It’s hard to believe, but Bob Dorr hasn’t performed in many living rooms.
The gravelly voiced legend on Iowa Public Radio has spent nearly 40 years playing countless bars and nightclubs with The Blue Band. He is an Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and was an official “Iowa icon” according to a resolution the Legislature passed at the end of March.
But it wasn’t until St. Patrick’s weekend that Dorr performed his first house concert, at the home of Carl and Susan Voss in downtown Des Moines. He played drums and harmonica with Jeff Petersen on guitar and Nolan Schroeder on bass and saxophone.
“When I was a kid, I wanted my parents to hear my music and what I was doing with it,” Dorr told the crowd between songs. “So I got an 8-track player for them, (and) if you don’t know what an 8-track is you’re too young to be here. Anyhow, my mom and dad drove an Oldsmobile so we’re going to do this song for them. It’s called Rocket 88, the first rock-n-roll song ever written, in 1951.”
The trio’s trip to the Voss home began two years ago when Dorr bumped into Carl Voss on the sidewalk. Voss invited Dorr to perform a house concert, but it took Voss months of persistence to finally persuade Dorr to schedule a house concert through HomeDitty, an online business that connects musicians with people who want to host private concerts.
“Right now, we have 350 hosts signed up, and they represent 34 states,” said HomeDitty owner Katie Byers of Des Moines. “I haven’t even publicly launched yet, but I’m thrilled to see how people are willing to open their homes and bring these musicians in.”
HomeDitty works somewhat like an online dating service. Hosts and artists can peruse profiles, negotiate concert dates and agree on fees. Hosts send private invitations to their family and friends but do not make money from the shows. HomeDitty takes a small percentage of the sales from each concert and sends any additional profits directly to the artists.
“Venue gigs are still important,” Byers said, “but I want to fill in empty nights for those musicians who may be coming through town and have an open date they want to fill.”
For audiences, she added, house concerts are essentially “listening parties” where everyone is expected to pay attention to the music. The focus is on the performers, who usually mingle with guests before and after their sets.
“Most of my hosts are people who love to entertain,” Byers said. “They’re usually middle-age and up and have a good network of friends. It’s a great way for people who are motivated to build community and support the arts.”
Dimitri Makedonsky is a HomeDitty host who books musicians at his renovated American Legion hall in Ladora. It’s a town of about 230 people near Marengo and the Amana Colonies — but the concerts often sell out.
“We had The Awful Purdies from Iowa City come out to play, and 40 people came from all around to hear them,” Makedonsky said.
In Windsor Heights, Dean and Chris Logsdon have booked the likes of Rob Lumbard of Des Moines and G.B. Leighton of Minneapolis in their basement, which they’ve dubbed the Buckaroo Bar. Their biggest show so far was Dan Navarro, a songwriter who wrote the Grammy-nominated “We Belong” for Pat Benatar and has worked with The Bangles, Jackson Browne, Dave Edmunds, The Temptations and Dionne Warwick.
“We’ve been doing this for four or five years now and it’s just been great,” Dean Logsdon said. “The audience are your friends, and you contact them through social media or email.”
Back at the Voss home, Dorr considered his first house concert a big success.
“It exceeded my wildest dreams,” he said. “I’m going to love doing more of these.”
— Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs