Houses in motion: Saskatoon’s growing house-show scene

By in Culture

From the behemoth SaskTel Centre to the adored Amigos Cantina, Saskatoon is filled with music venues. Despite these mainstays, house shows have grown in popularity over the last few years — and for good reason.

House shows have become so popular that some performers can survive off of these alone. For instance, in March 2017, Dan Mangan — a Vancouver-based, Juno-award-winning artist — and Laura Simpson — a longtime music-industry professional based in Halifax — co-founded Side Door.

Side Door is an initiative that helps musicians and houseshow promoters connect. It has been an effective tool in a mutually beneficial relationship, as musicians can spread their craft and the community can enjoy more intimate concerts.

I first started going to house shows in the summer of 2016, at the lovingly named Barfhouse, which was operated by the Sound & Silence Collective. The show featured a quadruple bill, with Aryn El Hefe, the East, Dirty Wounds and an Edmonton band by the name of Versions.

It was fun to interact with other music lovers here in Saskatoon, since I was fairly new to the music scene at the time, and going to shows like this allowed me to gain music-loving friends. I think this still holds true for house-show venues today.

Duncan Pickard — founder of SASC and member of Shirley & The Pyramids — currently runs the Witch Mansion venue, and he started hosting house concerts to better the income of touring bands after he tried his hand at promoting shows at established venues.

“There were a lot of nights where three or four bands would get paid 50 bucks after the venue fees were covered. Through house shows, I was able to lower [the] overhead cost per show and make it cheaper for people to attend, because the shows are BYOB,” Pickard said. “Another effect of making it cheaper for the audience was that people had more money to buy merch.”

Miranda Young — another active member in Saskatoon’s music scene and host of The Buzz every Thursday on CFCR 90.5 Community Radio — founded the venue 134 Homemade Jam in December 2015 to host house shows for one simple reason.

“I love throwing a good party,” Young said.

Though their reasons for getting into promoting house shows differ, both Young and Pickard stress the importance of making the venue safe. For Pickard, dealing with unruly attendees properly is necessary to create a safe concert space.

“You can’t be afraid to kick out people that are disrespectful,” Pickard said. “It’s so important to make a space where people in the community are comfortable enough to tell you when something is wrong.”

Accessibility and inclusivity are important to both Pickard and Young, and they strive to provide non-intimidating environments for first-goers to house shows. Pickard believes that SASC does a good job, but that they can always do better.

“We do our best to make our shows safe and inclusive, but there is always room for improvement,” Pickard said. “It can be very intimidating to enter into a scene that you aren’t familiar with, but I think that it’s easier to make people feel welcome when you’re bringing them into your house rather than a venue. We also have a few cats that often bring people together at the shows.”

With goals like these, it’s clear that shows at both 134 Homemade Jam and Witch Mansion provide excellent alternatives to the traditional concert experience. Not only do hosts like Pickard and Young cater well to their show-goers, but they also ensure the safety of those involved. If you hear about shows at either house, I would recommend that you go!

Jordan Stovra

Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor