shaker admits the competition to get gigs at clubs was fierce. So they created an alternative to the club scene — at home.
Ads on Craigslist, a few fliers and lots of word-of-mouth attracted acts, and audiences.
“I remember seeing the writing on the wall,” Shaker says. “I was like, oh man, this is going to be my life now. This is too good to let go of. And so we just said, alright, we’re going to do this once a week.”
All their sweat equity has paid off. The notoriety The Whitehaus musicians have gained because of their house concerts has turned them into part-time professional music promoters.
The group recently produced a three-day festival in Cambridge featuring more than 50 bands. They dubbed it “Weirdstock” and hope to do many more in the future.
Still, The Whitehaus musicians aren’t quitting their day jobs any time soon. They say they are firmly committed to putting on their free shows, at home, even if it means cleaning up a big club-like mess the morning after.