Concertgoers turning to house shows instead of traditional music venues


Justin Kozak jams with Matt Robinson after the main COFFEEHOUSE event at the Speakeasy on November 25. THE PROJECTOR/ Jen Doerksen

House concerts are becoming a popular alternative to playing in bars for Winnipeg’s growing arts and music scene.

Homes acting as venues, like the HMS Arlington and the Speakeasy, are providing a different experience for Winnipeg’s music and arts scene.

“For some, a house show may be a less intimidating stepping-stone before a bigger venue,” said Justin Kozak, one of the organizers for the Speakeasy. “For others, it’s a chance to play in a really unique environment.”

People invite artists, bands, and fans into their homes to provide a night of entertainment. The Speakeasy is a regular home in downtown Winnipeg that has hosted a number of different jam events, including the more recent COFFEEHOUSE event.

“We invited performers of any domain to sign up in advance for a ten-minute spot,” Kozak said. “Along with the usual singer-songwriter stuff, we heard from spoken word poets, writers, a comedian, violinist… even a juggler!”

The COFFEEHOUSE happened in mid-December. It mixed a variety of art forms, including visual arts. Local art dealer Leah Erenberg showcased a number of artists’ work, from photography to painting to illustrations.

“People are often surprised to see a pop-up art show, but pleasantly surprised,” Erenberg said. “It gives people the opportunity to connect with original artwork directly, in a comfortable environment.”

Erenberg has shown a collection of art at four house concerts in the past month. She recognizes the difference in environment from typical gallery showings like the ones she works in Miami.

“For me, I like the intimate theme of the house show alongside an intimate art show. I hope it gives people the chance to feel a personal connection to the artists and their reasons for creating the work,” she said.

The environment that house shows provide offer a number of differences from playing in licensed venues, like bars, or at festivals and other events. George Penner lives at a house known as HMS Arlington that often hosts a variety of concerts. Penner was in the works of starting up a DIY venue when he started planning more shows at his home.

“Jory Strachan had to move all the shows we had planned to do there to my house, since we had a bunch of touring bands that were counting on shows,” he said.

Penner’s original venue arrangements fell through.

Since then, Penner and his roommates have hosted a number of small concerts in their fourth floor loft. The neighbours downstairs have also hosted a variety of hardcore music shows.

Penner books shows at all sorts of venues in Winnipeg, including bars.

“House shows differ from bar shows in that it’s more of an intimate atmosphere. It’s just like the band is at the party with you, because they are,” he said, laughing.

Not every house concert takes place at a venue-style house though. Often people host concerts as house parties, keeping things fairly personal. Zach Van Der Hooft has hosted a number of house shows, but doesn’t title the space or book other shows.

For him, it provides a more comfortable place to socialize and take in some art.

“What makes house concerts a worthwhile pursuit is that element of comfort, friendship, and eliminating business elements of a bar,” Van Der Hooft said. He recognizes that things like cover charges, which are normal for a bar venue, can be a limiting factor in people’s ability to access art.

These smaller events are part of Winnipeg’s growing music and arts scene. Manitoba Music’s “Soundcheck” report on the economic impact of Winnipeg’s music scene said the industry has seen a 31 per cent increase in GDP impact since 2011. This involves generating over $32 million in tax revenues and 4,300 jobs in 2015.

The HMS Arlington and the Speakeasy plan to continue shows into the New Year.