Thursday, September 23, 2010

Vacation with a Folkie 2010

Photos by Dave Marion

For the past 3 years we’ve had the pleasure of hosting sold out house concerts with some of folk music’s most prestigious singer-songwriters. Cabin Concert organizers Tim & Lori Blixt first began bringing folk music fans to the West Mountain Inn in 2008 for 3 nights of intimate living room performances and songwriting workshops with the renowned Ellis Paul. In 2009 their “Vacation with a Folkie” event featured Richard Shindell, and this year fans enjoyed the perfect trifecta of folk music talent with musicians Tracy Grammer, Lori Mckenna and Mark Erelli. We talked with Tim and some of the fans about what it’s been like to spend 3 days in Vermont with a small group of other music lovers, getting up close and personal with their favorite artists.

West Mountain Inn (WMI): Tim, Tell us what a house concert is and how you got started organizing them.
Tim Blixt: A house concert is just what the name implies---a concert that takes place in someone's home. Though many folks miss the cool lights and the pounding sound system of a "real" club, for the kind of acoustic music we present, many fans find the subtle pleasures of a quiet living room where they're no more than 20' from the artist to be a wonderful alternative to the clubs that normally present these artists. Lori and I were always fans of this music and long about 1994 we started hearing about house concerts. Our understanding was that they were quite popular out west---where the distances between big cities and real clubs can often be imposing. Artists had taken to picking up a gig in someone's home along the way. Often, a bed is included for the night, and because usually all of the money collected goes to the artist, these can often be fairly lucrative gigs for the artists. We've always felt that the kind of music these singer songwriters perform lends itself to a really intense listening environment, which is exactly what these small, un-amplified spaces provide. The opportunity to have a really "up close and personal" experience with some fairly well known artists has proven irresistible to a growing number of fans as the growth in the popularity of house concerts has shown. We presented shows in our home for over ten years, and along the way, it occurred to us that maybe we could really stretch the boundaries of what a house concert could be. We realized that the only thing better than a night with some of these very talented folks in a tiny living room, would be three, or in some cases even six, nights with them!! Early efforts included really ambitious events in Scotland, France, Nova Scotia, Gettysburg, and Stowe, Vt. But when we did our first shows at the West Mountain, we knew we'd found our "home" for these things.

WMI: What makes attending a house concert special compared to seeing music events in another performance setting?
Jela Webb: The intimacy of the performance, the closeness between artist and audience. The unplugged nature of the performances makes them extra special because you know that you are hearing the music in its rawest form, there is 'no hiding place' so only the best and most confident of musicians are willing to 'expose' themselves in this way. What is also special is the opportunity to attend the guitar workshop (Ellis Paul) and songwriting workshop (Mark Erelli and Lori McKenna) and hear how they write, develop and play their material. Having been a long time supporter of these musicians it is wonderful to listen to the talk about the creation of their art, their inspirations and influences.
Pat D’Amico: It’s the intimacy and access to the musicians it's like having them play in your own home. I also enjoyed the West Mountain Inn grounds, labyrinth garden, front yard etc. I sat out on the stone bench in the labyrinth each morning with a cup of coffee and played my guitar. It is an amazing setting.

WMI: Tim, how did you choose the West Mountain Inn that first year?
Tim: We first found you when a friend, knowing about our love of B&B's, gave us a copy of the Select Registry. We actually booked our first event with you without ever having seen the place!! As it happened, later that year (2008) we were on our way to attend a concert in Chester, Vt. (yes---we often travel a VERY long way to see an artist we really like!!), it happened that we were going right near Arlington and so we stopped in to see what the place we'd booked looked like! Needless to say, we were thrilled. When Amie showed us what she envisioned as the performance space, we knew we'd hit a home run.

Photo by Richard Webb

WMI: What got you excited about coming to the West Mountain House concert this year or in years past?
Jela Webb: I live in the UK, travelled to WMI with my husband Richard; we are keen music fans and go to many shows. We came in 2008 and 2010 each time to see and hear favorite musicians 'up close and personal' The opportunity to spend a few days with like minded friends and fans in a beautiful setting, listening to the music we love, made the decisions to travel 3000 miles quite easy!
Dave & Sheri Marion: Being big hikers, kayakers and skiiers. . .there is just too much to do in Vermont. We have been long time admirers of New England anyway so traveling up there for us is a no brainer. We also bring several of our family and friends with us to the shows, I think there about 11 of us all together, and we expect that number to grow as we spread the word about these events. The intimacy of your living room and the opportunity to spend time with these special artists make these concerts all the more wonderful for myself and my family.
WMI: What are some of the reasons you've chosen to make the West Mountain Inn house concert an annual event?
Tim: We've done these things in a number of places, not just in this country, but all over the world. Though everyone of these things has been special, no place we have ever used has offered the degree of comfort and enjoyment that your Inn has. We have a number of fans who've attended all of our events---or at least a lot of them---and EVERYONE agrees that the West Mountain is clearly the best place we've ever used for these things. Our fans have loved their rooms, the attentiveness of the staff, the incredible food, the gorgeous surroundings, the perfect little concert space we use, the proximity of the performance space to the bar (always a favorite aspect of music fans!!), and the ability to roam around the grounds and maybe bump into the artist (who always stays on site with us).

WMI: What are some stand out memories you have from the house concerts at West Mountain Inn?

Tim: One of the really enticing aspects of our shows is that we promise the fans that over the course of their three night stay, the artist we not repeat ANY songs!! This is a pretty tough chore for lots of artists. What we do is not something every artist is capable of. The artist first needs a catalog that gives them three nights of material---but just as importantly, they actually have to REMEMBER how to do some of their old chestnuts!! So on any night I can think of out of the nine we've now spent listening to music in your parlor, literally EVERY night has offered me something I have maybe not ever seen or heard---or certainly something that I haven't seen or heard in many many years.
Sometimes it can get kind of crazy as an artist struggles to recall a song that they maybe haven't performed in over a decade---but in that is often the most fun. I do remember one song that Ellis Paul did during his first run at the Inn. He was accompanied on that tour by a gal who worked in his manager's office. They were good friends and Ellis knew a good bit about her---but not everything. As it happened, it was Rachels' birthday while they were at the Inn. One night Ellis broke into a song that was maybe titled "Happy Birthday Rachel". It turned into an eighteen minute saga---one of the funniest songs any of us had ever heard---in which Ellis sang the complete life story of this gal. He actually had to ask her for details while he was singing, and then he wove those details into the next verse. It was as creative a moment (or many moments I guess) as I had ever heard. We all knew we'd been treated to not just a whole lot of laughs, but also a once in a lifetime moment.
Jela: Being together in a large group, with friends and sharing such special times together. Hearing songs performed that do not normally get played during the more traditional tour dates. Hearing rarities and also brand new songs that have literally only been written and never before played in front of a live audience.

Tim: I could also add that for each of our events at the Inn, our artists have offered a free songwriting workshop for any fans interested.
Although neither Lori nor I are players, those who've attended these workshops have spoken of them as nearly life changing experiences. The opportunity to be one on one with a real musical hero of yours is something many of these fans cannot pass up!!

2011’s “Vacation with a Folkie” events are already in the works and 2 separate groups are being planned - one with Ellis Paul and a second with Richard Shindell. We’re thrilled to have these wonderful musicians and dedicated folk music fans back each year. Check in with us later for more details. Please visit Cabin Concerts and the musicians sites to learn more about house concerts and the talented artists who’ve graced our living room stage.