When fiddler/violinist/composer Jeremy Kittel emailed me a few months ago looking for a fill-in date for his impending tour, I was delighted to hear from him and happy to help.
I met Jeremy in 1999 when I was director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. He was 13 at the time and already celebrated as one of the area’s top fiddlers. (The word “prodigy” was always linked with his name.) Inevitably, I hired him to perform each summer during my five-year tenure at the Festival.
Tours often have gaps in scheduling as it is nearly impossible, especially for small bands, to play concerts back-to-back in a geographically contiguous tour.
There’s time-consuming travel, early-in-the-week nights when clubs and performing arts centers are usually “dark” and human logistics — when a day off for “chill” time is needed.
“The hardest thing on the road,” Jeremy said, “is managing your energy, being balanced and healthy. Touring can be quite demanding, so I have to work with the team (Quinn Bachand, Josh Pinkham and Corinna Van Hamlin) to make sure that everybody is able to do their thing well and that it’s sustainable.”
A Napa play for Kittle & Co. made perfect, musical sense: “Our music is so in-between the cracks, drawing from different things we know and love,” Jeremy said. “Celtic, classical, popular, jazz and bluegrass — a lot of our favorite music is amalgamations of various kinds. This is a five-week tour. We’re open to smaller shows so we can keep playing.”
Monterey was the start of tour, followed two nights later with a gig at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage.
I tried in vain to find a presenter who could book Jeremy’s trio in or near Napa to fill that hole but without success. Venues, wineries and nearby annual festivals are typically locked six months to a year out. There was only one solution: Welcome to the Warshawski Inaugural Backyard House Concert!
It was a fantastic evening of artistry, and included: chirps from the surrounding birds; perfect breezy weather; 30 engrossed friends; and works that included Kittel’s interpretations of Bach, the song “Smile” and an original, personal favorite titled “Home in the World” dedicated to journalist Daniel Pearl. Kittel & Co. could play just about any tune, if asked, and an invitation was extended to the group for a folk tune. “New Reels” won the toss.
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If you are thinking of following suit, may I offer a few words of wisdom, in hindsight:
— Start with musicians who exemplify excellence, can reach a broad audience and are willing to play acoustically (sans mics). Kittle & Co. is a stellar trio: friendly, engaging, stylistically eclectic and respectful to their hosts and setting. They embrace house concerts as a way to try out new work, flaunt a new CD (“Whorls”), sell a little merchandise, gain new followers and help their bottom line.
“When we are really close to people, we can interact with them,” Jeremy said, “and it’s easy to connect that way. Nothing can be done about the sound, so we can just play.”
— Akin to planning a wedding, a house concert takes a lot of prep time. House and yard clean-ups (a good excuse for catching up on neglected chores), finding/borrowing/unearthing an ample supply of chairs and providing just the right light bites and choice of beverages.
— Invite music-loving friends open to new experiences, including your neighbors (or they may wonder why the block is overloaded with unfamiliar cars). Check the weather forecast — too hot or too cold may make your guests, and players, uncomfortable.
— Band expenses are often not covered on the road. We wanted to help mitigate the costs of hotel and hospitality, so we asked for a suggested donation from each attendee (all going to the band), housed two of the band members ourselves, and we were lucky to have next-door neighbors who could accommodate three others. (Yup, four turned into five!)
— “Our” musicians were night owls. They were voracious eaters. Multi-talented on a variety of instruments, they liked to jam, talk about music and perform. In between, they were high energy, curious about Napa as well as tasting the inventory in our kitchen (eggs, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and cherry/Meyer lemon preserves, to name a few). For us, it was completely exhilarating and utterly exhausting.
“Napa is beautiful,” Jeremy said, “and I enjoyed meeting the people. We had such a nice welcome. We’d like to come back and stay for two weeks!”