Empty beer cans litter the sticky floor. Sweaty bodies jostle. A guitar riff bounces off the concrete walls. Pushing open a tightly wedged back door, the sound of loud music grips at the outside air. This is a place of escape. 

Attending a concert can be a special experience, but some music lovers are hungry for a different, visceral experience.

People have begun opening their homes to small local and traveling bands. Typically, the homeowner or renter invites a handful of artists to perform for a close group of friends in their living room or basement.

These small-scale concerts, known as house shows, are not new to the music community but have had a recent resurgence. 

A contribution to an underground culture

Private, dimly lit spaces where people come to break away from societal norms were popular throughout the 20th century, starting during America’s Prohibition.

With the enactment of Prohibition in 1920, unlicensed barrooms — rooms where alcoholic drinks are served over a counter, commonly known as “speakeasies” — popped up across the country.

The growing popularity of speakeasies created a high demand for live entertainment and speakeasy owners delivered by hiring local artists, particularly jazz bands, to help create an enjoyable party environment.

According to The Mob Museum, jazz performers such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Paul Whiteman were able to advance their careers by starting in these small venues.

The Mob Museum — officially the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement — is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and provides an interactive experience for guests, outlining historical battles between “the Mob and the law.”

Exclusive shows — hidden with passwords — created a secretive underground culture, which appealed to many, even after the conclusion of Prohibition in 1933.

During the 1970s, shows inside personal homes became increasingly popular within the punk rock community.

These house shows, often referred to as do-it-yourself or DIY shows, allowed artists to break away from the standardized music industry to create a direct, individualized experience, which represented the punk community’s values.

“Punk is anti-establishment, anti-status quo, anti-institutional and anti-religious,” graduate student April Errickson at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wrote in her 1999 thesis. “They believe in anarchy, freedom of the people, destruction of tradition and a basic truth that exists beneath all of these societal constraints. One of punk’s main goals is to challenge — both actively and passively — what the dominant society sees as truth.”

This anarchical, free-thinking set of ideologies is still prevalent but not just in the punk community. Musical artists from a variety of genres are exploring the ever-evolving house show scene to engage with a smaller audience and get away from expensive venue booking costs.

A scene built out of necessity

The house show scene in Springfield is very active and has grown, especially over the last 10-15 years, according to Seth Goodwin.

Goodwin, a local musician and booking agent for The Outland Complex, cited a need for house shows in Springfield during the mid-2000s due to a new law.

In November 2006, Springfield voters passed an initiative to prohibit anyone under the age of 21 to enter bars, nightclubs or any other business whose revenue was at least 60% in alcohol sales, according to a 2015 Springfield News-Leader article.

This limited the number of venues minors could attend or perform at themselves.

“When I was 18 — outside of Christian coffee shops and places that had a relative religious bias — you didn’t really have a place to go that was all ages,” Goodwin said. “You didn’t go to shows. It just didn’t happen, unless it was a house show. It was out of necessity because otherwise I had to hang out in Christian spaces. It was crucial for me to have a place that I could go and actually form my own self.”

The first house shows Goodwin attended and played were along Kimbrough Avenue near Missouri State’s campus. Since then, the houses have been torn down or restructured into condos, he said.

A security concern

According to the News-Leader article, the initial reason the law was passed in 2006 was because of a growth in high-profile assaults outside of large nightclubs.

Despite the new law, alcohol-related incidents continued to break out.

On first thought, Goodwin said a venue should feel safer than someone’s house because nearly anyone can open their doors to the public. However, at house shows, people are usually surrounded by more of their friends, which adds a level of accountability. 

“I think that we don’t consider how much having our friends around and social clout matters more than organized security,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin explained that while organized security is important, he understands that dimly lit bars with a specific clientele — which he said he has observed as drunk people off the street or older men — may not be appealing to everyone. 

An intentional undivide

Amphitheaters, stadiums, theaters and bars are common music venues that provide similar expectations. Guests pay for a ticket to see an artist perform on a stage and then they leave. Typically, there is little direct interaction between the artists and audience. 

Carson Davis, a local musician who performs under the name Carley Sunn, said he believes performing on a stage can create a sense of superiority and inferiority even though it may not be intentional.

“At a venue with a stage, there’s just this distance created when you’ve got to hustle your stuff off the stage, and people want to talk to you but see you’re working,” Davis said. “It moves a lot faster at a venue. At a house, it moves slower. (It’s) easier to meet new people and meet the community.”

Kodie Brown, a sophomore theatre, dance and acting major at Missouri State, attends house shows regularly since she was introduced to the scene last year. She said having the opportunity to talk with artists after their sets is one of the reasons she loves attending house shows.

