On an Ashburn cul-de-sac, a couple of empty nesters are on the cutting edge of the indie music scene.
Carolyn “Carrie” McCauley and her husband Ken launched the Music on the Heights house concert series last fall, drawing music lovers for low-key performances at their home. They’re part of a nationwide phenomenon, with musicians around the country opting to play in private homes rather than bars and clubs.
“Ken and I are so happy to be facilitators, if you will, of bringing musicians and audience members together in a warm, intimate atmosphere,” McCauley said. “For us it really is about the music and supporting independent artists.”
For the McCauleys, it started last summer when an old friend posted a request for house concert hosts. Carrie McCauley, a preschool administrator and live music devotee, jumped at the chance.
“I just raised my hand and said yes,” she said. “Then I looked up what a house concert was.”
McCauley at first got help from her brother-in-law, Northern Virginia pedal steel guru Billy Birdsong, in booking local acts. She’s since branched out through the Concerts In Your Home website, a national clearinghouse vetting and connecting musicians and hosts.
The series’ June concert Saturday featured Nashville-based singer-songwriter Danika Holmes and her collaborator Jeb Hart, the series’ first touring act. And McCauley is looking forward to hosting several of these “traveling troubadours” in coming months. In August, they’ll host Nashville-based musician and loop artist Matt Bednarsky for a Sunday afternoon concert.
McCauley and her husband moved to Ashburn from Montgomery County, MD, in 2000 to be closer to Ken’s job in information technology. The couple, who have three grown children, decided that their empty nest would work for house concerts, allowing them to share their love of live music with their community.
“We’re just regular people who love music. … We don’t want to be out at a bar where the band starts at 10 o’clock at night,” McCauley said. “You really get spoiled hearing the clarity of the voices and the guitar and the other instruments.”
“For many people, it’s a much more comfortable way to see live music,” said millennial singer-songwriter Justin Trawick.
Trawick, who hosts the Circus Life music podcast and performs around the region, said house concerts are hot with baby boomers but also have plenty to offer young music lovers who want a more personal musical experience.
Trawick’s musical showcase The 9 Songwriter Series was featured at Music on the Heights in April, and he returns to the heights with his band The Common Good on July 8.
For Trawick and his bandmates (on upright bass, mandolin, acoustic guitar and fiddle) it’s exciting to unplug and play in an intimate space. House concerts are increasingly popular with musicians, he said, because they offer a chance to be heard and reach new listeners with a built-in audience.
“The house concerts that I know have this amazing ability of attracting their own following,” Trawick said. “People definitely go because of the specific artists that Carrie gets but people are coming back over and over again because they know she puts on good concerts.”
With room for a maximum of 60 guests, the McCauleys have cultivated a warm, friendly vibe, relying on word of mouth and a social media presence to promote the shows. McCauley has decided to gently promote the series on a wider scale this summer but plans to preserve the intimate feel of being among friends. The McCauleys greet visitors at the door and serve food and drink to guests at their own expense.
“It’s extremely generous what she’s doing for us strangers and for the artists,” said Loudoun-based singer Timothy James, who discovered the series on Facebook and went into his first concert not knowing what to expect. James and his wife have since become regulars, enjoying the music-focused crowd and the chance to connect with performers before and after the show.
“It’s a listening thing. It’s not like going to a bar or even a winery. This is about the music,” James said.
For most evening concerts, the McCauleys open their doors at 7:30 p.m. for snacks and time for guests to mingle with artists with music starting about 8 p.m. The hosts don’t charge admission—even to cover their own costs—but instead collect donations that go directly to the musicians ($10 to $20 per person is suggested).
“People say every seat’s like having a backstage pass,” McCauley said. “You’re not 100 feet away from them—you’re five feet away from them. It’s a really nice, intimate way to listen to music.”
Justin Trawick and The Common Good play Music on the Heights Saturday, July 8. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and music begins at 8 p.m. Email Carolyn McCauley at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and the address and check out the full schedule at facebook.com/musicontheheights.