What is a Parlor Session? The Manteo House’s new events explained and why you should go

Published 5:05 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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In music-rich cities throughout the country, special places called listening rooms can be found tucked away in bars and restaurants where fans can listen to artists perform up close and personal.

Relaxed and unscripted, these intimate events are for the performer as much as the listener. Artists have an opportunity to connect with their fans, try out a new song, or share the backstory behind a favorite tune.

Michael Basnight, Outer Banks native and owner of The Manteo House and The Pioneer Theater, is recreating that experience in the parlor of his historic 1871 home.

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He had visited many of these listening rooms when he lived in Austin, Texas, or when he would travel for work in the medical device arena in Nashville, Tennessee. When he returned home a couple of years ago, he purchased the Evans Family Homeplace on Sir Walter Raleigh Street downtown, renaming it The Manteo House.

He asked himself what he could do to share the house with people. “That was always the intent – don’t let it get torn down or turned into something but share it as the Evans family has done all these years,” he said. The house is available for events, as well as one-room or whole-house rentals.

In trying to figure out something to do with the parlor, he combined his love of music and his love of sharing music with others to create “Parlor Sessions.”

“That’s what I was envisioning. I’ve had these great experiences that have really touched me. I’ve gotten so connected with musicians and performers and I’ve heard things in an intimate setting you wouldn’t be able to capture in a large venue.”

Upon entering the parlor room with its original mahogany woodwork, fireplace and high ceilings, it feels like it’s gone unchanged for 150 years. The rectangular shape of the room and solid-built materials make it ideal for sharp acoustics.

At The Manteo House, Basnight has hosted about a dozen Parlor Sessions with singers and bands including The Wildwoods, Presley Barker, Diamonds and Whiskey, Huntley, Ashley Chevalier, Riggsbee Road, and Sam on Sax. Comedian Bill Boronkay is returning in June for another session.

Parlor Sessions exude a feeling of exclusivity that, to be honest, can feel a little unusual at first, Basnight revealed. “It feels like you’ve been invited to a secret party. People come in and they’re excited. It’s a small room and it’s like, ‘I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be here,’ and then it just becomes a bonding moment,” he said.

“It’s just raw. It’s nothing modulated, nothing amplified. It’s a singer – their heart, their passion, their instrument – and a small audience … when they’re happy and they’re connected in their creative space it’s going to resonate. When they start performing and there’s a connection, you see it change. You feel it in the audience. There’s a relaxed nature where they’re not just going down the script.”

The parlor can seat 25-28 people comfortably. Tickets range from about $30 to $60, and include complimentary appetizers and beverages. Events are promoted through The Pioneer Theater’s website and social media pages.