We organized a “rent party” last week. I have been wanting to do this for some time. It is a practice that comes out of 1920s Harlem in New York City. Fats Waller and James P. Johnson used rent parties to help get by. When someone was going to come up short on their rent, they would throw a party to raise the rent. You clear the furniture out of the main room, invite all your friends and neighbors. Tell them to invite all their friends and neighbors. Charge a cover charge at the door. Provide some food. Have some musician friends play and sing for their supper and free drinks. Have some cheap beer and wine available for more contributions to the cause. This is where line dancing was invented. The most famous of these is the Electric Slide. These parties would be so crowded that, in order to dance, you had to synchronize. It was only later that Nashville expropriated it to turn the Electric Slide into country line dancing. It was a good way to have some fun on a Friday or Saturday night; for less money than at a bar or nightclub, with people you knew, while helping someone out of a tight spot.
Hard times are here again. But unlike during the Great Depression, most of us are unaware of one another’s situations. We are used to being anesthetized by the internet and by cable TV and by constant, on demand entertainment, infotainment, news and propaganda. We have been conditioned to think that anything that is not packaged and branded and sold to us is inferior, and possibly suspect. We get upset about the statistics we see on whatever “news” outlet we prefer, and we will argue about politics that ultimately will benefit the rich regardless of which party is in power, because, let’s face it, they’re all rich and out of touch with any personal sense of neighbors in need. A lot of people on the right are screaming that government is not the answer. A lot of people on the left are crying that the government is too slow to respond. Yet most, on both left and right, just continue to holler at each other while we could actually be doing something to address the suffering and the poverty about which we all say we are concerned.
A rent party is the perfect blend of free enterprise spirit and socialist concern! It’s a cheap date with live entertainment, good, home-cooked food, spirits, laughter, and friendship. Or you can choose to give more with the expectation that when you are short, the others will come to your aid. Another thing I want to say is that there is no shame in coming up short some times. “Events conspire” as they say. Kids get sick. Hours at work get cut back. Utility prices change. Oil and gas prices change. Appliances break or wear out. Expected Christmas bonuses are not given or are miserly. There are dozens of nickel and dimey things that can get a household behind the 8 ball before you can say, “Bob’s your uncle!” Then there are the salesmen and bankers who can paint a rosier picture of the future to get one to finance things one shouldn’t and acquire more debt than one should. Then there is student loan debt. When people are working hard and still not able to make ends meet, there is no shame.
We had a great time. The duo of Kevin Paige, who teaches music at Clemmer Music in Harleysville, PA, and Jeff Bonnet, who usually is part of a classic rock cover band “Out of Touch”, provided most of the entertainment. They were joined on some of the numbers by Dr. Raymond Acker, known to some as Deacon Herman, who also did some solos on guitar and vocal, both originals and some by Bob Dylan. His two sons did a beautiful medley from The Lord of the Rings acapella. April made a leafy salad, rice and beans, veggies and dip, chips and salsa, and coffee. Bethann made chicken breast, potatoes and peppers, orzo and spinach, pigs in a blanket, and wacky cake. Uncle John tended bar with a box of Merlot, a box of Chardonnay, a case of PBR, a case of Icehouse, and a mixed case of Mike’s Hard. We bought way too much alcohol. We have lots leftover. I guess we need to have another party. Thankfully, somebody bought some of the leftovers.
Unfortunately, it was a foggy night, so a number of people did not feel confident to travel. We charged $10 cover and $3 suggested donation for beer or wine or hard lemonade. We had a great time! We raised about $700 to help a young couple with their mortgage. Everyone said we should definitely do this again.
I hope the idea catches on. We could use more live music in our homes. We could use more joy and happiness. We could use more helping one another in hard times.