Good Neighbors: A Look Inside Houston's House-Show Circuit
Valhalla String Band at DownTogether House
Photo by Tyler Lopez
House party or house show... which are you at?
There's a difference, just as there's a difference between the Grand Canyon and a chuckhole. One inspires awe, creativity and a sense of oneness with humankind. The other is just a chuckhole.
If Kid N' Play is around, you're at the former and also, quite possibly, in a time warp. To determine if you're at the latter, look for: free-roaming dogs; tattooed chain-smokers; fire-twirlers; vegan food; activists; the police (only at certain intervals in the evening); naked models covered in body paint waiting in line to use a bathroom with no toilet paper (and maybe no running water, either); and, of course, bands on hand to set the evening's captivating events to music.
Artwork courtesy of Liz Suburbia
Matt Trimble is one of the residents of DownTogether House, one of a handful of Houston homes regularly doubling as house-show venues. He and his roommates have hosted about 15 shows at their Third Ward home over the past year.
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"I love house shows, both as a host and as an audience member," he says. "As a host it's great, because it transforms your boring old living room that sometimes you start to take for granted into this special space where people are pouring their hearts and talents out and having fun together.
"It's gratifying to help provide a space for that and you get to meet interesting and sweet folks from all over," he continues. "I like going to house shows because the personal nature of the space influences the way I experience the music, and I like being in a small space without clear boundaries between musician and audience."
Bands enjoy these spaces, too, particularly traveling bands, since they're essentially one-stop hospitality shops. Get to town, play the gig, meet and make fans and sleep all in the same place.
"One of the roommates, Adam [Wolfson], is a musician and he's toured around a lot, and knows lots of people in the folk-punk community, so naturally house shows started to happen," Trimble says.
Boby Kalloor is a familiar face on the house-show scene, not solely because of his extraordinary mustache, but also because he frequently hosts shows at his space, The Jenner House.
"It's a lot of fun to let other people have a lot of fun," Kalloor says, summarizing why he hosts shows. "Just being able to promote creative expression is an honor. And it means a lot to us to able to host local acts."
The appeal of house shows for Houston groups is simple. More stages to play means more chances to play on almost any night of the week. Add bands visiting from elsewhere to the bill, and the shows become underground networking events.
Kalloor's space always seems to be in a state of flux, so playing The Jenner House is like never playing the same venue twice. It began in 2009 with what appeared to be a traditional stage in an oversized room; since then, walls have gone up, the stage was demolished and bands now play in any nook or cranny they can fit into or in its spacious backyard.
Kalloor enjoys the shows and has only one complaint about them: "cleaning up afterwards."
Over in Third Ward, Doctor V. chunks beer bottles into a recycle bin while the bands play. He noodles around a bit on his laptop, adds fuel to a citronella fire and discusses the show occurring at his house venue, The Compound, with the show's promoter.
The good doctor lives on the property, which includes a quartet of apartments. Shows take place in a huge space, secured by more than a half-dozen shipping containers he purchased and hand-placed, always with the idea of using The Compound for shows and community events.
"This is my backyard, you know, I invite people over to my house," he says. "Basically, the concept is I have space and so I'm trying to get people to use the space."
Doctor V. has held shows at The Compound for the last two years. He always hopes to earn some sort of kickback from these events, which he uses to fund his nonprofit, Tour de Hood. The organization and its sister company, Third Ward Bike Shop, promote healthy living through cycling. The nonprofit has loaned cycling equipment and sponsored tours and campouts for area schools in the ten years it's operated.
Those are worthy efforts that benefit Houston communities, but on show nights the city's music community is the real winner.
Doctor V. at The Compound
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
"It's been wonderful," says Doctor V. "I never thought it was going to turn out the way it has, to see some of the stuff I've seen. I've seen black, white, brown, green, red, blue, purple people all having fun here at The Compound. The shows have been very peaceful."
The venue has had one well-publicized, not-at-all peaceful moment when a Houston Free Thinkers show was visited by Houston police. By the end of the visit, officers had cocked shotguns, arrested someone and made the local newscasts.
"Since then we've developed a relationship with the police, and there's a mutual understanding there," allows Doctor V.
"There are things about having house shows that can be stressful," adds Matt Trimble. "Worrying about if folks will show up, if the bands will have a good time, and the cleanup can be a pain sometimes. Most of our shows are acoustic, but we've had a couple loud shows, and then I worry about being a good neighbor."
But the "beautiful music" he's heard over the last year and the promise of exceptional moments far outweigh the challenges, Trimble says.
"Once, my friend Mo booked a show and this band, called Faun and a Pan Flute, showed up from Atlanta in a giant Frito-Lay truck painted green," he recalls. "They had ten members, including a tuba, two drummers, and a giant xylophone. They took up almost the whole living room and blew everyone's mind."
According to Doctor V, you can't duplicate the kinship of a house show at a house party or even at a more traditional concert, where generally everyone pays to see an artist they all know and apparently love.
"When people come, it feels like their home," he says. "They respect it as if it's their place. For me, it's like having some friends over and they play and hopefully I can get a little money to kind of keep things going. And it's great, I've enjoyed it."
"Well, it's all about intention," Kalloor adds. "House shows aim to make people feel good. Folks need a place to be themselves and leave their problems at the door just for a little while, ya know?
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