Jack Williams

A Conversation with Jack Williams (continued)

JW: And CDs--now, this is just a philosophical statement--recorded music means almost nothing to me, at least as far as singer songwriter music. As far as classical music, well, Beethoven's dead. I can't go hear him anymore. [laughs] So I either have to go to hear a concert of his music performed live, or I have to listen to a CD. And I do listen to people that I really enjoy, like Chuck Pyle, Chuck Brodsky, Annie Gallup, Greg Brown. I listen to a few things. But mostly I know that the only thing that's really going to matter to me is hearing them in person.

PM: Wow.

JW: And not even on the festival stage. I really find out what music means to me when it's not something coming out of my speakers, and not something coming off the festival stage. Campfires get closer to it, because you hear stuff there that has longer staying power in your life.

PM: It's a much more powerful experience.

JW: Absolutely, far and away.

PM: And along those lines, have you not been doing quite a bit on the house concert circuit? What's that all about?

JW: Oh, man, well, I've taken to that as being the quintessential folk venue. There's no doubt about it. I mean, the house concert is not a new thing, it's a rediscovery. Because for anybody else like me that's a fan of classical music, they know that around 1815 or so, you could probably go to Mr. Schubert's house there in Vienna, and hear his music live in a room. Here was this young man who died at age 31, and he composed 600 songs, nine symphonies, and just hundreds of other works. And so he wrote some of his best works in his late teens and twenties, because he didn't have any thirties.

PM: What took him so young?

JW: People are beginning to understand that this often happened as a byproduct of syphilis. That would be expected. Schubert was a person who opened up his home to have people come in for an evening. And back in the pre-TV days, people were anxious to have some place to go. So they could go to his house, and Herr Schubert would probably start with a small piano piece, a little thing, and then he might introduce a touring singer, maybe a singer who would sing one of his songs or something else. And then he would bring out his four buddies and treat everybody to a new string quartet. Then there would be some refreshments. And then Herr Schubert might sit down and improvise for an hour. And this was the house concert concept, the salon.

And nowadays, we've got our own version of the salon. [laughs] That's where the whole thing rests for me. That's the folk venue. The coffeehouses are a traditionally wonderful thing, where people can be up close to you. And of course, the coffeehouses now are in big churches.

PM: More often than not, isn't it?

JW: Yes. That comes from the fact that usually the churches will have a room. It's not a church function, necessarily. It's just a rentable space. A lot of Unity or UU churches have an event hall or some space where they're perfectly willing to run a concession, make a little extra money, and have some of those nice liberal folks come in and cover that. They have a nice community of people there. So it's great promotion for them, but they also are interested in promoting this sort of community folk event.

PM: Yeah, it's a lifestyle thing. It's a family entertainment. They already have the sound system. And it's almost a ready-made audience.

JW: That's right. And in answer to your question, I've taken to house concerts to the tune of fifty or sixty a year.

PM: Wow!

JW: And I love it, I love it.

PM: I'm going to do my first one on Saturday.

JW: Really? Where are you playing?

PM: With Annie Gallup at Urban Campfires House Concerts in San Antonio.

JW: Now they've been around for a while.

PM: Right. They're kind of famous, aren't they?

JW: Yeah. They're one of those like the Rouses in Austin. There are some that have been doing it for a long time. I just helped the Rouse House Concert Series celebrate their 15th anniversary. And shoot, my friend Jimmy Riddle in Columbia, South Carolina--

PM: I met him at Folk Alliance. He was a great guy.

JW: Yeah, man. I hope he liked your music. He's got his own taste, and I can't predict it, but I hope he invites you to come play for him.

PM: Yeah.

JW: Jimmy has been one of these bright shining stars in the middle of the southern non-folk firmament. He decided a long time ago that he liked singer songwriters. He was a psychiatrist, and he had some extra money, and what he didn't spend on antiques, he was going to blow on hearing folk music. He went to all the Folk Alliances. He sits front and center at Kerrville. He's everywhere. Falcon Ridge, the Strawberry Festival, Jimmy goes. But he started the house concert series in Columbia long before the Rouses did it fifteen years ago. I think Jimmy has been at it probably close to twenty years.

And his first one--back then he had a tiny apartment. And his room couldn't have been much bigger than my cabin here. And his first thing was to have about fifteen people sitting around the feet of Townes Van Zandt. That's how he started. And he still has his house concerts, but he also books the UU. So anyway, Jimmy is one of those people who has taken the house concert thing to a certain level. And his was one of the first ones that I played at that I felt was really together.

But now I try to create them, when I'm out there. I mean, if I meet somebody who says, "Man, I wish we could hear you play more often," I just say, "Have me play in your house and help me get thirty, forty people in there. You create our own scene." And I've had people who've had no one but me. [laughs]

PM: Really?

JW: Yeah. I've played three times at my friends' in Sorrento, Florida. They've never had anybody play a house concert in their house but me.

PM: Now, being a veteran and a purveyor of this scene, do you get the sense that this credible house concert scene may be really growing?

JW: Oh, it's absolutely growing. And that's good and bad, because it is a folkie thing. And just like everything else in this country, as soon as a good thing comes along and it's real loose and homey, people decide, "You know, there's a right way to do this thing, and I need to tell people how to do I it."

PM: [laughs]

JW: You know what I mean? And then they create the manual, and they put it online. But I just have to say to that, in the modern vernacular, "Duh." It's an artist and a host. And we can just talk face-to-face, and I say what I need, and they say what they would like to have done in their home. And if we agree, we've got a house concert.

PM: I'm sure we can expect to see a House Concerts for Dummies any day now.

JW: [laughs] Yeah. [to Judy] Frank's going to write House Concerts for Dummies.

PM: [laughs]   continue

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