The Last Carnival

House concert promoter Bentz Kirby curtails his long-running Alien Carnival series
By Kevin Oliver
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
May and Bentz Kirby. Photo by Sean Rayford

Phil Lee
Alien Carnival House Concert Series: Sunday, Sept. 15

It has been nearly a year since local musician and occasional promoter Bentz Kirby suffered a heart attack, which put on hold his busy performing schedule as well as his Alien Carnival House Concert Series. He returned to performing in April, but has decided to close up shop on his house concerts. This week he’ll host Phil Lee and Fayssoux McClean as a final farewell.

“It’s primarily for health reasons,” Kirby says of the series’ closure. “The little bit of energy I do have, I would rather put it towards making my own music.”

Kirby is just one in a long line of local music enthusiasts who have hosted house concerts in Columbia. His series, heavy on Americana acts, began in 2006 after WUSC’s Mark Lyvers, better known as Uncle Gram, stopped doing them; Lyvers handed off his contact list to Kirby, along with his blessing to keep the music coming to town.

Having Nashville eccentric Phil Lee as the feature performer of the final Alien Carnival concert is no accident, Kirby says.

“We had set this up a long time ago, and he has a new album coming out, so I felt like I needed to go through with it this last time,” Kirby says.
“Phil is just a real delight, a lot of fun, and he has come almost every year I’ve done these shows.”

Kirby has other favorites from the past six years as well.

“Tom House is [a favorite], and I really liked Steve Young,” he says. “David Olney is an interesting guy, and having Marshall Chapman was an exciting show.”

Some of the musicians are more memorable for the non-concert hours they spend together, Kirby adds.

“Eric Taylor is not only a great musician, but a crazy motherf#!ker who says what he thinks and has strong opinions,” Kirby says. “I had more fun with him after the concert, just hanging out and talking.”

Hosting house concerts is not for everyone, so Kirby is grateful that others such as Cathy Stayman and her Little Yellow Music House have stepped up to fill the demand for these small, intimate gatherings of music fans and touring musicians.

“It’s a lot of work to put on a house concert,” Kirby says. “You have to do your own publicity, give up your time, things people don’t necessarily think about when they attend. The only time we clean up our house is when we have a concert, it seems like, so I’ll miss that, too.”

Kirby is definitely going out on a high note with Lee and McClean. Lee’s latest, The Fall and Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love, is a nod to his legendary 2001 debut The Mighty King of Love, as well as a stunning distillation of a style that critic Peter Cooper described as “the love child of Bob Dylan and Joan Rivers.”

Opener Fayssoux McClean is a Spartanburg native who sang with Emmylou Harris in her early years; since relaunching her own performing career, McClean has released just one album, 2008’s Early, but it’s a good one, and her voice is as heart-wrenchingly gorgeous as ever.

Kirby insists that getting out of the house concert business doesn’t mean he’s getting out of the business of making music. Other projects may be in the works, though he’s working at a much slower pace.

“When I try to convince myself I can still do stuff I used to, I end up wiped out for two or three days,” Kirby says. “But I’ll continue to play and do other things as much as I can.” 

The Alien Carnival House Concert Series is a private event. A potluck and social gathering begins at 5 p.m.; music begins at 6 p.m. Suggested donation is $15. This is a private event; call 413-5676 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for reservations and directions.

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