House Concerts
A live show (in the living room)

It’s a little after 6 pm on a Thursday night when people start arriving at a Moorestown home that fronts Strawbridge Lake. Some come with bottles of wine or soda. Others carry appetizers, desserts or side dishes. But this isn’t a pot-luck. It’s a concert people bought tickets for – and it’s in Jim and Pam Davis’ living room.

The 35 or so guests have come to see renowned Nashville singer-songwriter Dave Pahanish, who has written three country chart-toppers, including Keith Urban’s “Without You.”

Entering the home, the first thing you notice is the bouncer. Ok, that’s stretching it. A friendly woman near the front door is checking off names on a printed list. Turn to your right, and you see a spacious living room that’s virtually empty aside from rows of folding chairs. Two wide stairs that lead toward the contemporary kitchen now make up a perfectly elevated stage, complete with a sound system, lighting and a microphone.

The night has the vibe of a relaxed cocktail party that just so happens to have a folk-country concert thrown in.

Welcome to the world of house concerts – small musical performances held in a private home for an audience of about 50 people: some friends, some strangers. Known for great acoustics, an intimate atmosphere and a chance to actually hang out with whoever’s performing, house concerts have become an increasingly popular alternative to club shows throughout the country; several have become mainstays in South Jersey. 

For the past six years or so, Jim and Pam Davis have opened up their homes – two Moorestown properties and one in Lake Placid, NY – to musicians. The hosts aren’t in it for profits; instead, all proceeds go directly to the performers. And while it takes plenty of time and effort to plan and promote a gig, the Davises say what they get of out the experience is priceless.

“People get to connect with the performers directly,” Jim says. There’s an intimacy that everyone enjoys.”  

At this particular performance, Dave Pahanish, his wife, Kristen Lee (also a singer) and their two young daughters mingle with guests in the kitchen before the performance, when the focus is on relaxing, socializing and enjoying food and drink. One first-time attendee presents Pananish with a cake decorated with a guitar and musical notes. 

The Davises host about three house concerts a year. 

To promote the shows, Jim sends out an email blast to an ever-growing list of friends, business associates and past participants. Tickets cost $25 per person and must be paid in advance.  

Pahanish, who’s been playing live for more than 25 years, says he’s “done a few house concerts, but I wouldn’t be against doing a lot more.” 

“It’s a great experience,” the soft-spoken 48-year-old says. “You get to introduce your music, and meet some great people in the process. Plus, the audience is very tuned in when you’re up there…they focus on the music. It’s not just background noise, like it might be at a bar. It sort of reminds me of what I think the 1960s Greenwich Village coffee house days would have been like.” 

The longtime Nashville resident has written three chart-toppers: Toby Keith’s “American Ride,” Jimmy Wayne’s “Do You Believe Me Now?” and Urban’s “Without You,” which the Aussie superstar described as “the most autobiographical song I never wrote.”

“I wrote that about my wife and our relationship, but Keith said he felt it perfectly described his experience when he met his wife, too,” Pananish tells the audience before launching into the ballad.

While he’s not a household name like the people who’ve made his songs hits, Pahanish himself is a vocalist and guitar player with a commanding, yet laid-back stage presence. His set includes a mix of original and covers, including the Beatles’ “Something” as the opener, which immediately captures the audience’s attention.  

Jim Davis says he and Pam have hosted about 30 house concerts over the years, generally focusing on Nashville acts. The couple often connects with musicians at music festivals they attend. The two met Pahanish and Lee last year at the Captiva Island Hoppers Festival in Florida.   

When they first began hosting house concerts, they turned to another Moorestown couple – Dave Khanlian and wife Jen Hilinski – for support (and, in the early years, to borrow chairs and their sound system). 

Khanlian and Hilinski, who run Jen & Dave’s House Concerts, have hosted shows in their home for 17 years. 

“The way I see it, the more the merrier,” says Khanlian, who teaches fourth grade in Medford. “It’s not a competition; it’s a way to get the artists in direct contact with an audience – it just takes out the middle man.” 

Launched in 2002, Jen & Dave’s House Concerts was the first ongoing series in Moorestown (and one of the first in the Philadelphia region).  

Over the years, the two have played host to everyone from Brit rocker Graham Parker to pop-folkie Marshall Crenshaw, along with their personal favorites, New York-based The Figgs, which Khanlian describes as a “full-on electronic rock and roll band,” that’s been around for decades.

“I think they’ve played here four or five times,” he says, adding that the band will return to their home yet again for a show in October. In late November, retro rockers the Lustre Kings will perform at Jen & Dave’s house.  

Hosting four shows a year – two in the spring and two in the fall – is “a bit of work,” as Khanlian notes, but he and Hilinski have “gotten it down to a science.”

“You don’t do these shows to make any money,” he says. “You do it to share great music.”

July 2019
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