The lights flicker inside, and people begin filing into the living room of a house in the Old West End. Three rows of seats flank a roaring fireplace. There is no mention made about cell phones, but attendees instinctively check their phones to make sure they will not be the source of an interruption of the performance. The artist takes the stage, and what follows is a truly life-changing experience through sonic exploration.
The Robinwood Concert House celebrated its ten-year anniversary this October, as a musical gem, not only for Toledo, but for the entire Midwest. Curated by local musician Gabriel Beam out of his home on the corner of Robinwood and Islington, the venue has hosted artists from all over the world, who grace the Old West End with aurally challenging examples of outsider, experimental music. Many of the performers featured would not be seen by area fans without making serious treks to Pittsburgh or Chicago.
Rarely will a performer play a traditional instrument in a traditional way. Highly disciplined musicians showcase modular synthesizers, tortured woodwinds, disassembled drum kits, and other homemade instruments, creating otherworldly soundscapes.
Here to hear
When asked to name his favorite performance from the last decade, Beam is unable to pick one. “Some of my favorite sets are the ones that transform the sonic room, like a play, or a dance piece, or any set that can use the room to influence the performance, thus making it a true one-off improvisation.” For example, Washington D.C.-based upright bassist Luke Stewart graced the Robinwood stage in August 2018, and performed his “Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier.” One could easily believe that the sounds Stewart created were not made by a bass and an amplifier at all, but rather by an array of synthesizers. The entire piece, intentionally sparse, playing heavily on the interaction between the feedback created by the room and Stewart’s deft hand, had long, ethereal drones manipulated and pitched as the instrument was shaken, plucked and then colored by the amplifier, placed on a chair and pointed directly at the bass. A performance like this would be utterly impossible to replicate in a bar or a rock club, making Beam’s home the perfect venue for Stewart’s act.
Local musician Ben Starrett has also performed at the Robinwood under the moniker Rosebud, most recently as an opening act for experimental artists Bridges of Konigsburg and Peter J. Woods. He describes the Robinwood as “comfortable and intimate,” adding that attendees can catch musical acts that “range from cacophonous to ensembles to solo minimalism, and everything in between.”
A space of its own
Having a space to showcase this kind of art was the driving force behind the creation of the Robinwood Concert House in 2008. After booking a few acts at existing local venues, Beam decided to open his own home and make it into the venue he envisioned. “I was originally disappointed by the lack of diversity in the Toledo music scene,” he stated. “I started booking shows at failing bars, which were plentiful at the time [2008-2010]. After that, I became more interested in curating rather than ‘taking over a space’ in a venue where music is always in the shadows of the TVs.”
The silence in the room during a performance at the Robinwood is respectful. Outsider music fans are clearly here to hear, not to catch a buzz and socialize with their friends as a band plays in the background. That is the true triumph of the Robinwood Concert House. It is a place created by musicians solely for the purpose of the music, a purity that is unmatched by most concert experiences in Toledo, or elsewhere, for that matter.
View upcoming show announcements for the Robinwood Concert House on toledobellows.wordpress.com, or follow Robinwood Concert House on Facebook for updates.