Last weekend, as you clawed your way through traffic to one of the fashionable downtown live music venues to experience what was trending in the local music scene, there was live music you might have overlooked happening closer to home.
No place like home
Tucked away on the outskirts of town, in the wooded confines of Cypress, there was a much needed alternative to the cluttered and impersonal downtown music scene and a musical trend of its own kind taking place. Local residents were letting the music come to them in the home of one of their neighbors at an event known as a house concert. These concerts, often in the host’s living room, offer a much needed live music option in an intimate, relaxed atmosphere, providing an environment which welcomes close interaction between the musicians and the audience with an emphasis on the music that you don’t usually find in normal, high-profile concert venues.
Back to basics
Jana Gilmore, a talented 17-year old musician and protégé of Keeton Coffman opened the house concert with her original tune “Take Me Back,” a break-up song. Every musician needs at least one, and although the story behind the song is an intentional mystery, you can feel traces of sorrow and sadness in Gilmore’s gentle voice as she relives the story through each tenderly delivered note. However, she quelled any concern that this was going to be a set list full of teen, gender-centric break-up tunes, by revealing that Johnny Cash was her inspiration for becoming a musician. Citing Johnny Cash as your musical motivation, especially at such a young age (Gilmore has been writing and playing songs since her early teens) adds to your credibility as a serious musician and songwriter. There was a noticeable increase in attentiveness from the house concert audience after her revelation, and it only increased when she performed “Johnny and June,” a tune she wrote from the perspective of Johnny Cash’s first wife.
Next, Gilmore played another original song, “Blue Eyes,” a tune of longing and loss, followed by a cover of Boy’s “Boris.” Gilmore noted that she liked to give her songs titles with names in them because it made them feel like people to her. This is an understandable practice if you've ever labored to write or create something which is ultimately a part of you and bravely share it with the world. She introduced another one of her people, “Adelaide” to a receptive audience more than happy to meet her and become acquainted. Gilmore finished her set on piano with “You Are the Sea,” a delicate tune exploring the power of belonging, togetherness, and connecting with others - an appropriate parallel to the house concert experience which shares these same virtues through a collective appreciation of the music. Gilmore’s set was a reminder that above everything else, it’s all about the music, stripped down to its simplest ingredients - the tune, the lyrics, and the artist’s voice. Free of gimmicks and unnecessary distractions, music can reach you like nothing else can. Modest in its delivery and construction, (Gilmore writes and records all of her songs in her closet using her iPad) her set demonstrated the strength of music in its most basic incarnation, and it set the stage for her musical mentor Keeton Coffman to reinforce this unrivaled power of music with some songs of his own.
This wasn't Keeton Coffman’s first house concert, and it showed.
Keeton was at home in the house concert setting. He took advantage of the intimate environment to quickly command the room. He got up close and personal, as he so often does, sharing the stories behind many of his songs and interacting with the audience conversationally as if everyone in the room was just hanging out. When you think about it, that’s pretty much the idea behind a house concert. A collective of friends sharing and celebrating a mutual appreciation of music.
With his friend and fellow musician Justin Teague on piano, Keeton began his set with a preview of what his upcoming EP “The Ghost” will sound like with a couple of new, unreleased tunes, “Killer Eyes,” an ode to the windows of the soul and inevitable instruments of expression, and “The Mountain.” Keeton took a quick step back to revisit “Gone,” a farewell to the pieces of your past that have departed your life for good, from his previously released EP “Stumble on Love.” Next, Keeton enlisted the help of the audience with a jocular threat of expulsion from the event if they didn't participate and launched into an interactive cover and audience sing-along of “Stand By Me.” This is where Keeton stands out from so many other musicians. He recognizes music is a give and take proposition between the artist and the audience. Music should be an active experience not a passive one. He knows music brings people together despite any pre-existing differences in point of view or background, and he’s aware that even though music touches you on a personal level, it can also transcend any barriers of self and appeal to the group. The Keeton and friends cover of “Stand By Me” confirmed this collective appeal as it actively brought together friends and total strangers through the power of song.
Next, Keeton performed “The Prayer,” a tune of spiritual reckoning and life affirming realization inspired by his arrival at his own personal crossroads where he’d found himself not too long ago. It’s an emotional tune that makes you contemplate your own personal journey whether you consider yourself spiritual or not. This is what good music does and Keeton knows this.
After this introspective tune, he went to the audience well again for another yet to be released song “What We’re Reaching For.” Keeton coaxed the audience into an expression of do it yourself percussion accompaniment - finger snapping and hand clapping, further reinforcement for the advantages of the intimate atmosphere of the house concert and the conducive environment it provides for audience involvement in the music. Keeton offered another hint of his upcoming EP, performing his latest single “The Letter,” then he called Jana Gilmore back up for a duet of Johnny Cash’s “Fulsome Prison Blues” to pay homage to the man in black - an entertaining and nostalgic representation of the musical cycle of life - the inspiration, the student, the teacher, and the audience, with the music, the common thread, linking it all together.
Keeton, followed the duet with “The Magician” and closed the set with “The Hunted and the Hunter,” both unreleased tunes, but tunes you may have heard and come to enjoy if you've seen Keeton perform around town.
The house concert didn't end with the usual mad dash for the exits to beat the mass exodus from the parking lot which would ultimately spill into the streets and clutter the route back home. Instead, it concluded with a casual, informal mix and mingle with Jana Gilmore, Keeton Coffman, friends, and strangers about their shared love of the music, its meaning, and its inspiration - the musical cycle of life just outside your back door.
To hear more music from Jana Gilmore, visit her bandcamp and YouTube channel. You can listen to more music and get additional information about Keeton Coffman at his website, on Facebook, and on his YouTube channel.
If you like what you hear, buy their music, see them perform live around town, tell your friends, and help support local independent music.
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