House Concert Controversy

Undercover Columbus Police officers target private performances, potentially threatening all informal gatherings with added scrutiny.

COLUMBUS, OHIO, October 3, 2020 — When Joey Hendrickson heard a knock at the door, it wasn’t unexpected or a cause for concern. The founder of The Parlor, an invitation-only series of house concerts shared among friends across social media, simply presumed the songwriter performing later that evening in his living room had just arrived a little early.

For those unfamiliar, The Parlor predates the pandemic, but seems like it was purpose built to support live music during troubled times. Inspired by the house show movement, stripped down performances for scaled down audiences provide musicians the opportunity to stay on stage amid the lingering safety concerns of stadium tours and crowded club gigs. Hosting local and national acts minus the costs and complexities of traditional venues, house shows offer the intimacy and authenticity that help emerging acts evolve and established ones reconnect with their humble origins.

But the series of knocks at the door grew more urgent, and ominous. Before Hendrickson could answer, police officers stormed through the back door of his downtown apartment as he stood startled and shirtless in his kitchen. What happened next could threaten the future of similar performances, perhaps every informal social gathering in Columbus.

“They almost broke down my front door, then six officers came through the back, up the stairs, into my living room and served me a search warrant,” recalled Hendrickson. Though the incident occurred last April, he’s still researching the charges months later. “I asked if I could take my dinner out of the oven and put a shirt on. They said, ‘We don’t even need to search this place. We just need to search downstairs.’”

Hendrickson’s studio on the top floor shares a stairwell with the identical apartment below, just the right size for a few dozen friends and family to occasionally gather and support live music. Like most house concerts, RSVPs provide a convenient means of donating directly to the musicians and ensure there are enough seats for the small audience. All proceeds go to the artists. Hosts offer their homes free of charge and promote the private performances. It’s not a charity, just an intimate setting unlike traditional venues.

House shows are hardly new. From front porches to backyards throughout the country, these impromptu performances aren’t the frat house fracas and reckless ruckus that rouse neighbors to revolt. In the case of The Parlor, neighbors gather on cozy couches around a corner stage — hardly worth a fuss, especially after years of quiet consideration of nearby residents and businesses, and a recent nomination for a Community Arts Innovation Award.

“They searched and didn’t find anything illegal. Then they went into my fridge and put cans of beer into a cardboard box,” Hendrickson noted. He immediately called his attorney, who worked close enough to arrive in minutes. The charges allege Hendrickson was selling alcohol, which he emphatically denied. “When friends and family come, they usually bring a beer or two. If they don’t have a beer, as host, I usually have some of my favorite craft beer from North High Brewing refrigerator.” As the officers continued to put beer into the box as ‘evidence’, two musicians for the evening’s show happened to arrive. “On the way out, one of the police officers actually said ‘Hi’ to the local prominent songwriter, calling him by name.” The other musician, a saxophone player, told Hendrickson one of the officers apologized, saying “it was a nice place and he was just doing his job.”

Despite the tension and confusion leading up to the show, the concert proceeded that evening, absent any alcohol. Like most informal social gatherings, guests were invited to bring their own beverages to avoid such scrutiny. Everyone arrived as always at a local restaurant, then friends filed in through the front door of the apartment building. No one was underage. The group is still hip and young at heart, but most have graduated from the days of crowd surfing, standing on a concrete slab, and screaming for hours in front of a stage. In contrast, these house concerts start and end with small talk among a community of friends, most of whom first met through Hendrickson’s public music events across the city over the past decade. They have their own culture, but one that still welcomes fresh faces — in hindsight, perhaps too willingly.

The misdemeanor charges stem from an undercover officer who attended a house concert featuring an Ohio singer/songwriter and prominent drummer. Per preliminary testimony, the undercover officer didn’t bring his own beer and entered through the back door. Hendrickson, noticing a friend was empty-handed, asked him if he wanted a beer from the fridge, which was conflated as the sale of alcohol.

“After I read the police testimony, I realized an undercover officer came into the back door of my apartment building, uninvited, and pretended to be a friend of a friend. We had a warm, peaceful, loving environment in my living room. Now I feel the presence of that covert energy every day. It’s made me wonder why, how, and when police can invade a private home.”

