Musicians bring it on home
The house band concept takes on new meaning

by Baker Maultsby - April 21, 2006

Many music fans head out to bars or take to the highway on weekends to hear their favorite performers. For the last several months, Annabelle and Matt Ranck have had the musicians coming to them.

Photo by Michelle MogaveroSome music fans call them "house" concerts. The Rancks call their shows the "BackShop Concerts." Musicians set up in a room that sits apart from the rest of their house in suburban Spartanburg SC.

They've hosted Nashville songwriter Greg Trooper and North Carolina-based David Childers, as well as acclaimed Spartanburg performer David Ezell.

This Friday, David Olney is the featured performer. "We started it as kind of a lark," said Matt Ranck, explaining that the first concert was put on as a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

A follow-up during the holidays featured Des Champs Band, the popular, locally-grown group whose members have now moved on to college, the military or full-time music jobs. Then Trooper came in to perform.

Word started getting around among folk musicians and their booking agents, and now, said Ranck, "Every week we're getting solicitations from agents and bands."

And as he said, they're hearing from performers with impressive resumes. Trooper, for example, has worked with roots-rock heavyweights Dave Alvin and Buddy Miller and had his songs performed by Steve Earle and Vince Gill.

Olney has been a respected writer for years, with such performers as Emmylou Harris cutting his songs.

So how do the Rancks attract performers with these credentials to play in their 32-seat "venue"?

The ease of making a CD in the digital age, along with the proliferation of ambitious acts, has "saturated" the market, as Mrs. Ranck put it. More and more, entertainment dollars are going to cable television, video games and sporting events.

"House concerts like this are getting folk musicians through this period we have now," said Ezell, who played at the BackShop last month.

And to have hosts like the Rancks makes the experience even more worthwhile, Ezell said. "There's a vibe in that house that comes from their soul - vibe of comfort just to walk in there, a welcoming kind of feeling."

Ezell also has high praise for the Rancks' own musicianship. The Rancks have sung together since before moving to Spartanburg from Florida in the early 1990s. They've led Perry Road and now the DAM Combo, a trio with Don McGraw, one of the area's most respected bass players.

"This has been our night out for years," said Ranck. "We could never afford a babysitter and then dinner and a movie. This way, we could go out and play music, our beer's paid for, and we bring home a little more money than we left with."

The DAM Combo is working on an album. Ranck records this group in the BackShop - where he also produces a live recording of most of the guest performers - and they hope to release the CD in the coming months.

Both Rancks admit to nearly having had their fill of the bar grind - booking jobs, hauling equipment, managing personnel. Their main gig nowadays is each Wednesday in the BackShop, spending time with their friends.

And that's about the way they view the concerts with touring performers. For the price of a ticket - usually $15 - guests get a meal cooked by Mrs. Ranck ("The food's great, by the way, "she said with a grin). Audience members and singers all eat and relax together before the show begins.

"It's like being backstage with your friends and one of your favorite singers," Ranck said.

As long as there are quality musicians needing a venue and an audience, the Rancks plan to keep putting on their specialty concerts. In fact, with children either in or approaching college, they're thinking of ways to expand on the idea.

"We're thinking of moving out from town a little ways into a smaller house," she said, adding, "Smaller house - bigger BackShop."