Just when you thought you knew every single thing about your town—your little Moorestown—you discover some hidden gem of a house, a street you’ve never heard of, or perhaps you meet someone who opens a window and invites you in. There, you see and hear these killer musicians playing right in front of you, in someone's home, filled with their children and artwork and warmth, three feet away. You've stumbled upon a house concert and they're happening around town quite frequently, so grab a seat and start listening.
My introduction to house concerts began when I sat down to talk with one of the young mothers who brings her children to story time at the library. I actually got to know Jen Hilinski several years ago when her oldest son Stanley was in my kindergarten group. I liked her right away. She has a pretty, open face and a pierced nose, which I absolutely loved. (Yes, I can be rather shallow and am quite the sucker for someone who doesn’t fit the Mo’town mold, especially since I’m allergic to mold of any kind.)
Since 2002, before they had their sons Stanley and Bruce, Jen and her husband, Dave Khanlian, have been hosting “house concerts” in their artistic, brightly painted home on Dawson Street. Some of my readers might already be acquainted with house concerts, since there are several people in town who graciously open their homes to strangers and other music lovers for these events. But until about a year ago, I could never have imagined sitting in someone's living room listening to live music.
As mentioned, Dave and Jen have been hosting house concerts for 11 years. Dave, a 15-year fifth grade teacher in Mount Laurel, and Jen, a student assistance counselor (SAC) in Maple Shade and Lindenwold, met at Elizabethtown College in 1994.
“We were friends first,” Jen told me, “but he was so cute and so much fun. And we both love music, so …?” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders, leaving me to fill in the blanks.
Dave is a Moorestown guy, born and raised. He played soccer then, he plays soccer now, but I got the impression his passion is for music. I couldn't help but think of the rich world Jen and Dave have created for their sons: music, sports and a heart for hospitality. Jen is from Bucks County and it was while visiting friends in Media, PA and attending house concerts there, that the idea to host musicians at their roomy Moorestown abode began to germinate. They had one of those "Eureka!" moments and decided that hosting house concerts was something they not only wanted to do, but should do. And so it began.
Initially, they would start preparing for concert night days in advance. Now, the couches get moved and a horde of folding chairs comes out of hiding just hours before showtime. Their spacious, comfortable house seats 50 concertgoers, with room to mingle in the kitchen over BYOB beverages and snacks that people bring to share with others. Not to worry though. Snack-bearing is not mandatory (but Stanley and Bruce would never turn down a plate of warm brownies).
Dave explained to me how the concerts work.
“One hundred percent of the ticket sales goes to the artists. If we don’t take money, then people know that we’re in it for the music and not to make a profit," he said. "I mean how cool is it that we can have musicians playing in our living room? In such a low-key setting, people get to meet the artists between sets and hang out with them."
Ever the gentleman, when I asked if there were artists he and Jen wouldn’t invite back, he nodded but did not name names.
"We didn’t get the vibe that they connected with us," said Dave. "We felt like their employees."
He and Jen were more than willing however, to share their faves with me.
They reeled off a list filled with names I hardly knew: The Figs, Scrapomatic, the Stone Coyotes, Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart, Ben Vaughan, Frog Holler and John Wesley Harding, all of whom have played their home and would be welcome back anytime. A quick trip to YouTube gave me a refresher course in a different sort of music scene, populated with artists eager to perform in all sorts of venues, including your family room. See for yourself.
In addition to listening to WXPN, Dave is an avid reader of music magazines. He and Jen also go to house concerts in the area, where they get ideas for their own. At the top of Jen’s wish list is the March 4th Marching Band, a huge group that might make seating in their house a little tight. Again, check them out on YouTube and you’ll be wishing they’d bring their high-energy act to Mo’town to liven things up.
Jen and Dave usually host four to five house concerts a year. The next one is on Saturday, Oct. 12th, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7:30). Tickets are $20 and all the money goes to the artist, Freedy Johnston. XPN listeners will be familiar with Freedy Johnston from his airtime on our local station. There are still tickets available for the show, so head on over to Jen and Dave’s website for more information. This close to the performance date, however, Dave insists on cash. For future concerts, visit their website where you can buy tickets in advance via PayPal or a check in the mail.
Mo’towners often get stereotyped as affluent, stuffy snobs, when in reality there are many different kinds of people here, who enjoy a wide variety of activities, from the arts to sports then back again.
“It’s more diverse here than people imagine,” Dave reminded me, and Jen agreed.
“Children are the great equalizer,” she added. “You meet other parents on the soccer field, you start talking to them and find out they love music just as much as you do. Then just like that, you're friends!”
If you can’t make the October show, there’s another coming up on Nov. 23 you won’t want to miss. The Lustre Kings, a Rockabilly group from Albany that backed the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson, are coming to town. So grab your dancing shoes and head on over to Jen and Dave’s. As Jen reminded me, “you don’t have to know us to come.”
I can’t think of a better introduction to the diversity our town offers than an evening of good music in someone’s home.