During pre-trial, an offer was made to dismiss the “sale of alcohol” charges if Hendrickson would plead guilty to “keeping a place” with the intent to sell alcohol. That language is typically reserved to describe private clubs that operate illegally after bars are closed. But applying “keeper of a place” to early evening events where guests bring their own alcohol would potentially subject all house concert hosts to charges for the same offense. After dozens of letters to the prosecutor, and testifying before the Columbus City Council, Hendrickson and The Parlor community are headed to court later this year in a case that could have sweeping ramifications for any private social gathering.

If wedding guests bring a monetary gift to a reception with a live band where beer is served, does that constitute the sale of alcohol? What about graduation parties, birthdays, or bar mitzvahs? How about friends and family who gather every weekend to watch Ohio State football games? The next time you chip-in for a friend’s barbecue and someone asks for a beer out of the cooler, do you need to worry whether it’s an undercover cop?

The ongoing pandemic has revealed longstanding inequities at every level of society, from so-called “essential” workers to the inherent conflicts of interest between sincere public health concerns and the inability to earn a living. The arts have been especially hard hit, with many musicians working side gigs in industries that were also adversely affected by the closure of bars and restaurants, as well the cancellation of conferences and conventions where artists also perform.

Mounting frustration and economic desperation have contributed to sharp increases in property crime and violent crime. Neighborhoods already besieged have reached a boiling point, and even well-heeled enclaves like the Short North that were seemingly immune are suddenly plagued by robberies and shootings. The homicide rate in Columbus is on pace to surpass last year’s record high number of murders. With the familiar refrain from Columbus Police that they lack the necessary officers, time, and resources to address these escalations, why the sudden interest in a polite, invitation only living room concert, where everyone is of age, and no one filed a complaint?

Regardless of the suspicious series of coincidences, Hendrickson’s focus is on finding a positive solution. As a fellow musician whose founding role in both the Columbus Songwriters Association and Columbus Music Commission connects him with local thought leaders, this selective enforcement seems to contradict the city’s longstanding support for the creative community.

And though he isn’t one to call out names, more than a few leaders in the city have attended his house concerts. If there was anything unseemly, apparently no one noticed. Seeking clarification on how house concerts meet the definition of “keeping a place”, a representative of a city councilmember admitted he too had attended several house shows, and simply referred to the laws as a “gray area”.

The inevitable problem with legal ambiguity is selective enforcement. With elections looming, there’s no shortage of candidates fundraising in living rooms and backyards to build support for their campaigns. While accepting donations, if hosts offer guests a glass of wine, are they unwittingly selling alcohol as well?

“If there were a house concert permit available through Columbus Parks and Recreation similar to what other cities offer, I would have applied for it. There isn’t. Instead, we became a registered house concert host with a national organization that supports such shows two years ago,” Hendrickson explained. “The prospect of a house concert permit in Columbus could provide guidance for hosts and clarity for law enforcement. If city council were to sponsor policy that supports house concerts, it would reinforce our reputation as community where artists are welcome and set the stage for musicians who are looking for smaller spaces to perform.”

For details on The Parlor, follow @ParlorColumbus on Facebook. To schedule an interview with founder Joey Hendrickson, email Joey@ColumbusSongwriters.com

Hip Hop Showcase

2020 was a challenging, yet transformative year for artists and our organization, too.

We applaud all of those artists who took leaps — tried to new styles of performance, adopted new technology for expression, played with online video and chat, developed new partnerships wrote new songs, made new beats, experimented with mobile apps, tried changing locations, picked up other gig economy work, applied for grants — and did whatever you needed to do to take next steps in your art, craft, and careers.

Thankful to be supporting and connected to a wonderful group of artists across the city of Columbus, state of Ohio, and recent member links out to Nashville, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and many other places we’ve traversed onto.

Throughout the transformation of 2020, we had a lot of time to think about a decade of wonderful showcases. We looked through photos of friends. We thought about the songs we heard and the community that has come together around writing. And, there were a lot of guitars and pianos in those photos. There were a lot of comments on feedback cards that said, “Sounds like Jason Mraz” or “Kinda like John Mayer.”

And then we thought about the musicians that influence songwriting. Then we thought about songs. And we realized that, yes Norah Jones made an incredible contribution to hit songwriting and compositions, as did Kendrick Lamar, Chance, Kid Kudi, Drake, J. Cole, Logic, and many other songwriters who speak to artists in our city who probably wouldn’t soon perform in our showcases with acoustic guitars and pianos.

