It all started about two years ago when Mark Costanzo read an article in the New York Times about house concerts. It not only peaked his interest, but he decided to call a group called The Kennedys and see if they'd be interested in playing a house concert in the photography studio behind Costanzo's house in Freehold, New Jersey.
The group, who had done house concerts in the past, said sure. And from that phone call an idea for "Concerts In The Studio" was born.
"I started to research who I'd like to see and just made some calls," explained Mark Costanzo. "The first show I had was Amy Rigby in April (2005) and the second show was The Kennedys in May. So, I said why not make a series of it once a month."
House concerts have become increasingly popular with musicians around the world. Some are veterans of the club scene that are getting a bit older and tired of playing smoky bars each night. Others have discovered house concerts to be an excellent source of income and a great way to sell cds. Few people have the great setup for the shows as Costanzo does; in fact, the setup is closer to a true listening room than to a living room.
Mark Costanzo is a professional photographer who spent a lot of time shooting pictures in the entertainment business in the early 80s. His photographs ran in publications from local newspapers to Rolling Stone. After a while, he made the move towards commercial photography. His studio was a garage converted to have higher ceilings and skylights for added light. In addition to being a beautiful set up for a crowd of 65, the setting features wonderful acoustics as well.
If the setting doesn't sway the artist, Costanzo's financial arrangement usually will. All of the money from ticket sales and cd sales go directly to the artist. In addition, the artists are given a guarantee before the deal is set. It's not surprising that most artists say yes to Mark. The most important thing is finding dates that work with an artist's touring schedule.
The first season of "Concerts In The Studio" included performances by Amy Rigby, The Kennedys, Darden Smith, Richard X. Heyman, Robert Hazard, Jim Babjak/Gripweeds, Mary-Sue Twohy, Phil Roy, Amy Correia, and Steve Forbert. The pattern runs from rock to folk to bluegrass and matches that of WXPN (Philadelphia) and WBJB (Lincroft), the NPR stations Costanzo prefers to listen to.
"The thing I didn't want was for it to be all folk musicians," explained Costanzo. "A lot of house concert series are just basically a solo performer and guitar. Sometimes that's great but it just wouldn't excite me to do it."
In addition to providing a musical series for eclectic tastes, "Concerts In The Studio" largely goes after artists that don't normally do house concerts. The result is a very unique and intimate performance that becomes a once in a lifetime experience for a music fan. Unfortunately, as Mark and his wife Elaine have discovered, even offering a great show doesn't mean it will definitely be sold out.
"Initially I thought all I'd have to do was invite a lot of people," said Costanzo. "I just assumed as soon as I put it on a performance website people would come. I mean, how hard is it to get 40 people to a concert? It made me empathize with these performers. It's got to be hard for them to manage."
The number of people attending the series rises with each show as the mailing list grows and word of mouth spreads. Future shows include Adrienne Young & Little Sadie (to kick off the 2nd year) on February 26th, Marshall Crenshaw on March 19th, Willie Nile on April 9th, and Graham Parker on May 21st.
"Concerts In The Studio" is located in Freehold and easily accessible from downtown Freehold (off-Broadway) and Route 18. Visit his website (www.concertsinthestudio) for contact information or to purchase tickets to an upcoming show. Seats are limited so reserve early.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.