Before this past week, I had never heard of David Via.
As has been widely reported within the Roots Music media, Via was violently and randomly attacked prior to what has been described as a house concert he was to perform. For those unfamiliar with them, house concerts have found increasing popularity as an alternative performance format for under-valued musicians, including roots music artists. A home owner invites a band or artist into their home to perform for friends and select invited strangers, with the artist generally taking home a few hundred dollars in ticket sales and a bit of extra from the merchandise table.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine times, all goes well. The performer is treated right, the audience is treated to an intimate musical performance, and the homeowner is given the satisfaction of helping a favoured artist pay the bills.
And then that one-in-a-thousand, horrible event goes awry: a stranger who sounded up-front on the phone steals the cookie jar; the friend of a friend acts like a buffoon and grabs the mic stand; someone slips coming down the stairs or falls through a window; or the musician is attacked prior to the performance.
I've attended dozens of house concerts, as well as events organized by individuals in a community hall or a friend's borrowed restaurant/bar/rehearsal studio/backyard. I've enjoyed every one of them to varying degrees, and have had the wonderful opportunity to be entertained by performers whose names I forget, as well as Americana staples such as Katy Moffatt, Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch, and Leeroy Stagger, amongst others. There is something special about being one-of-thirty in attendance to hear an artist's newest songs and familiar treasures.
I have been asked by artists to host house concerts thirty or forty times, and I've always said, No. The reason. Events such as what occurred in South Carolina last weekend. What happens if? I once promoted a show without the backing of a society or insurance. It was a great night of music, the performer went away with $600, the rest of the bills got paid, and my co-presenter and I lost just enough to make sure we didn't do it again. And I think, Thank goodness.
A house concert can be a perfect evening. Until something horrible happens.
Media reports have called the event at which Via was injured as a house concert. I'm presuming therefore that Via was injured outside someone's house, someone who liked his music enough to invite him into their home. It could have been a community hall someone rented or a space borrowed in exchange for a case of beer.
It doesn't matter. Someone has put themselves at risk of liability. With all the best of intentions, someone may be facing damages. I'm unaware of a house concert promoter who has taken out a rider on their insurance policy. Most haven't even asked their insurance company, What if?
Via is recovering, and one hopes he is able to get back to making his living with music soon. Random attacks occur every day. Via could have been hit outside a 7-11 or while entering a hardware store. But, he wasn't.
Having 'tried' to aid a friend in bouncing a moron from an independently presented show once, I understand how things can go sideways in less time than it takes to walk twelve steps.
I have listened to Via's music this week, and find it quite appealing. I anticipate ordering one of his albums as a little way of contributing to the financial mess he has found himself in, through little fault of his own. I hope that no one else is injured because of the events that occurred at the house concert last weekend.
At the same time, I hope all who think about opening their homes to strangers for a great night of music think twice about what they could be getting themselves into. And musicians should think again before accepting that next gig: what exposure do they have, and what risk are they asking someone else to take?