There has been a resurgence of “house shows” in Peterborough over the last few years. If you’ve never been to a house show, fear not. The concept is simple: find a house with enough open space to set up a makeshift stage, find musicians, invite members of the public into your home and enjoy! Putting on a show from your home gives the organizers greater personal freedom, outside of liquor laws and venue fees. It offers unique advantages, like being able to set your own rules and unique disadvantages like guests becoming more rowdy and neighborhood noise bylaws.
It’s a very intimate experience to be invited into someone’s home. The way someone decorates their walls, the books on their shelves, their record collection, their furniture, the soap in their bathroom, the state of their kitchen and everything else within a personal dwelling provides a snapshot of someone’s most private moments. Many of us, myself included, would balk at the chance to allow so many strangers into our most vulnerable spaces. A few brave members of the Peterborough arts scene have taken on this challenge with relish.
Arthur spoke to two house show experts.
The Fox Den
Mary-Kate Edwards and Bradley Boyle host cozy folk shows at their Patterson street home, nicknamed “The Fox Den”. The Fox Den primarily puts on shows with folk music, and singer-songwriters. T. Thomasson, Georgian Bay and Peachykine have all recently played here.
Zoe Easton: Why do you host shows at your house?
Mary-Kate Edwards: We’re really passionate about the place that we live in. This house has been a safe haven for a lot of queer people. In Peterborough there’s been a lot of house shows for heavier music, like rock shows, and we wanted a more relaxed space for quieter music. We invite our friends [from out of town] to play here and we give them a place to rest in our guest room, while still giving our friends in town a space to listen to music cheaply and in a welcoming space.
ZE: You just came back from a tour that took you all the way to the east coast. Did you play any house shows there?
MKE: We played a house show in Moncton at a place called “The Attic” which doesn’t do shows anymore because it’s getting too big. It was being put on by Corey Alexander and because they worked on a farm there was lots of food and it was a really nice, intimate experience. The artist I was touring with is now on tour with someone from that house show and he was able to do that because it was so intimate.
I’ve hosted people who’ve been on tour for months and they’ve told Bradley and I that staying with us was the first time they felt like they were home in months. Most of the people who we host are queer and they know that a homophobe won’t be in the crowd at our house, so they can be their most free selves. That’s really important to us, because we know how hard it is to be on the road and feel like you can’t fully relax.
ZE: As a queer person, what are some of the challenges of house shows?
MKE: I’ve played at house shows before where people are taken aback by my queerness and because we’re in a house setting, they feel this privacy and they feel entitled to say things to you in a way that they might not feel comfortable in a venue. I would never [again] play at someone’s house that isn’t confirmed to be an ally or a queer person, just for my own safety. I think it’s really important as an artist to feel safe, at some [house shows] lots of people can show up and bring drugs or whatever and that’s not always safe for everyone.
Bradley and I, we always bring a bunch of wine for people and let people hang out in our back yard after the show. People get to hang out and talk, but it’s more about listening to really interesting storytellers and singer songwriters – not necessarily partying. We specifically try to include people who don’t drink by making coffee and tea. We try to create a space that’s not a bar but where you can still enjoy music.
ZE: You alluded to this a bit already, but can you talk more about the drinking culture at shows?
MKE: Bars aren’t necessarily a safe space for people who struggle with alcohol, or who don’t enjoy those types of environments. I often feel awkward or out of place if I’m not drinking. The spill was nice because for their more chill shows, that aren’t crazy party environments, you could just get tea and a cookie or chips and dips. I think it’s important to have venues that offer more than just alcohol.
ZE: I think The Spill really filled that DIY space need for a lot of people. It had a mix of both the formal staff and the freedoms to do (almost) anything you wanted. How do you think people are using house shows to fill that void?
MKE: Every house show is about the environment of the people who live there. Bradley and I are artists so our house has a lot of our own and our friends’ art on the walls. Our house is us. We’re both passionate, and fiery and we like to have fun and we’re both queer, so we feature artists who share these things with us. We want our shows to be thoughtful and we want people to feel things. If they want to smoke or drink that’s fine, but it’s supposed to be a space for thought provoking ideas and thoughtful art. We want people to be able to experience strong emotions.
I remember doing door at the Spill and this older guy showed up, who is notorious in Peterborough for being creepy, and Bennett [Bedoukian] came up to me and asked, “Is that guy being weird to you? I see how he’s looking at you, do you want me to kick him out?” He took my comfort seriously and didn’t wait until it escalated to act. It’s so important to me that you can trust the staff like that, so that’s how we try to operate at our shows.
Drew Demers: Musician
Andrew “Drew” Demers is a Trent alumni from the class of 2008. He is the drummer for Famines, and garage rock band Priors. This summer, Priors played a mock house show at Evans Contemporary with Lonely Parade and Stacey Green Jumps, inside Nicholas Fleming’s installation, 301 Pearl Avenue.
Zoe Easton: You’ve hosted a lot of house shows. What are some of challenges there?
Andrew Demers: It’s very tiring if you’re establishing yourself as a ‘regular’ house venue: your place always stinks; sometimes you don’t feel like having a ton of people [that you don’t know] in your personal space. And on the artist side of things, there’s typically no money in playing house shows. But I think it’s more vital to the community than relying on venues, because in general I feel like people would much rather go to a house show than go to a bar. Plus, with the freedom of a space like someone’s home, it can be so much more than just a show at a bar, like projections, art installations, etcetera.
For touring, you get such a better glimpse at a community doing house shows. Raymond [Biesinger of Famines] and I were focusing on ONLY playing house shows for quite a while… we did, like, three months in a row of only house shows.
ZE: Oh yeah? Where did you play those?
AD: Philly, New Jersey, London [Ontario], Moncton, Halifax, Montreal, Kingston, Quebec and a few more too, I can’t think of right now, ha! Sticking to our two shows a month every month forever is wicked.
ZE: What was the best show from those three months?
AD: I’d say probably Claude’s house in Moncton [because], the whole town comes out! It’s always SO much fun. The Philly one was great because everyone treated us like aliens because we are Canadian. Montreal ones are good because all the buddies come out!
ZE: What’s the weirdest house you’ve ever stayed in?
AD: That’s kind of a two-prong question: there was this place in Fredericton with mannequins everywhere.
My first ever show in the States it was weird: not in décor, but more vibe and situation. We had no place to stay and this guy we were playing with was like, “You can stay at my friends house; it’s about 15 miles out of town,” [and while we were driving] dirt road turned into like, forest cottage road, out to an old farmhouse. There was a really weird middle-aged woman who was this guy’s “roommate” (I thought it was his mom) and she was just watching TV really loud and coughing a lot. It was pretty much a horror film. That was outside New Haven in Connecticut…
Oh! Oh Oh! The Funky Jungle! [A house in] Providence, Rhode Island. We stayed there ― graffiti on literally every surface of the house and knives stuck in walls!