David Onley & Sergio Webb – House Concert – San Francisco, CA – 10/5/10

I’ve heard about house concerts, intimate performances, usually acoustic performed for a limited number of people at someones residence, but until now had never had the opportunity to attend one. Then on Monday morning I received a tweet (a message on twitter for the uninitiated) from David Olney, who along with his side man Sergio Webb had recently played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, would be performing a house party. Olney and his side man Sergio Webb had recently played the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. I emailed the organizer (for whom this was a first-time endeavor) and I was in.

As instructed by the email I received from the organizer I arrived at 7 PM at the a high-end apartment building in the tony Ashbury Heights section of the city. I paid the $15. “donation” (one reason they like these gigs is that often 100% of the entrance fee goes to the performers) the small crowd milled in the make-do bar and buffet eating crackers and cheese and drinking wine and beer. After some conversations I surmised that I was probably the only one there that didn’t have a direct association with the host or the performers. I was the only outsider. Being a Texan in San Francisco, I was comfortable in this role.

Olney and his side-kick guitarist/singer Sergio Webb, set up in the living room in front of a large bay window, a grand piano (unused at this performance) and flanked by what I can only assume were large oil paintings of the relatives. Davis Olney is an artist whose name you might not recognize, but you would recognize the people who’ve worked with him or covered his songs – Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Del McCoury, Lonnie Brooks, Steve Earle, Slaid Cleaves, Dale Ann Bradley, Tom Rozum, Ann Rabson, Keiran Kane/Kevin Welch/Fats Kaplin and others.  An old friend, Townes Vant Zandt, when asked who his favorite music writers are stated “Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan, and David Olney.” Onley is the most famous men you’ve never heard of.

Decked in a formal Nudie-style Western jacket, dark fedora and coolly playing his ‘44 Gibson hollow body Olney cuts a dapper figure. Sergio Webb is his unkempt opposite in a wide-brimmed straw cowboy hat and think, braided beard, western shirt with playing cards embroidered on summons rockabilly heat and pedal-steel sounds from his vintage Telecaster.

Relying on no set list Olney channeled performers from the past, sprinkling dark and wry early 2oth-century  America tales with humorous anecdotes and self-depreciating asides like “These guys are great, how come i don’t know about them?!” Using a mashup of rock/blues/folk/country as a framework appearances were made by John Dillinger (Dillinger),  “Dizzy” Dean
(Heaven’s Game), Socrates (Sweet Poison) and the subject of Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” (Mister Vermeer.) A few covers were added (“We’re not a cover band, really.” stated Olney after their third.)  With all their 70’s gaudiness I now realize how great a band the Bee Gees since hearing Olney’s cover of their New York Mining Disaster 1941 (the miners’ isolation given added poignancy from an experience Onley had a year in a New York City jail cell.) There was also a heartfelt rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s Snowin On Raton Lyrics

Besides providing musicians a new channel to make a few bucks between gigs on the road house concerts are attended by people are there to see the music instead of to be seen or to yammer. The audience watched the intimate show attentively and reacted passionately at a clever phrase by Olney or an especially hot solo by Sergio Webb. All in all I think for the kind of music I love I think house concerts are something I’m going to seek out more often.

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