My wonderful friend Jim recently hosted a house concert for Callaghan, the British singer-songwriter, at his home in Arizona. I was lucky enough to attend. It was an incredible evening, in many ways; I may never forget it.
Jim had this date booked months in advance, as part of Callaghan’s House Concert Tour.
To prepare for the evening, Jim had to completely empty his living room in order to make room for a microphone, some speakers, a full-sized keyboard, and of course, Callaghan herself. Then he pulled in every available chair in the house — desk chairs, dining chairs, patio chairs — enough to seat 15 or 20 of his friends and neighbors. He also prepared a guest bedroom to accommodate Callaghan and her husband Steve for the night, which I assume meant ridding it of any personal effects. I imagine this process must have been like the ordinary houseguest panic (“Company’s coming! Hide the clutter!!!”), on steroids (“A gorgeous semi-famous person is coming and she’s going to sleep in my house! Hide everything!”).
Jim hosted a potluck dinner in his kitchen before the show, featuring pitchers of mysterious, blue margaritas. I had to work late, so I missed dinner. By the time I arrived, everyone was seated in the “concert hall” and Callaghan was introducing her first song. I snuck into the kitchen to fend for myself while Callaghan began to sing. There were one or two margaritas left and every inch of the kitchen counters was covered in dishes of party foods. I snagged a few finger sandwiches and a piece of cake and quickly wolfed them down. Then I chugged a glass of blue stuff, helped myself to a bottle of beer from the fridge, and made my way to an empty desk chair in the concert hall.
I wasn’t familiar with Callaghan’s music prior to this evening. Sure, Jim had sent everyone links so that we could listen to some of her songs first, but time ran away from me and suddenly it was concert day. I heard her first song from the kitchen, while I was stuffing my face with finger sandwiches and I think I must have paused mid-bite to listen more carefully. I know it’s a cliche, but it is no exaggeration to say that Callaghan really does have the voice of an angel. It’s a sweet, full, well-controlled, clear soprano (I think — I’m just comparing her range to mine, but please do not hold me to that). She has a fairly impressive vocal range, too, demonstrated when she performed Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” and later followed it with a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
The evening was particularly special for me because, as I watched Callaghan perform, I was reminded of a familiar scene from my own childhood. I grew up playing the clarinet and over the years, I gave countless “concerts” to my family members and anyone I could con into listening. Every time I mastered a new song or a new technique, I wanted to show it to everyone. It never occurred to me that they had already heard me practicing the very same song or technique in my bedroom down the hall for hours and hours; all that mattered was that once I had it down, I needed an audience. I loved to play for an audience. Watching Callaghan play, I almost felt a little jealous, wishing I still played an instrument and had the ability to captivate a room with music.
Throughout the performance, Callaghan shared stories of being on the road for a cross-country tour of house concerts just like ours. She spoke of riding in a car with more than 300,000 miles on it. She explained that her song “Green Eyes,” which was written for her husband, was originally called “Blue Eyes” — until she sang it for him on their first wedding anniversary and realized that his eyes aren’t blue. She shared her deep sense of gratitude for the many breaks she’d been given, and all the times things worked out in her favor, leading her from the UK to Atlanta and now to Nashville where she resides currently. Even without the musical performance, she gave a wonderful show because through her stories, she presented herself as a charming and gracious human being.
My favorite part of the night was the realization that Jim was not only having this experience but sharing it with people close to him. Jim is the kind of person who makes friends slowly and keeps them for life. I met him when we worked together six years ago, but I was by far the newcomer in his house that evening. Everyone else I met that night could date their friendships with Jim back for decades — even before I was born. It’s one thing to have a special experience with a musician you love; it’s totally another to be able to share it with your close friends, neighbors, and family members. I was thrilled for Jim to see that he was able to have all of that.
I left Jim’s house with the high I often get from live shows — beaming and euphoric, a slight beer buzz, and half a dozen songs fighting to get stuck in my head. I took an Über back to my hotel and the driver and I chatted non-stop for the entire 40-minute ride. When I got out of the car, I gave the driver one of Callaghan’s CDs, which I had picked up after the show. I made him get out of the car, too, so that I could give him a hug.
That was my first house concert. And as they say, you never forget your first.