Turn Your Eichler into a Concert Hall

Glenn Houston and Travis Jones, best known for their band Houston Jones, performed at the Greenridge series as a duo. Photo by Dennis Hermosa

A Castro Valley couple with no show biz experience have turned their Eichler into a concert venue that entertains the public, helps musicians, and provides personal satisfaction. With some effort you can do the same.

“We kind of tripped into doing these house concerts in the first place,” says Dennis Hermosa, a software consultant. “We had music at a few of our parties, and we go to house concerts. We thought, let’s give it a try.”

“They’ve gone over pretty good. None of the neighbors have complained or called the cops.”

Dennis and Renee Hermosa, a librarian, who have lived in their Eichler in the Greenridge neighborhood for 21 years, put on about four house concerts a year featuring the music they love – a mixture of folk and country and blues,

Tony Furtado
Tony Furtado will perform at the Greenridge series February 7.

“This is our way of supporting the music,” Dennis says. “The musicians get all the donations. All the expenses are out of our pockets.” They’re put on about a dozen concerts over four years.

Their next concert, Saturday, February 7, features Tony Furtado, a highly regarded banjo player, slide guitarist and singer. Their Greenridge House Concerts series is too informal to have a website, but people can join the mailing list by emailing [email protected].

Neither Dennis nor Renee are musicians. “Renee and I have zero musical talent. We’re the audience side of things,” Dennis says. But they’ve been attending concerts and house concerts for years.

In a way, their series was inspired by a long running house concert series in Oakland, the Boathouse, whose proprietors encouraged them to get into the game, and originally lent Dennis and Renee chairs.

The idea behind the series, Dennis says, is to provide a venue that’s easier than going than bars, less noisy and more about listening. It’s better for the musicians too, as the proprietors do not take a cut of the door.

Johnny Bones plays clarinet in the Hermosa backyard with the band California Honeydrops. Photo by Dennis Hermosa

Donations are $20 and the musicians get it all, he says. Their costs for the concerts average $100 each, he says. He and Renee provide some food and drink; guests are asked to bring finger food and drinks to share.

There are also capital costs, he says. They’ve bought a few sunshades for the outdoor concerts they hold when the weather is clement. And they are gradually buying chairs. They’ve also bought an umbrella insurance policy, just in case someone gets hurt.

So far, though, the worst injury was to a wine glass.

“We get a good caliber of people,” Dennis says. “It’s not people coming here just to treat it like a bar.”

Their most recent concert, featuring the rollicking blues-country-hokum duo of Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan, was an easygoing late-afternoon affair, with doors opening at 5, music commencing at 6, guests gathering in the atrium and kitchen for snacks and wine and beer before the show, mingling – even the newcomers -- like old friends. Autumn light from the atrium, slowly dimming, added to the mood. The sound was great.

The band American Nomad performed an outdoor concert at the Hermosa home. Photo by Dennis Hermosa

“The acoustics, we worried at first with all the hard surfaces,” Dennis says. “But Glenn Houston (of the band Houston Jones, which has performed at Greenridge) came by, he walked through the house, he clapped a few times and then he said we’ll be fine.”

To attract musicians, Dennis says, it helps to know them. He and Renee have met many over the years at concerts. “We’ve been fans of those guys, Tom and Kenny, for 30 years,” he says.

The trick is to ensure that enough people attend each concert to make it worthwhile for musicians. That means spreading the word, attracting repeat customers, and controlling for no-shows. They do that by assuming that 10 percent of people who say they will attend will not. They also send out reminders before the show.

“We set expectations with the artists, we can get 40 to 50 people at $20 a head. Will that cover your expenses? It’s not fair if we come up with only half of that amount,” Dennis says.

“Everybody has a good time at these things, so we get a lot of repeats who come regardless of who is performing.”

“They’re all been happy with what they’ve gotten so far,” he says of the musicians. “And we always feed the musicians well and that goes over well with the musicians. Renee’s a good cook. We get to relax with them after the concert and get to know them better.”

The California Honeydrops often leave the stage to mingle with the audience -- or roll in the grass. Photo by Dennis Hermosa

Although many people in the neighborhood know about the concerts, and some can hear the outdoor events, few local Eichler owners attend.

“We’re kind of disappointed with that. It kind of surprises me,” Dennis says. “What else do folks have to do on a Sunday afternoon? We wanted to encourage more of the neighbors to come, have a little social thing in the neighborhood.”

If you’re thinking of going into the concert business yourself, he advises, “Start out small. Find out what works for you. Some people who put on house concerts don’t even move their furniture. You sit on what’s there or you sit on pillows. That’s kind of one of the charms of house concerts. They’re not all the same.”

“Start with your circle of friends and contacts so you know the people who are coming and you don’t have strangers the first time.”

It also might be a good idea to talk to neighbors ahead of time – which he and Renee did not do – especially if parking is tight.

“We think the Eichlers are great places to have the concerts,” Dennis says. “You don’t feel closed in, you can look outside.”

“It’s been really rewarding,” he says of the concerts. “We’ve really enjoyed doing it.”

The audience lazes back and enjoys the music. Photo by Dennis Hermosa.

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