May 14, 2009

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Living room concerts
Chesham home becomes a small concert stage

By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

As far as music venues go, it would be pretty hard to top Deb McWethy’s Chesham home. Situated on the multi-acre farm outside Peterborough where McWethy has lived for 28 years, the house overlooks a nearby reservoir, into which a stream calmly flows. During a pleasant summer day, you can lie on the grass and take in the sounds of birds chirping, the flow of the stream, and even the sound of old-timey music from an up-and-coming folk band emanating from the front porch.

But for the duration of New Hampshire’s harsh winters, the true musical magic takes place inside McWethy’s living room. For the past six years, that’s where traveling folk musicians in need of exposure have found a receptive audience at Deb’s Chesham House Concerts, a spin-off from her involvement with the Peterborough Folk Music Society, of which she is currently president.

“Patrons love spending $15, coming to someone’s home with a potluck dish, having dinner, mixing and mingling with all these people who all have something in common immediately because they all love the music,” she said. “It’s a special genre of music that not everybody likes, or people haven’t been introduced to and aren’t aware of it, which is kind of an interesting aspect of the house concerts. People come even though they don’t know the musician. I’ve had up to 45 people here for people that no one’s ever heard of.”

Primarily through word-of-mouth advertising, McWethy, a former nurse and school administrator, has been able to generate interest in both patrons and musicians. This season’s slate of concerts has included blues guitarist David Jacob-Strain, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, and will conclude on Saturday, May 16, with a performance by Peter Mulvey at 7 p.m. E-mail deb@pfmsconcerts.org or call 827-2905 to make reservations for the show (which are required) and to get directions and information about the potluck. Mulvey headlined the PFMS’ first concert along with Dar Williams in January of 1996, and has made regular returns to the Monadnock region ever since. 

“He’s an amazing guitar player, and he’s got such a wonderful voice,” McWethy said. “I could just listen to Peter all day long. He’s a very intellectual person…. The avenues that he can sometimes go in are a little different. But he’s amazing.”

The Chesham house concerts are mostly a labor of love for McWethy, who retains a mere fraction of the $15 admission fee to cover the cost of refreshments. John Schindler, a PFMS board member and musician who has performed in the series, said that the chief benefits of the living room concerts lie in the interaction between performers and patrons.

“I’m a person who likes a real listening audience. There are probably a lot of singer-songwriters who are in the same boat,” he said. “You’re in a real intimate situation where you can actually sing with 20 or 30 people in a room. It is even more intimate than a coffeehouse or that type of thing. I think there’s more interaction, and it’s more casual…[It]’s pretty informal to get a musician in your living room,” Schindler said.

The house concert model has been emulated elsewhere in New England, but it’s especially well-tailored for Peterborough, whose strong folk music scene dates back to the 1950s. Over the past three decades, McWethy has made a name for herself in the local scene, and she is continuing to attract new faces to her home.

“People say, ‘Why do you let people you don’t know into your house?’” she said. “The folk music world is an amazing group of people. They’re not people you would ever have to worry about coming into your living room. You feel like you already know them.”

Though this season ends this weekend, see the Peterborough Folk Music Society’s Web Site pfmsconcerts.org for updates on the 2009-2010 season which will begin in the fall.