Music News

Diane Rabson and Dan Fairchild Are Boulder's Most Unusual DIY Institution

The best concert Diane Rabson ever attended was held in her own living room. A Bosnian opera singer and an accordionist from St. Louis were performing. They took a request from Rabson’s mother, then brought her mother up on stage, singing the song she had requested — one she used to play on accordion when she was young.“Everyone was crying,” Rabson remembers.

That show is just one of the 200-plus that she and her husband, Dan Fairchild, have thrown in their south Boulder home since 2000. For the past fifteen years, the couple, now in their sixties, have been treating their family, friends and neighbors to the sounds of local and touring musicians, all to bring about community and a better live-music experience.

“I guess we thought we were inventing something,” Fairchild says of the origin of the house shows. “We had a friend who’s a Boulder musician. He had a gig here playing solo, and the place closed, and we thought, ‘How could we hear him? Well, I guess we can have him to our house.

That show spawned more than a decade of concerts hosted by the couple — in their home, at neighbor’s homes and in local churches. They say that house shows (when you own the home) are totally legal as long as you don’t violate the noise ordinance or host more than twelve a year. On average, they host about two a month, but they alternate between their home and a third-party location to make sure they don’t get in trouble with the city.

At first, the couple says, they would just invite friends and family, but the network quickly grew, and they now have a mailing list with 500 names. Most concerts draw between twenty and sixty people; their last show, which featured a Brazilian band at the local Mennonite Church, had 150 attendees.

“Those people who come oftentimes come because, ‘Oh, it’s a potluck at a friend’s house, and there’s going to be some music,’” Fairchild says of newcomers. “Then they have this experience with the music, and it ends up being kind of mind-blowing for people.”

The experience is crucial to what the two are doing to expose people to music in a completely different way.

“We’ve really helped build the music community and bring people in,” Fairchild says. “A lot of people who come to our concerts don’t go out to see music at all.”

Fairchild also recognizes that in Boulder, a space in which to perform is vital. “I’m not sure there are that many places left for people to see music in Boulder,” he says. “There’s a venue shortage; that’s the clearest thing to me.”

Rabson and Fairchild’s house is hardly the typical basement full of twenty-somethings drinking beer and listening to a noise act. Most of their network is middle-aged or older, and the artist choices reflect that. There are a lot of international musicians — Brazilian, French, Middle Eastern — and a lot of jazz.

But while the music and clientele may be far from what one would see wandering into a warehouse venue, the mission is about as DIY as can be.

“Rockers will talk about basement concerts,” Fairchild says with a laugh when asked if he knows about the DIY scene. Clearly, these two are not your grandparents. Or maybe they are, if your grandparents are cool enough to throw parties with their friends and some unknown musicians.

They own the P.A., they organize all the shows themselves, they let musicians crash on their couches. All of the “suggested donations” go straight to those musicians, and the two say that they pay “better than average” because there’s no overhead.

“It’s bringing people together,” Fairchild says. “It’s naturally underground. However, we have brought some people in, because every time you get another house and person, you get another circle.”

Rabson says she loves opening her home to others and knows the importance of being social.

“I like to have a home that is welcoming to people,” she says. “Musicians don’t make money unless people come. I ensure that by being very social, welcoming, talking to people at breaks about the music: ‘Do you like this? Are you enjoying yourself?

Right now the acts are divided fifty-fifty between local unknowns and touring musicians. Fairchild says he’s at the point where he doesn’t have to chase down acts anymore; they’re coming to him. But the focus is still on helping the artists in his own back yard.

“There are so many good local musicians,” he says. “Denver and Boulder have extra-strong music scenes.” He adds that he wants to get more involved in the rock and pop scenes that thrive in Denver.

“I’ve been wanting to catch more [shows],” he says. “I like Wheelchair Sports Camp. They knock me out.”

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Isa Jones is an editor in Jackson Hole; her writing has appeared all over the Internet and occasionally in print.
Contact: Isa Jones