Genres are beautiful and need to be explored. With this exploration in mind, we invite our members to come together in celebration of the modern music emerging in 2021 with our first ever Hip Hop Showcase. Our decade practice of listening, learning, considering and enjoying the song, the method, and the artist leading the creation and expression will all be fluent in mind this Thursday, June 24th at Summit Music Hall.

$10 may be a bit to spare for many of our members — and seats will be scarce, but welcoming. Our board and organizing team has 3 tickets left to share with new members. If you’re just getting to know our community, we want to make it easy for you to join us. Just email Joey@ColumbusSongwriters.com and we’ll get your ticket to you.

More showcases coming soon!

Cruise Lines

Since July of 2018, long-time CSA Member Kyle Marler has been working as a solo guitarist and vocalist for Carnival Cruise Lines. We caught up with Kyle to learn about how this niche pursuit began, the benefits, and the challenges of performing 3-4 hours each night above international waters.

Kyle, how did you get into this?

The short: I applied online through the Carnival Entertainment website.

The extended: I went to Otterbein University from 2008-2012. I was in the Health and Sports Sciences Department, and got paired up with a roommate my freshman year who was in the theatre department. Through his friendship I ended up meeting many other theatre folks. Fast forward 3-4 years after graduation. I would see a few of those theatre folks posting on social media about their jobs working on cruise ships and it looked like fun so I began researching if they had jobs for guitar singers and not just theatrical jobs. Most cruise lines wanted the same thing – someone who could sing 3-4 hours a day and who knew 200-300 songs.

From that point, I began my year and a half long journey of learning new songs and applying to different talent agencies. Eventually, I got a job straight through the Carnival site and didn’t need an agent. It was all done online by submitting a showreel of some live performances at gigs and some shots just playing in my room.

What’s the day in the life look like?

There are 2 types of days. You have what is known as a “sea day” which means your ship will not be docking and you will be out at sea all day and a “port day” meaning you’ll be back at your home port where you drop off passengers and pick up new ones, or at one of the destination ports. On port days I’ll generally hop off when I wake up and have some fun. I’ve snorkeled, grabbed food, played soccer and done some pretty thrilling excursions. I’m generally pretty wiped when I get back so I’ll nap and be sure to wake up with enough time to do a vocal warmup before my sets. On sea days, I’ll get in a good practice session or learn a new song, workout and maybe play a little ping pong. No matter the day, I do 3-4 sets that are each 45 minutes to an hour in length in the afternoon / evening. After my sets, I’ll often head to the bar for a bit or watch a movie in my cabin.

Can you share more about the benefits and challenges?

Benefits. One of the biggest benefits is the amount of people you get to meet, both crew and passengers alike. Most Carnival ships hold around 3-4 thousand passengers each week, or few days depending on the ship’s itinerary. I still keep in touch with passengers and crew that I met when I first started. Being able to travel is also very cool. I recall floating out in the crystal clear ocean in Cozumel Mexico with a fellow musician I had become fast friends with and we were both laughing that this was our life. Musicians, in particular, soloists, get the most free time of anyone on the ship. Knowing you have a set contract for 2-3 months is very financially reassuring. Of course, the obvious, getting to play music for your livelihood quells you with pride. I could keep going with the benefits, but you get the idea. I enjoy myself and the lifestyle quite a bit.

Challenges. In 2019 I had the opportunity to travel to Australia for one of my contracts. As dope as it was, it was maybe the most difficult experience of my life. I had been away from family before, but this was next level stuff, and it was only until those few months that I realized not only how much I love my family, but American culture. I think a large part of the home sickness was a lack of social connection. Every contract is different in terms of friendships and this one just wasn’t great for a few reasons that had to to with me and some reasons to do with difficult personalities. The thing is … you’re living with these people on and off the clock so it makes it very challenging if you’re having social difficulties.

Another challenge is that it’s a lot of singing. You’ve got to be very careful with your voice. Like with any job, it’s easy to get caught up in a bad performance and make it your identity, but I think that’s amplified when you live at work. So, if you’ve got a tough crowd, it’s certainly a challenge.

Thanks Joey and Columbus Songwriters Association for allowing me to share and for the resources you’ve provided and continue to provide to aid in the arts. This is a super brief outline of my experience (I could probably write a memoir and possibly a Netflix comedy special), so if you have any questions for me please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Peace,

Kyle Marler
kmarler18@yahoo.com

2021 Showcases at Donatos Short North

Songwriters:

We miss you all. Thank you for creating with us over the last decade.

