I have an idealistic view of life in small towns… small towns that I’ve never lived in. I imagine that like-minded people with a love of music band together and have a friend or admired musician play a concert for them in a backyard and they pass the hat. Or maybe they enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer on a porch and someone produces a guitar and a talented musician performs for an hour or so and the experience is magical. I picture it coming about in an organic fashion in these imaginary towns. It may never happen. I have no idea and I never will, I suppose.

But I do live a monstrously huge city where like-minded people gather in backyards with their love of music and they invite a beloved musician to perform a house concert. It might be a little more organized with some official sponsorship and more strangers, but the effect is the same. A magical experience of hearing the music up close and personal, enjoying the ambiance of nature instead of a dark bar with rude talkers.

I had just such an experience recently in a South Austin backyard at a place called Catfish Concerts. Jenni Finlay, a radio record promoter, and Brian T. Atkinson, author and photographer, have created this transient and transcendental experience that materializes on a monthly basis.

A house concert doesn’t have a ticket taker and a turnstile. Well, it does have a ticket taker, but it is simply the owner of the home saying, “Hey, did you buy a ticket online?” and taking your money. Then there is some congenial standing around the kitchen snacking on chips and homemade salsa, chatting with the performing artist, until show time. Then the group adjourns to the seats in the backyard. Some grab a beer from the cooler and everyone settles in for a quiet listening experience of stories and songs underneath ancient oaks and cedars. A train rumbles by from time to time, but the reality of being residents of a giant metropolis is as far away as our thoughts of going back to work tomorrow.

My favorite songwriter, Walt Wilkins, took the stage (well, actually it is more of a flower bed) in this outstanding house concert. If you haven’t yet discovered Walt Wilkins, do yourself a favor and find his music out there on the World Wide Web. He’s been behind the scenes for years, writing songs recorded by Pat Green, Kenny Rogers, Pam Tillis, and, most recently, Kelly Pickler. Once a seminary student, he takes on the deepest subjects, pondering life and death and the meaning of it all, and brings it down to something as simple as the visual metaphor of a pack of Lucky Strikes on a window sill or a photo of a mom and dad standing by a car when they were young. I appreciated his music and lyrics before I knew him personally, but meeting him and his talented wife, Tina Mitchell Wilkins, transformed me into a superfan. They put off a positive vibe that can almost be measured on a volt meter.

Austin just hosted the massive 2-weekend Austin City Limits Festival. There is never a night that outstanding music isn’t being performed in a club somewhere in this town (though, yes, sometimes it can be a challenge to know where to look). But, for my money and my soul, the house concert is the show that makes the Live Music Capitol of the World my hometown.

– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design