It's been a year since beloved music business veteran and tireless champion of the Buffalo music scene Susan Tanner died following a lengthy battle with cancer.
But it's still Tanner's vision that her husband, Marty Boratin, celebrates whenever he opens the doors of his Hamburg home to a host of music lovers eager for something different, something more intimate and meaningful and than the run-of-the-mill live music experience.
"Susan was a big supporter of the house concerts," Boratin said this week, referencing the dozens of shows he and Tanner presented in their home, welcoming touring artists to town for a home-cooked meal, a warm bed and an attentive audience.
"It was only fitting that Johnny Dowd and Bill Nehill, both of whom performed at both our wedding and at Susan's memorial at Babeville last year performed (in early May) at the first house show I hosted since she passed away."
On Saturday, Boratin will open his doors once again, celebrating Memorial Day Weekend with a bill featuring Ramblin' Deano of Milwaukee's Waco Brothers and Buffalo's Bill Smith of Ten Cent Howl, prefaced by an outdoor cookout, weather-permitting.
The cost to the music lover? A $10 suggested donation.
It's a far cry from the big-time concert biz, to be sure, but for listeners in the area who might be suffering a bit from sticker shock when it comes to concert tickets, the house concert concept is a welcome one.
"Most artists performing house shows are far outside of the Live Nation orbit, and likely not on the radar of that concert-going crowd," Boratin said. "But the house shows attract the big fans from hundreds of miles around for that chance to be up-close-and-personal with the acts they know and love. For example, singer-songwriter Julia Nunes, not exactly a household name, sold out 40 tickets within a couple of days of her show being announced.
"And I don't think I knew any of the people that purchased advance tickets through Undertow, a company that books house concert tours and handles everything online - I've dealt with the owner and founder for years now."
The house concert ethos seems to be at least partly tied to the age-old tradition of fans hiring local artists and bands to play private parties or summertime backyard bacchanals. That idea grew in the mid-1990s to include nationally touring artists – underground progressive-pop genius Mike Keneally, for example, and the late Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens both filled time between bigger tours by hiring themselves out for living room sets to fans willing to foot the bill.
For Boratin and Tanner, a strain of that idea was first brought to their attention by Buffalo expat Gurf Morlix, who bent their ear during the international SXSW Festival, regarding his frustrations with playing intimate music in often boisterous club and bar settings.
"We were in Austin, TX, for SXSW in 2007 and met up with Gurf one afternoon," Boratin recalled. "He was lamenting the fact that there wasn't a decent 'listening room' in Buffalo. The bar and club scene is tough for a singer/songwriter. House shows give the artists an attentive audience. Susan and I had been talking about it for several years and Gurf was the one that gave us that little extra nudge to get the ball rolling. We had him in for our first house show in May of that year. Before we knew it, we were doing them on a regular basis."
Boratin has many cherished memories of the decade's worth of shows he and his wife presented at their home. "Mark Eitzel, of American Music Club near-fame, played a couple, including one just a couple of days before Susan went into the hospital for the last time. Michael Hurley played for over 100 people on our lawn on a beautiful summer evening, with geese honking as they glided into the pond behind our house as he was performing his song 'Wildegeeses.'
"Grant Hart playing his best-loved Husker Du tunes on an acoustic guitar in the darkness in our back yard. Peter Case brought in by far the biggest crowd we had, partly because his dad had taught at Eden High School with Susan's mom."
Here's to many more memories, Marty.