The Best Backstage Pass in Canada: Victoria House Concert B
I got to be 14 years old again on Sunday night! And no, I have not discovered a magical time machine to transport me back to the days where dirty diapers, laundry or really any responsibility what so ever was a very foreign concept. I went to my friend Andy’s house to see Jay Semko, the lead singer of the Northern Pikes, play a concert for a crowd of 50 people in his living room! As soon as I heard “Kiss Me You Fool” and “Teen land” I instantly became that giddy, carefree teenage girl who would ride around in her friend Trisha’s “boat” (a huge, gas guzzling 1972 Malibu) blasting the Northern Pikes. In fact, the first CD I ever purchased was the Northern Pikes’ Snow in June.
My friend Andy Briggs has been running small house concerts out of his living room in Fernwood, Victoria since 2007. He came by the idea rather organically when he went to watch a hockey game at a local pub where it turned out Tom Hooper from the Grapes of Wrath was playing. Andy’s a big fan so after coming back week after week to see Tom perform, he finally asked him if he’d be interested in playing a concert in his living room. Tom agreed and from this grew a local musical phenomenon called “Victoria House Concert B.” (BTW, the “B” stands for Briggs which Andy added just in case the name “Victoria House Concert” was already taken…what a smart cookie!)
I was lucky enough to meet Andy about four years ago through my friend Delani who had casually mentioned one day that she’d seen one of my favourite artists play at Andy’s house the previous year. I think I scared her as I screamed, “You what???? How? Why? Where? When can I do this???” Being a huge music lover and concert goer, I got very excited over the idea that I could possibly see one of my favourite Canadian artists play to a small group of people at a house party! She introduced me to Andy and over a couple of beers we discovered that we both shared a love for Canadian music. He promised me he’d let me know when the next concert at his house was.
A couple months later, thanks to Andy, my dreams came true. I got to sit a few feet away from my Canadian musical hero as he belted out song after song on his acoustic guitar, transporting me back in time to where I would lock myself in my room, blare his CDs and dance for hours (or rather flail about like a lunatic as young adults do…I’ve since tried this as a 32-year-old woman and I think I managed to get through one song before I had to sit down and grab my inhaler. Note to self: get going on that New Year’s resolution to work out more. Geez!)
At Sunday’s Northern Pikes concert, Andy graciously offered to answer a few questions for me (Yippee…my very first interview!) about this amazing music venue he’s created and why he continues to open up his home to musicians and fans alike. So here we go:
What is your favourite/most memorable moment from a house concert?
“Perhaps my most memorable moment was the first time I realized that it was not a dream to watch my idol musicians play close and acoustic — just a touch away, let alone in my own house; to greet, watch, occasionally jam or chat into the early hours, have them stay the night, chat over breakfast, or more importantly facilitate others’ listening enjoyment.
This realization occurred almost immediately with the arrival of my first artist (Tom Hooper, The Grapes of Wrath). I was setting up and returned to it after a short greeting as he showed a desire to settle in to his room and practice/do a set list. I must have seemed like a giddy, elated boy as he walked out of the living room. I later found that it was his first house concert and that in actual fact he felt like a nervous child as well.
Not much later the house filled with a voice and song I could not help but recall, but it emanated far crisper than the radio. He was singing one of my favourite songs; ok, all of his were. Memories of places, best friends, and circumstances were triggered. I couldn’t help but gravitate respectfully to the adjacent hall to admire and adsorb such clarity. I was surprised to find the hall empty as well as the staircase to the upstairs. I quietly and slowly peered up the stairs and followed the music. Much to my amazement, he was not at the top of the stairs and in fact was down the hall behind closed doors. I was blown away! It was just a sign of the sounds that would soon be a part of my new world.
I thought that this was surely a magical time. What started as an inebriated suggestion with a little believing by Tom Hooper, self craziness, and a bit of luck had dropped greatness into my lap. I would have been elated and awed forever with this chance alone; a privilege I felt that could never be surpassed as he is one of the top dozen Canadian icons. Little did I know the extent of me and my groups’ fortune.”
What artist has played at your house that you thought you would never get?
Without question, each and every artist that has come to play for Victoria House Concert B seemed unlikely in the beginning. I have been both lucky and aggressive in getting some of the best musicians that I possibly could; my thoughts were “why not try?”
