Fill the Stage – How Hosting In-Home Concerts Makes You Way Cooler Than Your Neighbors


Want to throw the best party – the kind that makes you the envy of everyone in your neighborhood?

What if you could have some of the most sought-after local musicians perform live in your living room or backyard? That’s exactly the opportunity a new effort called Fill the Stage is offering people in the Fox Valley and Northeast Wisconsin.

These intimate concerts in your home, or house shows, are an excellent way to show your support for local musicians while looking super cool at the same time.

Two of the people behind Fill the Stage are Jean Detjen and Jeff Romenesko. Both of them are lovers and cheerleaders for original music and the local art scene in general.

Jeff (Romy) Romenesko & Jean Detjen

Jeff (Romy) Romenesko & Jean Detjen

Detjen, who has her own column called “Artful Living” for the Scene newspaper, contacted WhooNEW about Fill the Stage and pointed us in the direction of Romenesko.

His home has become so well known for hosting killer in-home concerts that he’s even given it a name – Romy’s Romper Room.

Romenesko is also part of the music scene. He sings with the band Baba Ghanooj. It’s a scene that has received a burst of energy. That’s thanks in part, says Romenesko, to the success of the Mile of Music Festival in Appleton and the exposure that came with it.

“I think Mile of Music has gotten all of us pretty excited about the local talent, and giving these fantastic musicians a place to share their passions and gifts in an intimate setting is a win-win in my book,” he says.

An upcoming show at Romy’s Romper room will feature Madison-based band The Mascot Theory. But don’t bother trying to get tickets. You can’t. Concerts like these are invite-only, and the exclusivity only adds to the coolness factor.

Watch Hilary Reynolds & Marci Beaucoup at Romy’s Romper Room

WhooNEW spoke with Nicole Rae of the Oshkosh band, The Traveling Suitcase, and Appleton’s Christopher Gold about what it’s like to perform inside someone’s home. Both of them call it something they really enjoy doing whenever they have an open spot in their schedules.

Nicole Rae - Traveling Suitcase Album

Nicole Rae with her band’s new album.

Nicole Rae says it’s a very different experience from her Traveling Suitcase shows at typical concert venues.

“The thing I love most about house concerts is the vulnerability,” she explains. “You are in someone’s home. There are pieces of their lives right in front of you and their guests. This makes it easier to be intimate as a performer.  I find sharing my song writing process, and expressing the parts of my songs that move me is easier after I’ve had the honor of staring at someone’s refrigerator packed with family photos. Much like those photos, my folk songs tell similar stories.”

Christopher Gold is an in-home concert veteran. He’s been doing them for more than a decade and appreciates that people at these kinds of shows actually come to hear his music.

“At venues you can often end up doing a lot of work just to get people’s attention, but house shows provide you with an audience that really wants to hear what you’re doing.  It’s also easier to establish relationships in smaller groups sometimes.  I’ve made great friends by playing in their house,” Gold says.

4 Tips for People Who Want to Host an In-Home Concert

1. Make Sure You Make it Worthwhile for the Performer

Nothing is set in stone for these kinds of events. The compensation arrangement is between you and the musician you book to come and perform. Keep in mind that these musicians are giving up their time to entertain you and your friends.

“Consider a cover charge or putting out a tip jar so artists can still get paid,” Gold suggests. “Make sure to promote too and invite people that actually want to hear music.”

Some artists may be willing to show up for the chance to hopefully sell a few CDs. But in most cases, hosts will charge their guests a small admission fee to compensate performers. Honestly, if something is invite-only and you have to pay to attend – it will probably make the quality of your party seem even better.

2. Make it a Fun Environment for All

Another thing that makes in-home concerts unique is that you get to hang out with the performers – have a couple drinks together, shoot the breeze and share some food.

In addition to charging a small fee for admission, Jeff Romenesko suggests turning it into a potluck by encouraging guests to bring food and drinks to pass around. That helps the host keep expenses down too.

“People at my shows bring their own beverages and some food to share, so there is very little to no out of pocket expense,” he says. “If you like entertaining, this is an awesome new twist on having people over.”

Shows at Romy’s Romper Room have been getting more popular with each party he throws.

“People want to hang out and talk and celebrate what they have just heard”, Romenekso says. “I have room for about 50 people and each show seems to fill up faster than the previous one.”

3. Keep the Drunks & Loud-mouths Under Control

Nicole Rae is used to having people eat, drink and even talk a little while she plays her music and sings. But that doesn’t mean she enjoys it when some drunk dude is ruining the whole show.

“One thing I don’t like is that person who gets too drunk at the house,” she says. “That’s a common theme at any party. I have a hard time concentrating when the fool of the hour is talking too loud about re-roofing the house while shoveling tortilla chips in their face.”

As host, it’s your job to let guests know that when the concert begins, it’s time to listen to the music – not bore people with updates on your latest home remodeling project. You’ll most likely want to set up chairs so that people who really want to hear the music can sit and listen, while others can go to another room and talk.

4. Encourage Your Guests to Explore the Local Music Scene

Romenesko thinks it’s exciting how these kinds of shows can support up-and-coming local musicians while also putting them in front of an audience that might want to avoid the bar scene.

“Wouldn’t it be great to say, ‘I saw this artist at a house show, and now they are really making it as a full time musician?'” Romenesko asks.

However, Christopher Gold points out that one of the potential drawbacks to in-home concerts is how it really is exclusive. Since it is not open to the public there are limitations to just how much it exposes local musicians to new faces.

“I think house shows are really great, and I would love to do them more often, but they can start to get a little insular,” Gold says. “Hopefully, people will go to house shows and have a good time, and then come out to a venue and become an active participant in their local music scene.”

To help boost the local music scene, remind your guests that the artists you brought in to your home as well as others like them can be seen and heard at other places.

How You Can Take Part in Fill the Stage

If all this sounds like fun, something you want to try, the best way to get involved is to contact the organizers through the Fill the Stage Facebook Page. Currently, that’s where both potential hosts and performers can make a connection.

Romenesko admits it’s not the most ideal way to set up these events. But right now, their main goal is getting people interested in hosting.

“I think we need a more organized way to put artists and hosts together. I actually think artists should use the page to let us know when they are available. I realize some (not many) have done that and we have yet to find a willing host,” he says.

“So the second piece, maybe the most important piece, is getting the word out that hosts are needed. It’s like anything, before you do your first show, there is some anxiety over how it will go. But I have found that once you try it, you can’t wait for the next chance to do it again.”

Are you someone who’s willing to host a show? Are you an artist who wants to perform? Do you have the technical skills to help Fill the Stage connect people? These are all ways you can help.

The people behind Fill the Stage are passionate about the arts and creativity in the Fox Valley and beyond. That’s because those things make our communities stronger and all of our lives richer.

“Every community needs the arts and this is a way for all of us to have a part in making that happen,” Romenesko says.

So take a chance. Try something new. That’s what cool people do. Nicole Rae and others are waiting to hear from you.

“I’m open for business and I want to look at your refrigerator pictures!” she says.

Watch Nicole Rae Perform at Romy’s Romper Room

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