by Barbara Sherf
What happens when you put three dozen guests, a few lively musicians, three dogs and three cats into a 20 by 20-square-foot space?
“We like to call it cheerful chaos,” said longtime Mt. Airy resident Ann Mintz, as her husband of 32 years, Cliff Wagner, added, “And we have a high tolerance for chaos.”
The couple routinely push aside the living room furniture to host what started as eight house concerts in their artinfused home since 2011. This year they anticipate hosting a dozen house concerts with fiddlers, banjo players, singer-songwriters, an a cappella quartet and even a cowboy singer. The genres run the gamut from Celtic to Cajun, blues, traditional American Folk and more. (And don’t make the mistake of calling them “parties.”)
“We are told that these are very professional house concerts where people come to listen to the music more and ‘party’ less,” said Mintz, 71, who, given her extensive experience, describes herself as the curator of the shows that bring in musicians like the nationally acclaimed Mark Cosgrove, lead guitarist for the David Bromberg Band.
Mintz was introduced to Bromberg in the ’60s just before her senior year in high school in the village of Hastings-on-Hudson, a suburb of New York City. It’s hard to compress Mintz’ four-page resume from her days at the University of Pennsylvania, where she received an undergraduate degree in History and completed coursework for a Ph.D. in Classical Archeology.
She held four positions in two states before landing at the Franklin Institute first as Director of Communications and then Director of Special Projects. That’s where she and Wagner, then a lowly technician, met. Having served as an archivist for legendary 20th century inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller, Mintz laughed and said she did affectionately refer to the creator of the geodesic dome (among other things) as “Bucky.”
While she and Wagner spend about 20 hours per concert securing artists, promoting, setting up and attending the concerts, she continues to volunteer for a host of causes including the Homeless Advocacy Project and as Chapter Leader for the nationwide advocacy group Dining for Women, which helps girls and women in underserved countries.
Upon moving to Philadelphia in the ’70s, Mintz, who lived in Greenwich Village in the late ’60s when it was the center of the folk music scene, was frustrated to find there weren’t smaller venues available for her talented friends like Bromberg. So she helped to found and manage The Cherry Tree, a popular folk music venue in West Philadelphia. In the mid-’70s, she created and hosted the popular weekly Cherry Tree radio show on WXPN that ran for a decade.
Their house concert series began in 2011 when a musician who performed often at the Cherry Tree asked whether they hosted house concerts? “I said that we didn’t,” pausing slightly, “but we could.”
Wagner, 63, actually built a small removable stage for the house concerts. After working for 13 years at the Franklin Institute and Please Touch Museum, he went out on his own, forming Clifford Wagner Science Interactives. He and his team create hands-on exhibits for science and specialty museums nationwide.
With chairs set up in theater style, a wooden box sits on a table leading to the living room where concert-goers are asked to donate what they can to hear the two sets. “We don’t take a cut,” said Mintz. “Many of the musicians want to give us something for this, but we do it from the heart and the love of music. One hundred percent of the proceeds goes to the musicians.”
Elkins Park clarinetist Ken Ulansey said the concerts can be very lucrative on a good night and a good practice session on a bad night. Either way, he’s sold on the concept. “I’ve been a host performer and in the audience, and for me it’s a win/win/win situation. For the audience there is a sense of intimacy that is often missing in concerts and even clubs. For the hosts, they get to have their favorite musicians in their living room,” said Ulansey, who regularly performs a Valentine’s Day concert with vocalist Phyllis Chapell.
Wagner said the concerts never get old. “Our reward is that we love the camaraderie and the social fabric that brings us together as a musical community.
Flourtown resident Marsha Low, who has gotten into singing later in life, had glowing comments about the concerts. “I love the fact that people are really listening to the music and not talking through the show. Their comfortable home and Ann and Cliff’s three dogs add to the warm atmosphere. The dogs come around for pats during the music, and Ann bakes fabulous cookies and brownies.”
Mintz said they were paid the highest compliment from a regular concertgoer. “One of our regulars had breast cancer, and the first thing she did when she came out at night was to come here. We were so honored that it meant that much to her. People become friends and like to socialize with others who appreciate the same music they do. It’s amazing.”
There are several performances left in the spring/summer series. Reservations are strongly suggested so they know how many chairs to set up, and Ann knows how many cookies and brownies to bake.
For a full schedule, Mintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf can be reached through communicationspro.com or CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com