Thursday, May 22, 2003
Though Lawrence's downtown area is filled with bars and venues that host live music, a group of Kansas University students and local residents have decided bringing bands into their living room is more exciting.
At least once a month, The Pink House -- a nondescript Oread Neighborhood residence distinguished by a light pink paint job -- is transformed into a music venue when as many as 150 people show up to see bands from both across the country and down the street.
"We kind of got into it because we wanted to promote local music," says Dave Best, a Pink House resident. "At first we were half-joking, but then we realized we could do it."
The first Pink House show took place when about 60 friends crowded in to see local bands Ghosty, Salt the Earth and Getaway Driver. Since then, a collection of local music enthusiasts have organized about two dozen shows at the dwelling with repertoires that put many proper venues to shame.
This Saturday, Beauty Pill (featuring ex-members of Smart Went Crazy), In Medias Res, Volara and Hook and Ladder will take the floor at The Pink House.
The most recent show, which went down last Thursday, featured local acts (blue) that opened for the Washington D.C.-based group The Black Eyes, and The Watchers, a band from Chicago that finished the semester on top of the student-run KJHK charts.
"The Watchers show was amazing," says Peter Berard, a former resident of The Pink House who started Lawrencerock.com to promote local bands. "Both The Watchers and The Black Eyes said it was the best show of the tour."
Berard says bands appreciated the personal touch he and other Pink House organizers added to publicizing house performances.
"We helped promote the last show for two months before it happened," Berard says. "We made flyers, had it on online calendars, did radio promotion -- just about everything that we could imagine. We're all really motivated about it, and the bands see that."
Taking a risk
Together with Pink House tenant Scott Horn and Lawrence resident Adam Mitchell, Berard formed Front Room Productions to organize local shows and give up-and-coming bands a place to play.
"It just grew out of getting contacted by a lot of bands who had heard about the house, and Adam Mitchell just plain knew a lot of people," Horn explains. "It's an outlet for a lot of smaller bands and local bands to get exposure."
Mitchell began inviting acts to appear at house shows when he was 17 and realized there were no all-ages venues that booked the kinds of bands he was interested in ... and no all-ages venues, period. He was surprised at the positive responses from bands that he wrote letters inviting to play.
"It was an intriguing world to get involved in, to realize they're not rock stars," Mitchell says. "That's a really appealing part of punk rock to me: to realize you can be friends with people who play music. You just realize how much of a community it is."
In the seven years since he began contacting bands, Mitchell has also booked house shows at two other Oread locations. The Pirate House and The Halfway House, a pair of now-defunct residences that Mitchell calls "dirtier versions of The Pink House," both achieved national recognition by attracting artists such as Ted Leo, Xiu Xiu, Q and Not U, and in the case of The Pirate House, groups from as far away as Sweden.
"There were maybe 60 kids there," he says. "It's funny because that show would attract 500 people now."
In the four months since they started the company, Mitchell and friends meet about once a week to discuss how Front Room can put a more official face on their productions and start moving out of the house.
"We all care about seeing bands that we like," Berard asserts. "Clubs can't afford to take that kind of risk. With house shows we don't really guarantee bands money, and they understand that."
Even with recent successes booking bands at The Replay and The Bottleneck, Pink House residents say they plan to continue hosting house events because of the unique atmosphere. Mark Sanders, whose band (blue) made its debut at the venue last February, said it was his favorite spot to play.
"I'm never more excited for any show than I am for a show at The Pink House," Sanders says. "I don't like stages. When I play I like to wander off into the crowd. "
"There's not that difference between big rock stars and the fan," says Best. "It's more about enjoying each other's company. I think that's why we all continue to do it.
In addition to rock shows, The Pink House has also hosted two art exhibits. The most recent of which, titled "Brave & Small," featured works by 30 KU students and local artists. Next fall, Berard says Pink House residents plan to team up with area galleries to put on an art night similar to the Crossroads Gallery Exhibits that takes place every first Friday of the month in Kansas City.
"There are always rock shows, but artists have such fewer options," Berard says. "We'd like to put Lawrence art on the map, at least for a day."
Though many enjoy the communal nature, Mitchell admits house shows have their drawbacks, such as bad sound quality and the constant worry of having an evening stopped because of a noise complaint.
Berard says there is also the drawback of people confusing a house show for a keg party, even though there are never kegs at The Pink House. One morning after a gig, residents awoke to find the couch they had placed on the front lawn burned to a crisp.
"When I saw that, I thought it was over," Berard says, emphsizing that a big motivation for hosting shows is to foster a more tame environment for music. "It probably didn't faze us as much as it should have. The next day we were booking shows again."
In the future, the members of Front Room Productions would like to see the creation of a professionally run all-ages venue. Until then, Horn says he hopes more houses put on shows.
"It's really not that hard to do," he says. "Just put up some flyers and move the furniture out of your living room."
"And," he adds, "set up a bucket for donations."