The name evokes memories of warm cups of cocoa, of cozy afternoons around a fireplace with friends and family. And that’s just the point, if you ask founders Brianna Lane and Greg Neis.
They wanted The Warming House, their new venue on 40th & Bryant, to be an intimate setting for listening to music, one without the distractions of patrons talking at a bar or a barista whipping up a latte. They call it a listening room, modeled after similar small venues out East.
“A lot of people, I think, are experiencing live music in this space as something that’s worth more than a trip to the bar,” said Lane, a musician who toured the East Coast for eight years after college.
Lane and Neis sat down recently to talk about The Warming House, which has been open since May and occupies the basement of Neis’ new bike shop, called Farmstead Bike Shop. They touched on how they came up with the idea, Lane’s background as a touring musician and their goals for the venue:
SWJ: Why’d you decide the start The Warming House?
BL: I’ve been a musician for a very long time, done a lot of touring and always kind of came back to the cities, where I’m from. There was always a rock ‘n’ roll scene here, but it didn’t really feel like a singer-songwriter scene, something that I had nurtured, like the solo-duo-trio acts that are really focused on song writing.
So we started putting on house concerts and recruited a friend (John Louis, another cofounder) to put on some house concerts. . . . And he said to us, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a place like this that feels like a house concert but is like public?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, they exist in the world. They’re called listening rooms.’ Out on the East Coast, there’s a good amount of them.
GN: Just to contrast, the rock ‘n’ roll scene lends itself to bar gigs and, you know, if you’re amplifying and you’ve got four instruments and a drum set, you’re able to kind of push through that sound from the hubbub at a bar or even a noisy coffee shop. . . . A house concert allows a smaller, quieter acoustic musician or a set of musicians to play to a room of people who are truly listening without all that extra background noise, and those are just beautiful, beautiful gigs.
BL: We sat with that idea for a while, and I was like, ‘I could totally run that thing,’ because I’ve seen so many venues across the country, and have presented house concerts, and then John said, ‘Well, let’s make it a nonprofit and help people, nurture people into their singer-songwriter careers.’
And it’s going well so far?
BL: It’s going so well. So well. We set a goal of 150 shows a year and 150 community events a year and we’ve been open now for seven months and have had almost 100 shows (and about 75 community events).
GN: We’re also, in many ways we’re training the local audience to listen to, to come to a space to listen to the music as opposed to drink and maybe look around at the musician every once in a while. So it’s, there’s a learning curve on both sides of the stage edge.
GN (talking to Lane): It might be helpful for context just to talk about Passim and Eddie Zaddik and some of the listening rooms you played in the East and Southeast that were a model.
BL: Yeah, we modeled a lot off of Club Passim in Harvard Square in Boston. And they’ve been established for I think like 35 years maybe. . . . These clubs exists, they’re folk clubs, they’re Americana clubs, they’ve always existed as nonprofit organizations because a lot of people want to preserve the tradition of folk music, you know, (and) that’s one way of going about a nonprofit. Another way is to support up-and-coming musicians. And Club Passim does a little bit of both of that.
GN: Bri lived in Ashville, North Carolina, went to college there and then toured out of Ashville for eight years after college, so toured from Ashville up to Portland, Maine. There’s New York, Boston, D.C., Philly, down to Atlanta and then over to Austin, Texas, that sort of triangle, and there are four or five true sort of listening rooms in that cycle.
BL: And they are always small capacity because you want that intimate crowd experience . . . I mean, like everybody starting needs a place that doesn’t feel cavernous or that doesn’t feel like you’re getting completely lost and unappreciated.
GN: So those are little gems if you’re touring and doing bar gig after bar gig after coffeehouse gig. . . . Those are the ones that fill your soul up and make it worth continuing.
So that lifestyle, you touched on it, but is it difficult? I mean, you must be traveling a lot, finding places to stay, and kind of some uncertainty with that.
BL: (She laughs). It’s, you know, you hear those road songs and I kind of heard those at the beginning of my travels, and I was like, ‘Ahh, I’m not going to get there until I’m like 60 or whatever,’ but it does take a toll on you, on your well being, on your body.
So in running this place, I have that understanding to work from, to know that like, ‘Yeah, these touring musicians might need a place to crash,’ so we’re going to find that for them, and these touring musicians would just appreciate some space before a show just to like decompress.
When we opened this place, I knew I wanted to have those things no matter what. Just those small comforts. And even the local people that aren’t traveling, they appreciate those small comforts too.
GN: And we pay ’em.
BL: And we pay ’em! So yeah, part of our mission is to pay professionals. . . . We take a very small sliver of off the ticket price for operating costs. Like if we were just to live off of that sliver, we couldn’t, so we really depend on donations and sponsorships and memberships and volunteers.
Is there anything else that you guys would want to say about it? Kind of the direction you’re doing?
GN: Well, I think, I’m really excited to be where we are. There are a few specific challenges to this location. I mean, it’s not on a commercial corner. People are, you know, the first time they’re here, they’re like, ‘Is this the right place?’ And as much that’s a challenge, . . . it’s kind of an amazing thing to, you know, open a business down the block from your house.
How’d you guys come up with the name, The Warming House?
BL: We were tossin’ names back and forth for like six weeks, and we were in Colorado, and I saw sign that said ‘The Warming House’ on it or ‘Warming House’ or something like that, and I was like, ‘(breaths in), The Warming House.’ . . . It just stuck, and it makes so much sense for what we’re doing. You know, just be cozy with the music. We get that question a lot. I want a better story for it.