ohio city couple transform rambling victorian into public concert venue


It might not occur to the average house-hunting couple to keep an eye out for living rooms that can fit a string band and 40 folding chairs, but then, Lynn Phares and Joel Elvery are far from average.

Why else would the Cleveland couple decide to turn their massive Victorian home on W. 38th Street in Ohio City into a venue for house concerts six times a year?

The Mechanic Street House Concerts, which launched in January, continues this fall with a diverse lineup that includes the Spares, Mike Mangione and the Union, Putnam Smith and local favorites Brent Kirby and Mike Uva and the Bad Eyes.

Phares and Elvery, who moved here from Washington D.C. a few years ago after Elvery landed an academic post at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, got the idea from house concerts they'd attended in D.C.

"It's a much different experience than going to see a band at a bar or club," explains Phares. "You get to interact with the musicians more, and it's more fun and personal. Plus, there are no drunks making it hard to hear the music."

If truth be told, says Elvery, the idea popped into both of their heads when they toured the W. 38th St. house. "Lynn said, 'Oh, we could have house concerts here.' We have way more house than we need, and this is a good use for it."

It helps that their house has a wide open foyer, living room and dining room, gorgeous natural woodwork and hardwood floors that offer good acoustics.

Phares and Elvery decided to hold their first house concert here in 2009. They moved their 300-pound dining room table and all of their furniture out of the front rooms, bought some snacks and invited their friends.

"A bunch of people came and really liked it, and we realized it wasn't that hard," says Elvery. "The hardest part was moving the dining room table."

Last year, the couple averaged 35 people at each show. This fall and winter, they are hosting four additional concerts, and hope to attract 40-45 people to each one.

Phares has been surprised at the high quality of musicians they've been able to attract. "I frankly thought we'd never be able to get anyone to come, that we'd ask the musicians and they'd laugh in our face," she says. "I've been amazed at how enthusiastic they are -- and grateful."

Part of the reason for this is because house concerts are often great performance venues. "Musically, it's more satisfying than a bar or club," says Elvery. "The musicians feel a stronger connection with the audience, and they can play two sets. They also get to take home the entire door rather than splitting it."

On average, the house concert series has been netting musicians about $500 per performance. Phares and Elvery also offer to put the musicians up for the night or weekend in their home. Tickets to the shows cost $15.

Phares and Elvery stress that their main goal is creating a great space for listening to music. "There isn't what you'd call a listening room in Cleveland, someplace where music is the main focus," says Phares. "We wanted to create that."

Source: Lynn Phares and Joel Elvery
Writer: Lee Chilcote

Lee Chilcote
Lee Chilcote

About the Author: Lee Chilcote

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.