Photo credit: Thom Adorney

Photo credit: Thom Adorney

The first thing I as the guest-performer want to know is: why are we having a party?  I always want to talk with the hosts ahead of time about this because the reason has a lot to do with how — or whether — I should perform. If it’s a wedding, for example, I’ll try to talk them out of it. The focus at a wedding should be on the happy couple, whereas when I do a show I need the focus to be on me, Me, ME! (I do not make good background music — whereas a wedding band is expert at doing just that.)

Good reasons for having a private concert might include

  • To celebrate a birthday (maybe a surprise!), an anniversary or some other special event on the calendar.
  • Perhaps to raise funds for a worthy cause, or to thank the high-rolling supporters of such a cause (one we can all agree about).
  • Just for the fun of it.

The size of the crowd is highly variable — I’ve played for a couple of hundred people, down to a dozen,  and, on one occasion, for just two!

There are many models for very successful private concerts. For my kind of music, the planning starts with the show: 

  • How long should the concert be? I usually recommend around an hour, maybe a bit more if the crowd is clearly into it.  I can also do a standard concert — two 45-mnute sets with a 20-minute intermission — but this might be a case of more-is-not-better. We’d like to send the guests home feeling uplifted, not exhausted. (I always want the audience to wish it was longer, rather than muttering, “Thank God that’s over!”)

  • Where should it be placed in the flow of festivities? Sometimes the show is the whole deal — maybe some cocktails and brief socializing, the show, and we’re done. Sometimes the show is just part of a longer affair, in which case it’s usually near the end (I flatter myself to think that my performance would be the high point — I’m a hard act to follow). Another model would be cocktails and socializing, dinner, my concert and then dancing to another band or a DJ.

  • There are many different kinds of music and many ways in which an audience relates to the players, but, personally, I’m at my best when the folks can focus on the show. (Having the show after dinner is fine, for instance, during dinner is challenging because of all the distractions — wait staff bringing food, clearing dishes, telling you you probably shouldn’t have another glass of wine.)

  • For this reason, it’s best from my perspective if the audience is seated in a way that encourages rapt attention rather than conversation. Row seating (as in a concert setting) is ideal; seating at tables a close second; “Livingroom-style” is not good because it, in fact, encourages conversation. In any event, everyone should be able to see the stage, hear the music, and not encouraged to engage in distractions.
Photo credit: Thom Adorney
Photo credit: Thom Adorney


The technical requirements vary considerably with the nature of the event. The idea, whatever the specifics, is again to focus attention on the performer. Let’s start with the physical space:

  • Wherever it is, the room should be as dark as possible, and the performer should be lit. (This obviously does not apply to outdoor shows in the daytime.) For a small gathering, maybe 20 folks or so, a stage might not be needed if the audience is seated and I am standing. (For a performer who works sitting down some kind of low riser — 12 or 18 inches — would be very good, and these can usually be rented locally.) For a larger crowd, this riser would be a good idea for me as well.

  • Indoors vs. Outdoors: the sound requirements will be more demanding outdoors since there are no walls to contain and reflect the sound. Other than that, outdoors at night may require some kind of bug-control. AND, there should be an indoor Plan B in place in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. (Booking a “rain-date” is one option, but it can be expensive because you’re tying up 2 days on the artist’s schedule — and there’s no guarantee the weather will improve on day #2.)

And the tech side of things (we can help you locate and book whatever gear is needed):

  • Sound: for a small gathering I might not need any sound system at all if I’m working solo. If I have an accompanist who’s louder than I am, then I’ll need some help. (A solo act is usually going to be far less demanding sound-wise than multiple performers — and the larger the band the more complex the requirements will be, though many bands carry their own sound systems.)

    If I do need some sound reinforcement, and I’m working solo, it would be very simple — the smallest (but high-quality) system available — and someone to set it up and run it (very important). Two or three channels on the mixing console should do it, two speakers on stands for the audience, one monitor speaker for me. Mics and stands, that’s it. If I have an accompanist, it would get only slightly more complex. Again, outdoors is more demanding than indoors when it comes to sound.

  • Lights: the idea is simply to focus visual attention on the performer. For a small living room gathering, as mentioned above, it would do to just darken the room and leave the performer’s space lit. For a larger gathering, for a solo act or small ensemble, a couple of light trees with basic floodlights would be fine, nothing fancy. (And these are things your local sound company should be able to provide along with the sound system, and whatever staging is needed.) (Again, we can help you locate and book whatever gear is needed.)


Sorry if I’ve made it all sound at all daunting — it’s not, really. These are just some things to think about, and I, or whomever you’re booking, will be glad to talk you through it. I want your gathering to be a total success as much as you do!!

All the best,

Tom Rush

Contact Andrea Sabata, [email protected]


How to Host a Private Concert
COVID Addendum

Well, having just finished a short piece on how to put on a private concert, this virus comes along and totally changes everything! The rules of the game are way different now, but life, as they say, goes on. (Full disclosure: I’ve had the virus, have totally recovered, and am now presumably immune and virus-free — kind of super-human. But you knew that.)

Private concerts are still very possible, but with some necessary adjustments.

  • Outdoors, from all I’ve read, is safer than indoors. So, when warm weather is with us I’m encouraging outdoor concerts. Distancing should still be practiced (though families that live together don’t need to distance from each other, of course). While crowd size is an issue for festivals and large, commercial-sized gatherings, a private show — I’m thinking up to 100 people or so, scattered around the lawn — shouldn’t present a threat.

    Not sure what to say about masks, except that the restaurants in Maine and Massachusetts that are doing outdoor seating aren’t requiring them. (It is apparently very difficult to eat and drink through a mask.)

    If you don’t want folks coming into the house to use the facilities there are some very elegant portable bathrooms that can be rented — some nicer than what I have at home, in fact!

  • Indoors requires more thought, and sanitizer, but should be possible. Masks are now more important, and distancing more of a challenge, assuming your living room is smaller than your lawn.
  • But the clear favorite is [drum roll] … the Virtual Private Concert.  I can beam a live concert to your home, you can invite as many people as you like (charge them for tickets, even!) and I’ll play just for you and your buddies. If we do it via Zoom we can chat as well — I can hear the welcome applause, you can ask for songs, I can explain why I don’t do that song any more — fun, fun, fun!!

To discuss any of the above, please reach out to Andrea Sabata at [email protected] 

We can make this work!

All the best,

Tom Rush

Photo credit: Thom Adorney
Photo credit: Thom Adorney