From the days of Scarlet and Gray Cafe with poet and best-selling author, Hanif Abdurraqib, to King Avenue 5 where founders Joey and Derek setup each month in the room that is now the new Natalie’s location, to Notes where entrepreneur Jay Clouse began introducing comedic relief, to Brothers Drake where Eric Corthell led the way for connected community — we remember when hundreds gathered for the Finale Showcase at the Garden Theatre, we remember when artists from countries gathered from around the world at SXSW, we remember road trips to The Power of Music Festival in Arkansas — and songwriting and live music will create beautiful new experiences!

We’re entering an era where streaming live performances and digital content is a new opportunity for connected engagement. We’re experimenting with more capabilities at our showcases — and we’re inviting you back with us at Donatos Short North (Black Brick) on the first Sunday of each month.

We’ll enjoy mask-to-mask gatherings, test and practice various live streaming setups, and continue to promote Ohio songwriters throughout the city and state.

Join The Line Up!

Sunday, February 7th from 6-9pm at Donatos Short North
A time for friends, new songs, and community.
BYO mic or we’ll have one provided for you.

CSA DONATOS Songwriter Showcase

We’ve tested and planned a new format for our songwriter showcases. Relaunch: November 8th at Donatos Pizza in the Short North Arts District.

Features:
Socially Distancing Protocols
Live Stream onto CSA Facebook Page
BYO Mic is Welcomed!

Is it time to share your newest songs? Submit to be 1 of 6 songwriters to perform at the CSA Donatos Showcase this November 8th, from 6-9pm at Donatos in the Short North Arts District.

Drive-In Concerts

Members: Thanks for following along through all of this.

We’ve been working hard during the pandemic to create paid opportunities for full-time songwriters in Columbus.

We want to offer you 50% off (save $30-35) to the Chris Jamison Drive-In Concert tomorrow night at North High Brewing’s production facility at 1125 Cleveland Avenue.

Chris was one of the first members of Columbus Songwriters Association who went on The Voice in 2014 and nearly won it. He performed with Adam Levine and still writes and records with many producers in the world of Maroon 5 and Pharrell Williams. He’ll be performing a singer-songwriter style set on a stage we’re creating from scratch, through our benefit project The Hidden Drive-In.

If you’re curious how drive-in concerts look and feel, or if they could become an opportunity for you, this concert with Chris will be the perfect time to check it out.

PS. Announcements about how we’re restyling our monthly songwriter showcases — coming soon.

– Joey Hendrickson
CSA Founder

The Pivot

Songwriters:

Every small business owner goes through it at one point or another.

With federal guidelines for event bans and social distancing extended until June, you probably could guess that we too must cancel our April and May showcases. We miss all of you. We are alone together and we are keeping you on mind.

With everything moved to Digital, one thing is sure: We must embrace the pivot.

Here are a few things we’ve seen work for members of our community:

  1. Live Stream with Facebook or Zoom, and use Venmo or Paypal as a tip jar. Consider launching your show frequently, at a consistent time and day. Talk with your audience. Social interaction plays a very important role in some of the most engaging streams we’ve seen.
  2. Drive-Up Concerts. Cars park around the PA system setup in a parking lot. Best practice: All parking lots are privately owned. If you’re going to set up a show in parking lot, schedule it ahead of time with the owner. Promote the concert as you would on Facebook.
  3. Launch your podcast. There’s no better time. We love the quality of Dan Heidt’s “Flies In The Kitchen” podcast. Using digital calling, there are ways to record the episodes and conduct interviews and storytelling completely remote.
  4. Digital Songwriting Groups. Rob Maccabee has taken songwriting group, The Fertilizers, digital. With video chat capabilities on Zoom, the “digital open mics” and virtual co-writing session are more active in Columbus, Ohio. Brent Baxter leaders another virtual, online songwriting resource: SongwritingPro.com
  5. Recording. There’s no better time to record. Whether you choose home recording and bringing outside musicians in, or a (ten or less) local recording studio environment, please keep social distancing in mind!
  6. Porch Concerts. Zach Friedman and Can’t Stop Columbus are testing an innovative approach to bringing music to specific neighborhoods who request it via live artist and pickup trucks. CSA Member, Will Freed, supported the first test of this live music delivery service.
  7. Campfires. We’ve seen many people going to parks, riding their bicycles outdoors, gardening, and we’ve recently received requests to put on socially distanced concerts in back yards. While a bit on the “risky” side for some, we all know the federal guideline is 10 people, and maybe there is a way for social stream of a very lightly attended and carefully managed bonfire series. That being said, maybe best to stay indoors!
  8. Virtual House Concerts. Given that there is a space big enough for 10 people to fit six feet apart, some hosts in Folk Alliance International have been live streaming house concerts with a small group of audiences.
  9. Concerts for One. This was gaining momentum even prior to COVID with artists like Damien Rice and Justin Vernon taking part.
  10. Digital Festivals. We’ve heard through the grapevine about global streams of artists emerging through companies like NetGigs.com (based in Adelaide, Australia). What a great way to “bring together” artists from different cities around the world while audiences sample the music styles of each city/culture.
  11. Artist Grants from GCAC are now available for those without a financial safety net.
  12. Medical Emergencies for artists during COVID.
  13. Sweet Relief Fund for those artists who receive 50% of their income from music and have a documentable financial need at this time.
  14. Small Business Loans through SBA are available.
  15. Government Stimulus checks are coming.
  16. Here is the link to unemployment benefits, if self-employed as an artist and not able to collect/declare income during the event ban.