With being the sole facilitator I could not help but be initially biased in my choice of musicians. I am very fortunate to have drawn many of the well known Canadian personalities, all of which have surprised me with their professionalism, moralistic kindness, and energy. Canadian musicians are awesome! (I concur with this statement 100%! Canadian musicians are the best!)
I have never had a bad concert; I look out into the crowd each night to see the elation of smiles and nary hear a pin drop of sound, except when they are encouraged. Who would be dismayed or distraught at such a low cost to see someone like Barney Bentall, Shaun Verreault (Wide Mouth Mason), or Jay Semko (Northern Pikes) close and personal and at length? Perhaps what makes it all my hours of work worthwhile are these times, the music, and the reactions expressed by the viewers.”
What is the strangest thing that has happened during a house concert?
“I suppose I am fortunate to have return and/or very respectful patrons who come specifically to listen to great music, so not much out of the ordinary occurs. On the positive side, since the industry is so close-knit, quite often other musicians show up (like Tal Bachman or Steph Macpherson or most of a band like Acres of Lions who jammed out a few piano tunes) and play and contributes or an artist like Aidan Knight brings a repertoire of sounds and voices.
I guess my worst nightmare occurred but once during a Vince Vaccaro concert when one of the attendees showed up already on his way to being very inebriated. Since my friend Todd at Hooge Studios graciously records most of the concerts as a gift for the musicians and if they also choose, for us as well to remember, it is usually very quiet and calm; for everyone is essentially there for the music and courteous or just awed into silence very quickly.
Anyhow, even just continual talking affects everyone including the artist. Well, after only a few songs it was suggested that we take a break. I was fortunate to have the group support and two larger members’ desire to back my decision to refund this man’s ticket if he would exit.”
Who are you currently working on to play in your house in the future? Also, what is your approach to asking artists to play at your house?
“I suppose now that reputation may make it possible to get other musicians it might seem that the sky is the limit. At the moment I do have a favourites list. At times they seem impossible to attain and then I recall whom I have already had. Venue size and fame cut into some of those names but others seem plausible. Now that I just had Jay Semko, I’ll press Andrew Cash (Skydiggers) and Neil Osbourne (54-40); both of whom I worship and have negotiated with.
There are many artists both local and abroad so I always keep my ears open. I occasionally venture out to listen and learn and recruit; one such great artist that returns frequently to Victoria is Jeremy Fisher; he seems like an easy candidate but he is an example of how it is never easy both getting in touch, making them believe, nor making them want to try (the venue can be intimidating to their personal space). Carly speaking here: Jeremy Fisher is my favourite artist. Jeremy, if you are reading this…please do a show at Andy’s house!!! I promise you won’t regret it!)
I am always looking and finding singers. I suppose the best way to know would be to join the Facebook Group as there is a listing that continually gets updated. Planned so far is Aussie, David Ross Macdonald (a personal favourite so I can!), locals Mike Edel, Acres of Lions & Steph Macpherson, a Nashville return from Stacey Earle (Sister of Steve) & Mark Stuart, and Lilith Fairs’ top rated 2010 singer Dayna Manning with Ryan McMahon.”
End of Interview
Thanks so much Andy for taking the time to talk about this amazing and intimate music venue you’ve created for everyone to enjoy. I have so much fun everytime I attend one of your concerts as it’s not only a way to see amazing musicians but I always end up meeting such wonderful and interesting people of all ages and walks of life:
And the best thing about these concerts is really anything can happen!
For instance, on Sunday night I got to sing WITH Jay Semko, one of my musical heroes. It was a wonderful and completely unexpected surprise…someone asked him to play a song off his first solo album but as he began to sing the song he realized he couldn’t remember the next two lines. I quickly mentioned that I had his CD in my purse with the lyrics and so he asked if I would go get it for him. I brought it up to him at the front of the room and rather than just reading over the lyrics quickly and giving them back to me, he asked if I wouldn’t mind staying up there to help him out with the song as well. It was one of those moments I will never forget and would never had the opportunity to experience if it wasn’t for Victoria House Concert B.
Thank you again Andy for sharing your beautiful home with such talented musicians and all of us crazy Canadian music fans!