Imagine a pleasant home filled with convivial souls, good food and drink at hand, and professional musicians to provide the evening’s entertainment.
No, it’s not an 18th-century soirée on the estate of a European aristocrat.
It’s a modern house concert, the sort that Barrett and Carol Horne frequently host in their hilltop home overlooking the Yukon River.
Horne was on a working trip to Ukraine four years ago when Carol heard via CBC Radio that the Winnipeg-based Home Routes organization was looking for Yukoners to host small, home-based concerts for travelling folk-roots musicians.
“I had visions of this thing filling up right away,” Horne says. “So I actually phoned from Ukraine and said we’d like to be one of the host homes.”
By that fall, the couple had signed up for six invitation-only concerts over a six-month period.
“The first artist we hosted was Nathan Rogers, and it was a great success. That was the beginning, and we’ve had some marvelous times,” he says.
Their home is now one of five Home Routes venues in the Whitehorse-Marsh Lake area, part of an 11-venue northern circuit called the Aurora Trail.
Apart from providing a performance space, their hosting duties include getting the word out among their network of friends and acquaintances, and setting up for an onslaught of company.
“The most we ever had was with Bill Bourne. We ended up with 45 people or something like that, which was a bit of a stretch, so we’ve put a cap at 35 since then,” Horne says.
After borrowing folding chairs from their church for the first few years, the couple recently took a big plunge.
“I actually bought 20 chairs this summer at Canadian Tire,” Horne says. “They came on sale and they were slightly more comfortable. So now we have our own supply of chairs.”
As hosts, they also provide accommodation and meals for the visiting musicians.
“It’s the old saw, sing for your supper and you’ll get breakfast. And they do. They get supper and they get breakfast and spend the night,” Horne says.
“Actually, one of the goals we have is that when people visit with us, it’s very important that they experience it as refreshing and restful – a bit of a respite.”
Considering they don’t make a cent from hosting house concerts, why do the Hornes do it?
For one thing, it allows them to have new musical experiences.
“My wife is actually quite an introvert. She enjoys hosting, but it’s much easier for her to welcome people into her home than to, say, go to a concert,” Horne explains.
“So it actually means that we sort of get out, in a way that we might not otherwise.”
For another, it’s a chance to relate to musicians in a more personal way.
“We enjoy getting to know who they are, learning a bit about their stories, how they got to be where they are, what they’re doing, that sort of thing.”
From the musicians’ side, it’s a way to augment their earnings and get performance dates in places they might not get to otherwise.
“It’s a business model that I suspect can serve musicians well, if they’re comfortable in this kind of a venue. Some of them really shine in it,” Horne says.
“We love house concerts,” Carli Kennedy enthuses by phone from Calgary, where she and her identical twin, Julie, are putting the finishing touches on their first full-length CD.
“This is one of our favourite things to do, because we get to know our audience one-on-one, and we get to connect with them on a really personal basis,” she adds.
The classically trained sisters, who both hold music degrees from the University of Victoria, have been carving a name for themselves across North America with their unique fusion of country, folk, jazz and classical music.
They will open the Aurora Trail’s new season with 12 house concerts this month. The first is Thursday, September 18 at the Hornes’ home on Long Lake Road.
Julie, who jokes that she is “30 seconds older, 30 seconds wiser” than her sister, has pulled the car over to join the conversation. She speaks about the trademark energy the sisters bring to their performances.
“Our music’s really positive,” she says. “It’s about family, and we like to bring a lot of energy, even if it’s just a small house show.”
The 28-year-olds have been performing and travelling full-time for the past four years, including several songwriting trips to Nashville, Tennessee.
The bond between them is obvious. They even have “twin” cellphones a single digit apart.
Just before embarking on their first Yukon visit, they made their first European appearances, in Iceland and Sweden.
“Even when we’re travelling so much, we feel like we’re still at home, because we have each other. That’s a blessing, really, to be able to travel with your best friend,” says Julie.
Or maybe it’s Carli.