We implore you to explore the grants resources available, consider new ways of using technology to reach audiences, and use your creativity to try out new technologies and digital experiences. We’re in this together. We’ll get through this together.

What other resources have you come across? Write to us directly at ColumbusSongwritersAssociation@gmail.com

How has COVID affected you? Please take a moment to complete this 5-7 question survey.

Members: We Want To Hear From You

For nearly 8 years, CSA has been on mission to empower the lives of songwriters. As an organization, we interact with more than 400 songwriters in Central, Ohio. We realize our position to advocate for your needs beyond what our organization can provide.

We’d like to invite songwriters in the Central, Ohio are to complete this Grants Needs Assessment. While our organization has a very small operating budget and cannot provide grant funding, we do have the energy to help musicians navigate the available grants through organizations who are directly supported by the City of Columbus bed tax and city budget who have publicized their desire to support the careers of musicians. We are gathering this grants need assessment in hopes to inspire more successful grant applications that support the needs of hundreds of musicians in Central, Ohio.

Please take 5 minutes to complete the grant need assessment here. Email us at ColumbusSongwritersAssociation@gmail.com with any questions.

What are you tinkering on?

Songwriters: Are you tinkering on any new music tech?

CSA Founder, Joey Hendrickson, and Nathan Dickson are building a mobile audio system (IoT) that allows Columbus Music to be

heard on sidewalks. Lamp Amp can accept cashless tips for you through it’s app. It can also automatically notify your followers when/where your mini-concert is happening.

This is a new way for songwriters to bring music to the streets while earning some money! If you’re on Facebook, smash the “like” button on the Lamp Amp facebook page and come to one of our showcases to meet Joey and let him know what you’re building!

CSA Showcases: Now on 1st Sundays!

Songwriters, we’ve had an incredible year of showcases at Brothers Drake Meadery.

When we started CSA in 2012, Sunday was always our time to gather. Over the years, we’ve adjusted to the schedules of venues and stayed together no matter what day of the week we met up on.

Finally, it’s time to move back to the 1st Sunday of the month! This is our sweet spot. We’ll start each showcase in 2020 at 6pm. Feel free to arrive early to setup and tune your guitar prior to sharing your newest songs with a listening audience.

As always: Sign up on our website prior to each showcase. We’ll add you to the lineup our Facebook events from there!

– CSA Team

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Members: We Want To Hear From You

For nearly 8 years, CSA has been on mission to empower the lives of songwriters. As an organization, we interact with more than 400 songwriters in Central, Ohio. We realize our position to advocate for your needs beyond what our organization can provide.

We’d like to invite songwriters in the Central, Ohio are to complete this Grants Needs Assessment. While our organization has a very small operating budget and cannot provide grant funding, we do have the energy to help musicians navigate the available grants through organizations who are directly supported by the City of Columbus bed tax and city budget who have publicized their desire to support the careers of musicians. We are gathering this grants need assessment in hopes to inspire more successful grant applications that support the needs of hundreds of musicians in Central, Ohio.

Please take 5 minutes to complete the grant needs assessment here. Email us at ColumbusSongwritersAssociation@gmail.com with any questions.