Brown attended a show in Arkansas that featured a handful of Arkansas rappers, one of whom Brown has been following on social media for several years and was able to chat with after his performance. The two still communicate frequently about different types of music, she said.

Music enthusiasts such as Brown, who come to house shows, understand the artists they see may have little to no venue performance experience.

Konrad Giallo, a local alternative musician, said he believes this awareness creates a stronger, more supportive community.

“When you do well, people watching will let you know,” Giallo said. “When you do poorly, they still pat you on the back for it. It’s people. When you perform at a show, you don’t think about the numbers. You think, ‘Oh, there’s that person I know and that person I know,’ and you look out and you’re like, ‘Okay, I know where I am. I know who these people are and I feel good.’”

A different feeling

Every venue, whether it be a stadium or single-bedroom house, creates its own atmosphere, which attracts a certain crowd.

Spencer Pearson, a Springfield musician who performs ambient, electronic music under the name Faulter, said different houses have their own “feelings.”

“I think mine is more of a warm feeling,” he said. “It feels like a grandma’s house.”

Pearson hosts shows in his wood-paneled living room, which he calls the Homestead, where his old childhood dog crawls into the laps of his guests. He said he hosts shows when his music friends travel into the area, and they usually play music similar to his.

Pearson said he wouldn’t feel comfortable booking hardcore bands at his house because their punk aesthetic would clash with the atmosphere he has worked to create.

A notable punk house not far from Missouri State’s campus is called the Salty Spitoon.

“I’d say the Salty Spitoon … that’s like a punk feeling,” Pearson said. “It’s in a dirty basement so the bands can be more loud and crazy. You kinda feel unsafe in a good way — claustrophobic.”

Giallo and Davis also host shows at Davis’ house, which he calls The Yellow House.

“My house is definitely a more put together, not rowdy house,” Davis said. “It’s gotten a little rowdy, but it’s not Spitoon rowdy.”

“Nothing is Spitoon rowdy,” Davis and Giallo said in unison with a laugh.

“I think we can probably play anywhere,” Giallo said. “We just have to keep in mind where we are going when we decide on the set and match the energy for best results.”

A backdoor policy

Just as speakeasies were hidden away at secret addresses, house show venues are tucked away in quaint neighborhoods.

Commonly, house show locations are spread by word of mouth. However, some hosts share information about the artists performing, along with the dates and times of shows on their social media accounts.

This information could be shared in a private Facebook group or on a hand-drawn poster, which is shared as a photo on their Instagram account.

The Salty Spitoon has its own Instagram account. Differing from the Homestead’s hand-drawn posters, the advertising materials for the Spitoon are digitally created and usually display loud colors. 

Anyone can walk into a house show, but hosts work hard to keep noise and other commotion to a minimum. For example, Salty Spitoon guests are asked to enter through the backdoor to keep people off the house’s front porch.

During the mid-2000s, Goodwin said police busted house shows frequently since the scene was fresh and the majority of people who attended the shows did so to drink and party.

Today, the house shows are more lowkey and most people attend them to appreciate the music, rather than cause a ruckus. 

Pearson said when he decided to open his house for shows, he wanted to create an environment where people could come enjoy music, rather than get wasted and not remember the night.

“I like when they feel more like shows,” Pearson said. “Sometimes the line between a house party and show are skewed. I love house parties too, it’s just not what I’m trying to do.”

A popcorn bucket

“Donations for the traveling acts,” Peason says softly as he makes his way around his living room with an old movie theater popcorn bucket used for collecting donations.

House shows are often completely free, but hosts may ask for donations if there are any traveling artists. Venues and promoters take large cuts from artist ticket sales, leaving them with little to no profit, especially if they are not the headlining act. 

Pearson said a few years ago he opened for a band at a Springfield venue and did not receive any payment. Although playing at house shows can be risky, he said people are extremely generous.

“If you play out of town, a lot of times people will not have money to give you, but they’ll give you a place to stay, which is better than money because hotel rooms are expensive,” Pearson said. “That’s a pro to house shows — traveling bands will have a place to stay.”

An inseparable community

House show culture has been around for decades, and despite its changes over time, one thing remains the same: an intimate community of music lovers. 

“I definitely feel a lot tighter knit with the music community in Springfield because of house shows,” Davis said. “If we were only playing at venues, I definitely wouldn't know the same people.”

Seth Goodwin, Spencer Pearson, Konrad Giallo and Carson Davis all agreed they would not be the artists they are without the supportive nature of Springfield’s house show scene.

“It’s funny to talk like this is important,” Pearson said during his interview. “It’s so important to me, but it’s also just hooligans in a house.”

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