Finding a Folk Sing Venue

The space you’re in will affect the mood and functions of your session. Every venue offers different advantages and requires a venue-specific approach to publicity, cost, and accessibility. Regardless of whether you chose a public or private venue you’ll want to have a good working relationship with the host, a singing space (with seating) that’s a good size for your group, an environment that isn’t too loud to sing in and where your group can make noise without bothering others, access to beverages/snacks/bathrooms, and a venue that is accessible to participants.

Public Venues

This could be a park, coffee shop, community center, religious hall, campus space, pub, restaurant, VFW, school, or library. In these venues passers-by might hear the music and join you spontaneously. If similar events take place there it may already be a hangout for people who would like your event.

Securing a venue

So how do you pitch your event to secure a venue?

Consider the interests of the owners/staff; let them know what your event can do for them. Try to establish a symbiotic relationship.

  • Money: Will you agree to a cover charge, drink minimum, or a rental fee or are you simply offering to bring potential customers to the location? (If the latter, encourage participants to buy drinks or snacks. We have seen venues discontinue an event because the attendees didn’t spend money.)
  • Publicity: Bringing in a group of singers brings business to pubs and restaurants, and advertising the event raises the profile of the venue within the community.
  • Be easy to work with: Suggest a few trial sessions so you can prove yourself to the owner before they commit to a weekly or monthly booking. Offer to hold your event mid-week to boost sales on an otherwise slow day and avoid crowding out regular customers. A bar that already has a trivia night, open mic, or other music session might add you to the schedule. It’s a bonus if the owner or staff is interested in your music, but this isn’t always possible or necessary.

Working with a venue

Here are some suggestions about tasks to be aware of before, during, and after your event.

  • Before the event: Establish some expectations and agreements with the owners and staff of the venue. You may offer to do your own setup and cleanup (moving furniture, clearing garbage). Make sure you’re easy to get in touch with if there are scheduling changes.
  • On the day of the event: Introduce yourself to the wait staff / bartender so they know what’s going on and who to communicate with. Employees aren’t always notified of scheduled events so be prepared to explain. While you’re at it, you may choose to welcome the staff or regular customers to participate if they’re not busy. Establish an informal liaison between staff and singers (see “Facilitating”). Remind your singers to buy food or drinks to support the venue, and to tip the staff well.
  • At the end of the event: Stick to your agreed-upon schedule; clean and clear out on time. Thank the hosts!

Private Venues

This might mean that the event is at your home, someone else’s home, or that the event is restricted to a certain community, like students in a college campus building.

First and foremost, continue to check on the needs of your host (if it’s at your house this includes housemates too!) to make sure everyone is happy with the situation. Communicate your vision for the event with your host (and if you are the host, reflect on this as well). If the nature of the singing changes or the participants change, will your host ask you to find a new location? Will your host need a break for a few weeks or months? Will they want other folks to bring refreshments? It’s their call! Keep checking in so you won’t be taken by surprise if they request a change.

Make sure your host is comfortable with strangers walking into the space if you plan on advertising to the public. Alternatives are to restrict the advertising to word-of-mouth or employ the bring-a-friend strategy.

If you are hosting public events in a private residence you’ll want to find a way to overcome strangers’ hesitance toward entering a space that may seem awkward or too intimate to just drop in and check it out.

If you use private venues you may choose to rotate locations and hosts. It might be hard to keep people informed of the next event’s location but it lets everyone experience the grace of hospitality, refreshes the group dynamic, and spreads the responsibilities that go along with hosting.

Venue Accessibility & Transportation

Make it easy for people to attend by considering how they’ll get to your event. Is your venue accessible by public transportation? By walking paths? By car? Is there parking space? Is it wheelchair-accessible? Is it a space that is open early or late enough for you to set up and clean up within the hours permitted by the hosts? Keep in mind that an inaccessible event might be considered exclusive.

Although no venue is perfect, you can improve the accessibility of the venue you find. You can set up a forum for participants to plan carpools or walk together. Check bus or train time tables: Does the last bus leave 10 minutes before the end of your session? Would people arrive 45 minutes before the official start? Maybe you can adjust the timing of your session accordingly.

Different aspects of accessibility often pertain to different demographics — students and young folks may be less likely to have cars, for example.