The legality of hosting a house show: How should one go about furthering Fredonia’s culture, without getting in trouble?

(Khris Dunn/Special to The Leader)


Special to The Leader

If you have been attending SUNY Fredonia for any period of time, you will have undoubtedly heard about a house show near you.

A “house show” is basically having a musical act of some sort play in your home for other people. This format of the college party is essential to the Fredonia atmosphere.

If you look at a generic house party compared to a house show, there is one distinct difference between the two.

A house show focuses on the music.

Being a music school, you have so many people who play different instruments and play in their own bands. More often than not, these musicians do not get to play for a big crowd of people in their own bands that are not affiliated with the school. House shows give these people a chance to do this.

“As music majors, practicing your own music comes as the last priority. This comes only after you finish the music you must play for class. Think of it as reading for class compared to reading for fun. You might not have enough time to read for pleasure, but it is something essential you must do to keep your creativity flowing and passion for reading intact,” said John, a guitar major and member of a local band.

It is also important to go about having a house show the right way to avoid any legal trouble. It is very easy to hold a perfectly legal house show, but the problem is people are unaware of what the rules are.

First of all, it is important to make sure your house show is considered “private.” If the show is not private, homeowners insurance will not cover any damages to the house or your possessions. Also, if anybody is seriously hurt during the show and the show is public, you may be liable to pay that person’s medical bill.

What makes a house show go from public to private is simple: if you have a random stream of people that you did not invite coming to your show, it is public.

You must also worry about PRO (Performance Rights Organizations). These organizations can seek licensing fees if you are making money off of a certain song, even if it is your own.

It is also illegal to advertise for the show, to rent a house just to have a show (unless it is private), to stand in the street or the sidewalk with an alcoholic beverage and, of course, it is illegal to serve alcoholic drinks to minors.

Police chief Bradley C. Meyers also added a couple of key legality issues you could run into with house shows.

“Some of the things that make house shows illegal from the police department’s point of view would be noise complaints, if we hear of the house conducting a business out of this show (making profit), zoning issues, too many people in a house at one time and illicit drug use.”

Meyers suggests, to people looking to avoid all problems that come with house shows, to just avoid the house.

“The safest way to play a show is to book one of our local venues for a nominal fee [such as] venues like The Grange, other local churches, or local Masonic lodges.”

The legality of house shows should not make you skeptical of hosting a show. As long as you follow these simple rules you should be fine.

Just ask Fredonia alumnus Michael Roman. Roman was a TV and film production major and graduated in 2011.

He remembers that a house on Forrest Street had a show every weekend and that “the house show was a lot more intimate [than BJ’s],” he said. “I’d say there was maybe 30-40 people crammed into a living room watching every weekend. The opener was a band of Fredonia students called Longitude and I’m 95 percent sure this was their house.”

This sounds like any given house show that plays in Fredonia every weekend.

Like this past weekend, when “The Hive” hosted an “acoustic guitar, depressed college kid” themed show.

This house has shows almost weekly. One of the people that lives in the house said they have followed the law every time they have held a show and they have never had the police called on them.

“We only let people in that we personally know. If they are under 21, we mark their hand with sharpie so everybody knows not to give them alcohol. Also we try to keep the volume down as much as possible,” said Ernie, a senior psychology major.

Even if you follow every single law regarding house shows, things can still go wrong. Another resident of “The Hive” talked about a recent experience he had.

“One time, at a house show of ours, I was drinking and having fun downstairs when all of a sudden, I see a small droplet of water hit the floor in front of me. I look up only to be in shock as the ceiling was falling apart and dripping more and more water by the second. I went upstairs to find my entire kitchen and bathroom overflowing with puke and water. Someone had puked in the toilet and clogged it. We were never able to find the person that committed this horrible act,” said Jake, a senior accounting major.

Another of “The Hive’s” residents also had a bad experience as a result of a house show.

“One time after a show I woke up to all of my hair supplies in the toilet. Why would somebody do that?” said Wayne, a senior video production major.

All of these things come with of having a show in your own house. But, apparently, it is all worth it to keep the Fredonia tradition going that people like Roman remember from their time here. The biggest reason to have a house show is for the fun and thrill of playing.

“House shows expose artists you would not normally get to hear. Like the guy playing right now, he normally doesn’t get to play for a crowd of people. It means a lot for him that he can come here and the people are already here waiting for him to play. That feeling of euphoria is very hard to explain,” said Jim, a senior guitar major and the lead singer of one of the bands that recently played at “The Hive.”

“There is nothing quite like sipping a beer in your own home and playing your own music for all of your friends. It is truly amazing and the reason why we need to keep this tradition alive in Fredonia.”

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