When the concert stage is in your living room

Chastity Brown at a home concert in Mankato.
Chastity Brown plays at Colin Scharf and Laura Schultz's house in Mankato on Feb. 12. The couple has hosted ten home concerts over the past two years.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Chastity Brown's usual touring schedule brings her to clubs and theaters across the United States and Europe.

A pile of shoes in the entryway of a home concert.
A pile of shoes in the entryway of Colin Scharf and Laura Schultz's house during a concert by Chastity Brown in Mankato.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

But one night in February, her performance seemed at home in, well, someone's house. Brown is part of a growing bloc of musicians — both popular and unknown — who seek out house concerts specifically.

"These living room shows are unique experiences — there's no stage, no pretense, no bar, no distractions," said Colin Scharf, who hosted the concert with Brown at his home in Mankato, Minn.

Photojournalist Jackson Forderer spent two nights in the living room of Scharf and Laura Schultz, documenting house show culture and showing how this unique community is thriving.

Home concert attendees line the staircase.
Home concert attendees line the staircase at Colin Scharf and Laura Schultz's house during a performance break.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

The tradition of house shows got its start in underground hip-hop and punk scenes in the 1970s. The scene has stayed strong since in the United States, and some American artists have found lately that Europe is a haven for house concerts.

John Statz, a touring Americana artist from Denver, said he's played about 100 house shows, many in Europe.

"Early on in my touring across the pond, I realized that you could easily post on a couchsurfing forum, [for example,] that you were looking for a living room to play on a certain date and be reasonably assured to fill it," he wrote in an email.

A sign hangs on the front door of the concert.
A sign hangs on the front door of Colin Scharf and Laura Schultz's house during Chastity Brown's performance.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

The scenery of modern house shows varies greatly. Sometimes its an under-rehearsed new rock band playing in a sweaty, cramped basement with cheap beer cans covering the floors.

Other times, it's a bit more elegant, with professional touring acts playing to a more reserved crowd in a nice living room, like the scene in Scharf and Schultz's house. Today, there are often more touring musicians in a town on any given night than there are venues. People who host house concerts can be saviors for performers needing to fill a tour date. However, the reason for playing in a living room can be entirely opposite. "There are moments within these living room shows that just aren't accessible in huge venues," Schultz said.

John Statz and Chris Sasman play a home concert.
John Statz, right, and Chris Sasman play a home concert at Colin Scharf and Laura Schultz's house in Mankato on March 6.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

It's the intimate connections to the audience that draws many performers.

Scharf and Schultz try keeping their events small — usually around 35 guests — to maintain a level of comfort. Some indie acts have even booked entire national tours with the goal of playing a living room or a basement each night.

Host Colin Scharf holds his cat during a concert.
Colin Scharf holds his cat, Marty, while Chastity Brown plays a concert at his home on Feb. 12.
Jackson Forderer for MPR News

Plus, houses allow for things that wouldn't fly at a bar or club. One night, the Minneapolis band Fairfax, AK performed at Scharf and Schultz's house in Mankato. It was the singer's mom's birthday. "So he called her and had the whole room sing 'Happy Birthday,'" Scharf said.

"You don't get that so much when you go see bands at bars."

Correction (April 8, 2016): An earlier version of this story misidentified the relationship between Colin Scharf and Laura Schultz. The story has been updated.

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