When Gabe Beam first opened his home to performances by experimental and avant-garde musicians, the record-store employee did so with little risk. He would continue booking shows at the Robinwood Concert House (aka his living room) so long as audiences supported the endeavor.
“I was still hosting at any venue that I could find that was open to experimental and improvisational music, mostly bars and some [do-it-yourself] venues,” he said. “The momentum I received from these shows was great, [but] after the first show at the RCH, I quickly found that intimacy and interaction is the sentiment that fits this musical experience. Not to mention my living room has great acoustics.”
Five years later, the Robinwood Concert House, 2564 Robinwood Ave., has proved to be a remarkable success given its obvious limitations.
It has attracted a solid base of local and out-of-state concert-goers and enough interest from artists that Beam must routinely turn down performance requests.
“I range from two to three shows a month,” he said. “If I did them all, I’d be doing a show every four or five days.”
To celebrate the anniversary, Beam, 38, has booked a trio of shows this month “offering multiple genres and approaches to modern music ... which is the essence of the Robinwood Concert House.”
Sunday, it’s the percussionist trio Meridian with the experimental electronic noise of Fluxmonkey. Oct. 19, it’s improvised music and noise by BAgg*fisH and Brooklyn-based cellist/singer Valerie Kuehne. Oct. 27, it’s “performer, comproviser, activist, and teacher” Thollem McDonnas partnered with multi-instrumentalist Adam Smith, and Baltimore saxophonist Patrick Breiner’s project, Vartan Mamigonian.
For a full schedule/more information, visit toledobellows.wordpress.com.
Beam said relocating the shows from commercial venues to his own home relieved him of the financial pressure of selling tickets to pay for the space, which then allowed him to branch out even further into musical sub-genres with smaller but dedicated fanbases.
“In fact, the first four shows [at Robinwood] had all of those elements: jazz piano, electronic drone and electro-acoustic, and a play. Since then, I have had the privilege to host for acclaimed international musicians from India, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Norway, England as well as North America.”
The performers show up with Beam’s guarantee of “food, a cozy place to stay, donations, and an audience that listens.” Beam pays for the musicians’ food, and there is no door charge to the shows, but simply a donation jar.
But five years on, money isn’t the challenge at this point. It’s attracting “the already live fan.
“A lot of people know about the RCH,” he said. “Many have a great deal of interest in the styles of music that come through, although many people are unfamiliar with the house concert. After all, most music is performed at a ‘legitimate venue,’ meaning a business. Which lends itself to my other challenge, business.”
Beam doesn’t make money with the Robinwood Concert House. It’s a nonprofit venture that he mainly finances himself. So why does he keep this going?
“I used to say that I was growing tired of what music that was happening in Toledo. At the time, I was traveling to go see shows, mostly ... to Detroit and Ann Arbor,” he said. “But the main reason is, to offer this music a home, which never had a home.”