When P.J. and Abbie Hogan like a band, they don't just listen; they invite them over
If you pay more attention to the artist than the venue when you’re buying a concert ticket online, you might be surprised at the email confirmation you receive from a Hogan House show. “We are on a small cul-de-sac,” the message reads. “Please keep in mind that this is a residential neighborhood and be respectful of our neighbors anytime you are outside.”
The message is signed by P.J. and Abbie Hogan, who for several years have been hosting concerts in their basement in a subdivision off Sunbury Road near Easton. House shows have long been part of the independent local music scene, but the Hogans are part of a growing number of music fans who are bringing bigger-name artists into their homes. Hosts usually volunteer the space so that all proceeds go to the performers.
Last weekend, fans of Amy Rigby, a singer-songwriter with critical acclaim and a small but dedicated national following, were greeted at the Hogans’ house by Rigby’s name in colored chalk on the driveway and a hand-lettered sign on the stoop. P.J. stood in the entrance, crossing names off a list and ushering guests into his kitchen, where a few music-lovers were standing around awkwardly. “Have some nachos!” he said.
Abbie Hogan says she and her husband used to travel often to concerts to hear the indie bands and alt-country singers they loved. Philadelphia, Chicago, Louisville—they logged a lot of miles in pursuit of live music. They missed their road trips when they had a child in 2015. After all, Abbie, a lawyer specializing in worker’s compensation, had already retreated from her own youthful rock ‘n’ roll dreams; she was part of a Nirvana cover band as early as middle school and played bass in various bands in college.
So instead of shelving their live-music lifestyle, “We brought the concerts to us,” says Abbie.
The couple has hosted about 20 concerts in their finished basement. Up to 50 people can squeeze into the cozy, carpeted den, which the Hogans recently outfitted with black stacking chairs. Their large projection screen serves as a backdrop; they’ve decorated it with a gauzy curtain and twinkle lights. The musicians bring their own equipment.
The Hogans got started by applying to a matchmaking organization, Undertow Records, for the opportunity to host one of their favorite bands, the Louisville indie folk group Vandaveer. They sent in a snapshot of their basement, and the match was made. The concert was such a success that Vandaveer has returned to play at Hogan House on three additional occasions. “We’ll always have a soft spot for them,” says Abbie. In March, the band’s front man, Mark Charles Heidinger, returned at P.J.’s request to play a surprise set at Abbie’s 37th birthday party.
The Hogans used the booking service for the first few concerts, then came up with their own formula. They track their favorite artists when they’re on tour, looking for gaps in their schedule, then reaching out to see if they’d like to play Columbus. It’s a bonus for independent performers; the Hogans not only pass all ticket revenue to the musicians; they also offer free lodging and breakfast.
That’s part of the fun, says Abbie. “Some of these are our musical idols. It’s a little surreal to have them sitting across from us in the kitchen having coffee.”
Others who have played Hogan House include the Bottle Rockets, Justin Wells, Robbie Fulks and Syd Straw (with local guitarist Happy Chichester opening the show.)
Serving snacks, says P.J., helps people get over the awkwardness of coming into a stranger’s home for a concert. “I realize that’s a kind of hurdle you have to get over,” he says, “but I haven’t met anyone that was put off by it once they were here. We’ve had quite a few people come back, which is nice.”
Casual research suggests the audience agrees.
“Very nice family with quite possibly the coolest basement within a tri-township area!” wrote a concertgoer on Facebook. “I was there for Jon Langford and went with that feeling of being weirded out that I'm in someone's house I don't know. They set me to ease and we all enjoyed a wonderful evening!”
As for the Hogans, initial nerves about inviting strangers into their home have gradually dissipated. The worst thing that’s happened, says Abbie, was a broken toilet.
P.J. Hogan, who works in inventory management at the Defense Supply Center, says what started as a way to hear live music and, perhaps, fulfill a dream of being a concert promoter has ended up as a unique way to make friends with musicians he admires.
One of his favorites is Jon Langford.
“I’ve probably seen Jon Langford 25 times in concert, but I would never, in a club, walk up to someone and speak to them,” he says. “I’m awkward that way.”
But when Langford played Hogan House, “at the end of the evening we were singing karaoke into breadstick microphones,” says P.J. “So this is kind of a dream. It’s not why we do it, but it’s nice when it happens.”
Want to get Columbus Monthly in your inbox? Sign up for our e-newsletter today.