Olympia singer-songwriter Elizabeth Hummel is back touring living rooms

By Molly Gilmore on September 30, 2014

House concerts - those intimate shows where people open their homes to musicians, friends and strangers for an intimate show like no other - are a regular occurrence these days.

The trend got its start in 1997, when singer-songwriters Elizabeth Hummel and Cindy Lee Berryhill embarked on the Living Room Tour. (Rolling Stone magazine even interviewed Berryhill about the groundbreaking tour.)

"It was originally my mom's idea," says Hummel of Olympia, embarks Saturday on a mini tour of house concerts.

>>> Singer-songwriters Elizabeth Hummel and Cindy Lee Berryhill brought their 1997 Living Room Tour to Alan Bershaw's house in Cape Cod. "I have no idea what I am doing in the pic, probably was singing harmonies on one of her songs," says Hummel.  "We learned a lot of each others material so we could back each other up."

Her mom, Betty Hummel, says she was just thinking about Elizabeth's own musical roots.

"My husband was a psychiatrist, but all his life from childhood they had played music in their home, piano and guitar and banjo and fiddle," Betty Hummel says. "She grew up with him playing music all the time in our living room. I just commented that maybe you should do living-room shows and she picked up on it."

"It's the way music was originally shared," Elizabeth Hummel adds.

The idea was practical, not just sentimental. Hummel lacked a booking agent, and the tour was easily booked through a network of folk fans who kept in touch on the Internet.

"We would stay with people most of the time," she says. "They treated us like queens. We'd walk into these living rooms, and we'd feel like rock stars because people were so enthusiastic and supportive.

"We made money," she adds. "That's another thing that was different. If you worked a show at a club, you might make next to nothing. At the living-room concerts, there'd be a suggested donation. If you'd get 20 people, there'd be 200 bucks, as well as CD sales."

The tour sparked a trend, but Hummel - who released her latest album, It's About Time, in July - didn't continue to tour living rooms. The tour beginning Saturday at the home of a neighbor is her first living-room tour since 1997.

"This is the first house-concert tour that I've done since that first one," Hummel said. "I like doing them, but it only works if the hosts are people who almost have a sacred calling to use their space in a way that fosters community and brings music to people."

"My husband and I both love music," said Mary Meyer, who's hosting the Olympia concert. "We have like 1,200 old vinyl albums from the '60s and on up.

"We wanted Elizabeth to have the opportunity in our neighborhood to sing and share her voice and get the music out and bring the neighbors together."

It sounds like a homey gathering indeed. "There will be chocolate-chip cookies," Hummel says.

And though she hasn't done that many, house concerts have continued to be part of Elizabeth Hummel's life.

Betty Hummel recently moved from her longtime Olympia home to a nearby retirement community.

"Before I left the house, Elizabeth decided we needed to have a living-room show there for some special friends," Betty Hummel says. "The house was partially empty but we brought in chairs and had a little living-room show to say goodbye to the house.

"I had lived there for 43 years, so a lot of music had been played in that living room."

ELIZABETH HUMMEL, 8 p.m. Saturday, Carlyon Beach, Olympia, $10-$20 donation suggested, elizabethhummel.com or elizabeth@elizabethhummel.com

Other shows at 8 p.m. Oct. 11 in Oakland, California, and 8 p.m. Oct. 12 in Occidental, California, $10-$20 donation suggested, elizabethhummel.com or elizabeth@elizabethhummel.com