The Warming House plans a tiny music venue at 40th & Bryant

Credit: Songwriter Ryan Lee performs at a house concert in Kingfield. Photo by Michelle Bruch
Credit: Songwriter Ryan Lee performs at a house concert in Kingfield. Photo by Michelle Bruch

Living rooms across Minneapolis are doubling as stages for house concerts. This spring, house concert hosts and local musicians will open a new music venue called The Warming House at 40th & Bryant. They are aiming for the feel of a house concert, with a guest list that’s open to the public.

“I always thought that Minneapolis lacked a true listening room,” said Brianna Lane, executive director of The Warming House. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a venue that felt like a house?”

The Warming House would feature a bike shop operated by cyclist and musician Greg Neis, with a lounge in the back and a stage in the basement.

“I keep thinking of it being like a living room you would never dare to do on your own,” Lane said. “It’s going to be really cozy and wonderful.”

The venue would offer concessions and partner with neighborhood restaurants or food trucks. But The Warming House isn’t focused on food and drinks. Shows are designed for audiences of 50 or less, without extra chatter or noise from espresso machines.

“We want to make sure the music comes first,” Lane said.

Lane is an Americana singer-songwriter who has spent many years touring — even touring on bicycle. She knows how it feels to serve as background noise in a crowded bar.

“You name it, I’ve probably played there,” she said. “When you’re playing out of town, playing at a bar is the worst jukebox feeling. … You put so much energy into writing songs, and you want to get heard, and you go and present the songs — and you may as well be singing to your cat.”

Lane said house concerts typically turn out better for her on revenue, and it’s a better format for attentive fans.

“You can actually hear the music and engage on an intimate level,” she said. “I knew once I had a place of my own I would need to host house concerts.”

Brian Melendez has packed 50 people in to his Lowry Hill home, with people standing in the back or sitting on the stairs. He keeps the invite list limited to people he knows, and he provides pizza or barbeque and drinks. Melendez shrugs off the expense, comparing it to hosting a holiday party. He doesn’t sell tickets, but he passes the hat and guests contribute a suggested $20 donation. Melendez guarantees the artist will make at least $300 — he’s only had to pay the difference out of pocket on one occasion.

“This is how they live, and for a lot of people it’s their only income,” he said. “…Now I get 12-15 people a year trying to play at my house.”

Musicians stick around as late as midnight, selling merchandise, drinking wine and chatting. The musicians might play anywhere from 20-100 house concerts a year, Melendez said.

“You get some interesting stories when they do that many house concerts,” he said.

After clearing out the dining room table, musician Scott Zosel ends up with a space the size of a small bar at his home in Kingfield.

“I realized it’s a long winter,” he said. “We kind of need something to get people out.”

At Zosel’s house concert on Valentine’s Day weekend, a cat curled up in the back window, guitars were lined up in front of house plants, and bongo drums were positioned next to the radiator.

“It’s amazing how many people you can get into the house,” Zosel said. “I never realized how many chairs we actually own.”

Jay Smart, originally from Nairobi, strummed the guitar onstage wearing socks. (He recently shot a video while guitar shopping in Minneapolis.)

Smart shared the stage with songwriter Ryan Lee, who is launching a series of house concert performances that benefit a charity of the host’s choosing. He calls it GIG’n’GIVE.

“It’s a way to still be a live performer and bump the spotlight away a little bit,” he said. “And you still get to connect.”

Lee said he’s excited about The Warming House, and he’s even offered to volunteer with the nonprofit.

The Warming House expects to host music five nights a week.

“I’ve had tons of booking requests,” Lane said.

The venue will provide a place for young artists to try their first show. The cities need more all-age venues for open mic nights, Lane said.

“That’s how you get to know what it’s like to be on stage,” she said. “We needed something that wasn’t a bar. We wanted a small capacity, like a living room.”

They also plan to offer workshops on the music business, covering topics like how to plan a tour, how to promote yourself, and how to make a CD.

The Warming House is moving into the former Movement Arts Center karate studio at 4001 Bryant Ave. S., while Movement moves to Tapestry Dance Studio on Minnehaha Ave. Lane and Neis had coincidentally looked at opening a bike shop and coffeehouse there two years earlier.

“When we heard it opened up again, it was crazy perfect,” Lane said.

They’re looking for members, donations and business sponsorships via thewarminghouse.net.

The opening date is expected in April or May.