Live at the Birdhouse
An intimate house-concert venue in Forest Ranch
“The most common response from artists when they get here is, ‘Wow!'” said David Eldridge, co-owner, along with his wife, Kerry, of The Birdhouse, the stunning Forest Ranch music venue nestled deep in woodsy, picturesque Little Chico Creek Canyon.
Admittedly, part of what is so stunning is traveling the 2-mile-long, bumpy gravel road that winds its way through the trees on the way down to The Birdhouse. But that is part of the charm. (And, as The Birdhouse’s Web site says, the road is “totally passable year-round, despite the weather.")
At the end of the pretty, exotic drive lies 14629 Blackberry Road, the Eldridges’ beautifully renovated, two-story home with its large wooden deck and fire pit overlooking the creek. Attached to their home is The Birdhouse, formerly an actual giant birdhouse—also beautifully renovated—that used to be home to the previous owner’s 500 pairs of parakeets before the Eldridges transformed it into the intimate, “wow"-eliciting, house-concert venue that it is today.
“[People] don’t expect this,” said 52-year-old David, the amiable, twinkle-eyed man who teaches high school math, and also serves as emcee for the concerts in the 50-seat room. “It’s a house concert. They expect a house.”
The Birdhouse first opened its doors on July 14, 2007, a little less than three years after David and Kerry moved into their home. They purchased the property in 1996, so in all it took them more than 10 years to bring the venue up to code. Los Angeles singer-songwriter Sarah Dashew—still the Eldridges’ favorite concert to date—was the first to grace the room’s beautiful, minimalist stage. Other past performers include Nashville singer-songwriter Sally Barris, popular San Diego acoustic duo Berkley Hart, and Wisconsin folk singer Johnsmith.
The Birdhouse is modeled largely after The Acoustic Barn, a popular house-concert venue for touring folk musicians in Newcastle, Calif., owned by Kevin O’Dell, a friend of the Eldridges. It is a part of an approximately decade-old, growing house-concert movement across the United States, started by Russ & Julie’s House Concerts in the L.A. area—the “quintessential pioneers” of the movement, as David described Russ and Julie Paris. The house-concert movement began and has gathered steam as a counterbalancing response to the prevalence of huge, expensive, impersonal, highly commercialized entertainment venues.
Like the Parises, the Eldridges are music lovers who open their home once a month to touring folk musicians (or blues musicians or comedians—unlike most house-concert venues, the Eldridges don’t limit themselves to folk artists). Guests pay a $15-$20 donation and are invited to come an hour before the music begins to socialize with the musicians and one another over potluck food and drinks. As is typical of house concerts, all proceeds go to the performers.
“There’s a lot of visiting and getting to know each other,” said Kerry, an attractive, friendly, 50-year-old nurse-midwife. “People stand out by the fire pit, or hang out in the kitchen, or wander around the house.”
“There’s something that happens when you take the business out of the music,” added David. “There’s a shift in the energy that makes house concerts unique. It’s more intimate, and the musicians are more responsive to the audience.”
Kerry speaks warmly of “the building of community” that she sees coming out of the house-concert experience. It’s that community-building—and the music—that she and her husband are so keen to support.
“We’re trying to keep the cost down [for concert-goers], especially now. We don’t make any money on it,” said Kerry. “In fact, we spend a lot,” she added, laughing.