MISSOULA — Churches are no strangers to music or good acoustics.
It's something Missoula resident John Parker learned firsthand in 2013 when he set out to restore an old church at the corner of Longstaff and Crosby.
“It was just perfect for me,” said Parker, describing a sturdy foundation and level roof.
A handyman, Parker had been needing a project, a place with potential. Looking at the pews and piano, he knew he was looking at the perfect canvas for his creativity.
“My wheels started to turn and I was like ‘Wow, look, it’s even got a stage ya know.’”
He spent the next four years making the basement livable and the main floor a venue for local and traveling musicians.
“There’s been 80-some shows,” Parker told MTN News.
He named the venue Longstaff House, and while he doesn’t advertise, the programs always seem to welcome a crowd.
“It’s certainly not by advertising,” said Parker, “So in a way, it’s like I have no idea how it happens, but it happens.”
He doesn’t earn a penny from the performances.
People are encouraged to donate what they can, but all of the earnings go to the performers, many of whom are merely passing through on their way to another gig.
After the show, Parker and his partner Teri offer up their spare bed for the musicians.
“Wages for music aren’t going up, but expenses are, and so if a band can come here and play, even if they only make a few hundred dollars, and they get a place to stay, they didn’t lose money that day." - John Parker
As for Parker, the joy of hosting live music is payment enough.
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if two, three, four nights a month, a band comes in and plays at YOUR house and 50 of your good friends come and we all visit and we have a good show and then they all go home?” laughed Parker. “So, I don’t make any money, but I get a lot of CDs and T-Shirts.”
At Longstaff House, you’ll hear everything from Parker’s own bluegrass band, Lochwood, to gypsy jazz from the Netherlands, a master of the mandolin from Italy, bands from Ireland, and singer/songwriters from New York City.
Longstaff brings world-class music to the maze that is the Slant Street neighborhood, "it surprises me the level of skills and fame that will come and play a little intimate place like this.”
But maybe that's what it comes down to — a spot where musicians can just play, even if it's off the grid.
According to Parker, “There’s no better place in town to listen to music.”