House concert time in Dorset -- Billsville North

MANCHESTER -- Ever have a fantasy about your favorite singer performing for you and a group of your friends right in your living room?

Doug Hacker, a software developer from Williamstown, did. The difference is that he decided to actually try and make it happen -- and succeeded. Three years ago, a friend of his posted on her Facebook page that one of her favorite singer-songwriters, Joe Pug, would be performing at her home at a "house concert." Intrigued, Hacker called her up and asked how she'd pulled that one off. It turned out Pug had a few days in between shows while touring out West and was happy to come and perform at her home for whatever the freight would bear.

"So I pulled up his (Pug's) concert schedule from his website, saw he had a few days off in between a show in Boston and another one in Toronto, and asked if he wanted to do a gig in Williamstown," Hacker said. "To my surprise, I got an email back saying 'sure'."

With that, "Billsville House Concerts" were born.

The concept is both a throwback to an earlier era of folksinger acts with a millennial twist and flavor. Such venues -- a person's home, or perhaps a space that could be turned into an impromtu concert hall, like a barn, for example -- were not unheard of decades ago for relatively unknown entertainers to gain a following. Today, with the recording industry still rebuilding in the wake of the Internet and downloadable music, live performances are crucial to building a similar cadre of fans, as well as a revenue stream of financial support. Increasingly, musicians who want to make a name for themselves have to take their career development into their own hands, Hacker said.

That first house concert with Joe Pug went so well that it spawned several more in its wake. Hacker, a lifelong music fan, can't quit his day job just yet, however. Arranging the house concerts are a labor of love and depend on the contributions of his wife and two sons. His oldest son, now 14, does the sound, his 10 year-old works the door, and he and his wife do the hosting. Whatever money from admissions or donations that comes in goes to the performing artists, who also get a day in the country, some vegetarian cooking, and a chance to perform in an intimate setting.

"We kind of make it easy," he said. "We do everything -- the set up, the promotion, the sound, etc."

Those in the audience get to hear top-quality music without the hassle and distractions of a bar or large concert hall. House concerts won't replace such venues, but they are a growing part of several artist's performing schedules, Hacker said.

After doing a few more such house shows in Williamstown, it was time to branch out. Billsville House Concerts have been staged at several area locales, and last year migrated a few miles up Route 7 to the Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington. This year they are headed farther north, to a barn adjacent to the Inn at Willow Pond in Manchester.

Last month, Billsville House staged their first concert there with Rayland Baxter, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. On Friday, April 11, a second show, featuring alt-country artist Caroline Rose and her band will be staged at the inn's barn.

Hacker first heard about Rose at the Wilco Fest at Mass MOCA last year, and went online to find out more. He listened to some of her recordings and liked what he heard, he said.

"Lyrically it was amazing; musically it was right," he said. "We think about bringing in bands we think will be popular with lots of people."

He booked Rose in for one of the shows at the Vermont Arts Exchange last September, and is looking forward to her return to Vermont. She will be performing the following night, April 12, at the Elks Club in North Adams, he said.

Rose is originally from New York, but half her family is from the south, so she hangs her hat in Nashville, Tenn. when she's not on the road. She and her musical partner, Jer Coons, released an album in 2012, "American Religious," funded largely through a Kickstarter campaign.

She had been studying architecture before a music career took over, she said.

"I'm a failed architect," she said during a telephone interview last week. "I wrote music more out of necessity like a personal thing and it just happened." She had a few recordings under belt before "American Religious" was released, but that collection of music has gotten them some attention and concerts. She and Coons will be joined by a drummer and bass player for the shows in Manchester and North Adams, she said.

"Having two bandmates opens up a lot more options, because now we can amp up the sound a bit more and it's a different style of music that I couldn't tap into before," she said. "Our shows tend to verge on a more rambunctious honky-tonk sound."

Tickets for her performance at the Inn at Willow Pond on Friday, April 11, will be $10. For more information, visit Billsville's website at

The Inn at Willow Pond is located on Route 7A, north of Manchester and almost in Dorset.

There will be more house concerts after that, including more at the Vermont Arts Exchange, but Hacker only plans a few months ahead, he said.

"It's easier to get good bands if you can fit into their schedule," he said. "These are concerts where we expect people will pay attention to the music; it's not a substitute social scene. We like the atmosphere to be a respectful one. But it's a great way to hear music."


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