Stehls host musicians and fans
In what’s usually the playroom Ada and Erik Stehl set up for their kids, Austin singer-songwriter Brian Pounds tunes his guitar and regales locals with stories of his life as a touring songwriter. Behind Pounds hang pictures of the couple’s three children; across the room, framed concert posters dot the wall.
It’s a Saturday night on a quiet street in Westbury, and 30-odd neighbors and strangers have gathered at the Stehl house for a home-cooked meal and a music show in an intimate setting. Pounds, who appeared on the TV show The Voice and has opened for artists including Blake Shelton, entertains attendees with his original folk songs and chats with guests during a break in the two-hour performance.
His appearance is part of the Stehls’ Burlinghall House Concerts series, a monthly music show featuring Americana, folk and folk rock performers they host in their home.
“It’s stripped down,” said Erik. “It’s just the musician and their instrument. It’s really about that connection with the artists that you don’t get with a digital download.”
For the audience, the concerts are an opportunity to mingle with neighbors and hear new tunes from professional musicians. For performers, it’s a chance to connect in a setting that’s cozier than a bar, and it’s often a much-needed boost to income – and morale – at a time when it’s harder than ever to make a living as a musician.
“You’re hearing stories about songwriting, jokes, the tuning,” said Erik, gesturing with enthusiasm. “All the stuff that would normally be cut out.”
“People are here to listen,” says Ada, flashing a wide smile, “and musicians love the home environment. It’s a refreshing change.”
Across the country, the house-concert circuit has been going strong for decades. But it’s become more popular of late as artists seek out venues outside the traditional circuit, which often pays little. It comes at a time when music sales have declined and artists get pennies when a song is streamed. The Stehls’ series is the only one of its kind in southwest Houston. Others exist in the Heights, Sugar Land, Pasadena and The Woodlands.
The Stehls began hosting concerts nearly two years ago, by chance. Ada had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after giving birth to their twins, Charlie and Niki, now 5. Erik, 7, is their first born. All attend Annunciation Orthodox School. After her diagnosis, she and Erik started seeing live music every few weeks. “It helped me de-stress more than anything else,” she said.
They saw Americana singer-songwriter Jeff Plankenhorn perform on several occasions. Soon, he started recognizing them in the audience, and they became friends. Then, one Labor Day weekend, he called Ada. “He said his October was slow, and did we want to host him one night,” she said. “I thought, I can’t say no. He’s going to play at our house.”
So, the Stehls said yes. That first night, they invited friends and family and packed the room. Plankenhorn played hits and new songs. Ada and Erik served gyros, hummus, and tzatziki. “The audience loved it,” said Ada, “It gave us the confidence to keep on going.” After Plankenhorn’s show, they booked another artist, and then another.
Since then, they’ve hosted 20 shows, and their schedule is full well into 2019. The Stehls reach out to performers they admire and have seen perform live. Artists – most are from Austin – also reach out to them. They’ve hosted Grammy-award winners and performers like Susan Gibson, who wrote the song Wide Open Spaces, which was recorded by the Dixie Chicks. Performers sing, play guitar, banjo and the harmonica. The Stehls also have a piano, and some have used amplifiers that Erik, who repairs power tools for a living, has restored or built.
Houston musician Matt Harlan said audience members really listen. “You can tell if you take them by surprise or make them feel something,” he said. “Ada and Erik are some of the warmest people and most avid music fans I know. Playing their place just feels like you're playing for your friends.”
Westbury resident James Cross, a musician himself, has attended two Burlinghall concerts. He likes live music, but strays away from large venues like the Toyota Center given the crowds and the hassle. He’s made friends at the Stehls’ house.
Concert attendees can make a donation to artists. Typically, $20 is suggested. Shows are for adults, and the Stehls can fit 40 people in their space. They announce shows, which run year-round except in December and August, on their Facebook page. Ada, who’s self-employed as a dyslexia therapist, gets cooking help from her Westbury parents, Kosta and Nikkie Kyriasoglou. Sometimes, the menu matches the music. Ada’s parents also babysit the kids at their home during shows.
“At this point, we consider a lot of attendees as our friends,” Ada said. “It’s been a fun ride.”
Editor’s note: To be added to the email list, message Ada on the Facebook group Burlinghall House Concerts.
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