How my 40th birthday party changed my life OR why living room shows are amazing

Mikey Freedom Hart’s trio played my surprise 40th birthday party in our apartment, and the experience rocked my world.

I opened the door to our apartment and a whole load of people yelled, “Surprise!”

As I hugged people and soaked in my surprise 40th birthday party, I thought John had the stereo turned up a bit loud — but then I made it to the living room and saw he had a live jazz trio set up in the corner.

I squealed with delight.

We do not live in an enormous place. After having owned a three-bedroom house in Ann Arbor, it sometimes feels like college life all over again to share a one-bedroom apartment with my husband.

But John had pushed the dining table out of the way to make room for the Mikey Freedom Hart Trio and I loved how it felt having live music in our home.

It can be an excellent intimate experience to hear music in a small club, but that’s still not the same as music at home. Maybe the closest comparison is the difference between sharing a nice meal with friends at a cozy restaurant versus feeding them a home-cooked dinner.

A few months later, I was talking about the awesomeness of my birthday party with Clint Maedgen, when he was in NYC performing at Lincoln Center with Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Clint listened to my giddy description of having a band in our living room, and asked how many people were at the party. I thought for a minute and estimated maybe 50 or so.

“I’d play a party for 50 people,” he said nonchalantly.

Um. What?

Yeah, one of my favorite musicians was suggesting he’d play a living room show.

That led to the surreal experience of collaborating with friends with a bigger living room and a grand piano to host Clint Maedgen and Helen Gillet:

I’m a pretty assertive girl but I’d have never asked a full-time musician to fly up from New Orleans for a private party. At least not without having much deeper pockets. But as we talked about plans, Clint told me how much he loves the intimacy of performing in people’s homes.

Years ago, I’d read a New Orleans Times Picayune article quoting Clint on living room shows:

“I love the idea of doing living-room shows more than anything,” he said. “Preservation Hall is close to that. “In a lot of ways it could be the future of live music. The idea is that you have a really good friend, a fan of your music, and they used to live here but now they’ve moved to Portland, and they’re telling their friends about their New Orleans experience but don’t know how to describe it. It might be a situation where I can go up and play a house party for them and they can have 50 of their friends in the house, in their living room.

“To get your song across when everybody’s on the couch and kids are running around, that’s my favorite. I’ve done a couple, and it’s fun.”

Emboldened by the Helen and Clint show, I approached Mark “Mr. B” Braun, one of my favorite old-school pianists. I sent him photos and video of Clint and Helen playing and asked if he’d want to do a living room show in Brooklyn.

He said yes!

Mark told me something almost identical to what Clint had said, that he loves playing in living rooms because that’s how he grew up hearing music and it’s an intimate environment that’s different from a club or other professional venue.

That inspired me to think bigger.

I began to look around at who else is doing living room shows around the country.

I bought the domain, and began developing a plan for how I’ll use it.

And I put out the call to a few more musicians to do house concerts. It looks like the next show might be the two singers of the Sweetback Sisters:

Also in the works, bringing Bob Skon to New York:

They’ve both said yes, and now I’ve got my eye on Meschiya Lake:

None of which likely would have happened without that surprise 40th birthday party.

You just never know where inspiration is going to come from.

If you’d like to get started hosting living room concerts or performing living room shows, here’s an article I wrote for the Associated Press with suggestions for hosts and musicians.


Categories: career, creativity

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10 replies

  1. Colleen your party was, um, GRAND!!! I had a blast and met some cool peeps. I’ll never forget it:). Keep it rockin’ sista!

  2. Wow, Colleen! Wow! and belated birthday wishes too.

  3. I hired a three-piece (piano, upright bass, drums) jazz combo for a party for my wife when she earned her PhD. They were all students so they came relatively cheap. The piano player was an amazing eighth-grader who had just won the DownBeat Magazine outstanding young soloist award. A few years later, the drummer’s quartet won DownBeat’s outstanding college group award (keep an eye out for Spiro Sinigos in NY). We were thrilled then, and we’re thrilled now to remember what that added to the party.

    I’ve never thought about repeating the experience with professionals, but now I’m about to measure my living room and consider the possibilities.

    • Mark, I think you’d be a perfect living room show host — you love music and you’re in a city where I bet musicians might find themselves on the way to or from a show, but without an infinite number of appropriate, available clubs to play.
      You could help fill in their schedule with a show where they’d play to a sophisticated university town crowd.
      Or, that is, as sophisticated as Ohio State can be.
      (You had to know I’d get an OSU dig in somewhere)

  4. This is a fabulous piece! Inspirational! Can’t wait to “hear” what happens next:)


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