My previous experience with house parties is pretty standard fare. You bring food or drink — this isn’t college, so act accordingly and bring something — show up, chat with friends and acquaintances, have a few drinks, and listen to a little music. Of course, said music typically comes from a computer, portable speaker, maybe even a jukebox.
Not Jeff Abrams’s house parties. Abrams, who lives in Montrose, has been hosting his own musical house parties for nearly 30 years. The setup is simple, but the sense of community fostered by this setup speaks to Abrams’s love of Houston and the Texas music scene.
Guests, many of whom have been coming to these house parties for decades, check in at the front desk. A donation, usually in the $20-$25 range, is requested; hell, they even take credit and debit cards. The event is BYOB, or BYOW (water), as many of the folks in attendance aren’t there to drink. Rather, they are in attendance purely to celebrate music.
Guests are also encouraged to bring a dish of some sort. On this particular October night, many opted to pick up fried chicken or sliders on the way over (props to whoever brought the Popeyes; it had been way too long). For others, it provides an opportunity to get in the kitchen and showcase a little skill (further props to whoever made the turkey wraps; they were legit). The crowd is diverse, though a sizable portion of the audience is of the baby-boomer variety. That said, some are older, many are younger, and some even bring their children to the event (I did just that at a previous house party).
The music typically starts around 8 p.m. and closes down around 10 p.m., with a short break about midway through. At this most recent musical house party, which took place in mid-October at his Montrose home, Abrams invited Austin singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson to play his outdoor stage. Gilkyson – who, coincidentally enough, is married to scholar Robert Jensen, a former professor of mine at The University of Texas — was in town for a separate gig, and Abrams thought it a good idea to invite his old friend and Grammy nominee out for an extra show.
“Music is a huge part of my life, and I think it’s something worth sharing and celebrating,” said Abrams, who must pause our conversation several times to greet all the friends and well-wishers who come up to thank him for having them out. “To be able to showcase artists like [Gilkyson] and others, it’s a real pleasure.”
Jana Rosenbaum, a friend of Abrams's, has been attending his house parties for 20 years.
“There is such a passion for music here,” she said. “It’s such a soulful way to bring the community together.”
The party did just that. When he first began hosting his musical house parties in the early ’90s, he was hopeful that 30 people would turn out to support whichever artist was on the bill. This particular October night, meanwhile, drew a packed house (no pun intended) that easily numbered 150. They weren’t disappointed on this particular night, as Gilkyson barreled through a two-hour set that had those in attendance locked in the entire night.
For many, once Gilkyson left the stage, the party was just getting started. See, Abrams’s house party isn’t just a chance to showcase a particular artist; it also serves as a chance for local musicians to show up and jam.
Once Gilkyson left the stage, and after audience members bantered a bit, many attendees grabbed their instruments (mostly guitars) and headed for a converted garage that now serves as a jam-session studio of sorts. They spent the ensuing hours trading songs and stories and generally doing what they came to do – playing and celebrating music.
Susan Martin-Robbins was one of those musicians who not only came to see music, but to jam as well.
“I love to play, and it’s even better that I get to play with such great friends,” she said. “These parties are so great – all ages, regulars, newbies. Everyone is welcome.”
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Credit to Abrams and his warm nature for such a welcoming vibe. Playing party hosts isn’t always so fun — cleanup, in particular, sucks — but Abrams seems downright giddy to have so many folks, some of them strangers, in his home.
He has his reasons.
“Any chance I can get to showcase musicians like this, I will take it,” Abrams said. “Plus, I get to play!”
Abrams says his house parties will return in January. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.