October 17, 2006 > Music promoters who make you feel at home
Music promoters who make you feel at home
by Janet Grant
Sue and Wayne Brask are a nice, soft-spoken, unassuming Fremont couple. So what do they have in common with the likes of Bill Graham and AEG Live? Well, they happen to be music concert promoters. But that's where the similarity ends. Unlike the huge international promoters who book mega-stars and rake in unfathomable amounts of money, Sue and Wayne promote music concerts with flyers and electronic mail and hold concerts of local musicians out of their own home.
House concerts present a modern twist to a vaunted past as a contemporary version of the 19th century European music salon. At these salons, composers like Chopin and Liszt premiered their works for an elite group of invited guests at the home of a patron or patroness of the arts. Unlike the salons of the old century however, these house concerts present a diverse range of musical styles and are performed in a more informal setting.
At the Brask house, an audience of about 35-42 people experience the music in an intimate setting. Wayne also provides an incredible array of homemade treats and during breaks you have a unique chance to talk to the musicians. The Brasks host a truly memorable experience for the concert goer and as Wayne describes, "In an age of stadium shows with bands on oversized screens, here you can sit ten feet from the artists and feel the music played to you, for you."
The artists that perform at these concerts aren't your inexperienced neighborhood garage bands either. The Brasks personally preview every group they promote for not just their musical prowess but their ability to entertain and interact with their audience. The music ranges from pop, pop-rock, blues, folk, Celtic, rock, jazz, jazz-flamenco, to even chamber-folk. The caliber of past artists is notable too. The talent has included Vienna Teng, Incendio, Michael McNevin, Caliban, Patty and Abigail, and Kyler England, among many others. Some of the artists booked by the Brasks have also performed on the Dave Letterman Show, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Villa Montalvo, Freight and Salvage, and the Pennsylvania Folk Festival.
Sue explains that when she and Wayne started dating back in the 1960s they went to a lot of folk music concerts. They started to look for local concerts thinking that there must be a lot of talent out there. They also wanted to take their kids somewhere other than the local amusement parks. They followed Celtic Hearts, a Celtic music group that played often at the Britannia Arms, a South Bay pub. Not exactly the right environment for their kids, they starting thinking about House concerts, which were catching on and wondered what it would take for a group to perform at their house. Unable to get Celtic Hearts initially, they negotiated with another group and got a positive response. With their first concert of the duo Patchwork in 1997, the Brask House Concert series was born.
Beginning in 1998 the Brasks began presenting their concerts on a more regular basis and since they began, have held about 26 concerts out of their home. They rent chairs and set them up in their family room while rearranging their furniture in other areas of the house. The audience regulars have also learned to fold up their chairs during break so people can wander and mingle. It is a formula that has worked well, as the audiences are still coming back.
Sue does most of the booking and part of their winning formula is to look for musicians in places they've have already found talent. If they've booked people from these venues before, the other artists are probably similar in talent and would be within their price range. From there, they continue to network by looking at other places that their promoted artists play. Sometimes the musicians jump at the chance to play a house concert, sometimes they are more reticent. Of all the artists that have played at the Brasks however, all are enthusiastic of the experience.
An outgrowth of the Brask House is the new series of concerts co-hosted by Mission Coffee Roasting Company. Gael Stewart, owner of Mission Coffee, and the Brasks have known each other for a number of years. Mission Coffee was their youngest daughter's favorite hangout and she always thought her parents needed to get together with Gael. Gael had always wanted to provide music at the coffee house but never seemed to have the time to put it together. The Brasks had the time and wanted to do it. It was a great match.
The Mission Coffee Roasting Company series began in January 2006 with the Celtic group Caliban. According to Wayne, "We have a nice comfortable arrangement with Gael and we see pretty much eye to eye with each other. One thing we both insist on with all our concerts is quiet during the performance. These concerts are totally respectful of the artists and the music."
As a way of giving back to the community, the Brasks have also wanted to do more beneficial things than just music concerts. In April, the Brasks presented Kyler England, Vienna Teng, and the group Blame Sally for the Breast Cancer Benefit at Washington Hospital. Also, after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, they were able to put together a benefit for Hurricane Relief in 10 days. The pianist, Vienna Teng enthusiastically and graciously performed at Mission Coffee, even returning her proceeds from CD sales to the relief. "We felt wonderful we could do this. And it was a total success. We were amazed at how many people came to the concert and how people with car engines running would come up to the door of Mission Coffee to just drop off checks to the relief effort."
Wayne and Sue have a varied background but without any formal music training, the two have built a wonderful concert series to promote local talent. With only a love of music as their experience, they have passionately created a niche effectively benefiting the community.
On Saturday, Oct. 28, the Brask House and Mission Coffee Roasting Company will host the cello and voice duo of Bethany & Rufus. Bethany is the daughter of folk legend Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Rufus is one of the leading voices in cello today. Together, they break new musical ground with an unvarnished approach to traditional folk music.
Bethany & Rufus concert
Saturday, October 28, 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm
Mission Coffee Roasting Company
151 Washington Blvd, Fremont
$10.00 cover charge at the door
Refreshments can be purchased
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