Winston House in Los Angeles Brings Music to the Westside, Hosting Intimate Shows With Surprise Lineups

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Kyle Jetter
Quinn Lewis performs at WINSTON HOUSE in Venice Beach, Calif.

Justin Bieber, Cody Simpson, Hozier and Ed Sheeran have all performed at the Venice Beach house concerts.

Justin Bieber, Cody Simpson, Hozier and Ed Sheeran are notorious for packing in crowds at massive venues. But these same household names have also jumped at the chance to play to just 150 people in the living room of one man's Venice Beach home.

It looks like an ordinary house from the outside, but inside Corey McGuire's three-story dwelling transforms into one of the most intimate music venues in Los Angeles. In 2015, the entrepreneur began opening up his loft-like structure to local artists as a space for them to come together to create, network and perform. This morphed into a weekly musical showcase known as Winston House, which has featured Janelle Monae, The Shins, Vance Joy, Billie Eilish, Kimbra and Skylar Grey, though the artists on the bill remain a mystery to all until they walk through the front doors of the Southern California property. The venue's small guest lists consist of pals of those performing, McGuire's colleagues, acquaintances and friends and local members of the Venice Beach community. There are also select spots open to those that subscribe to a text line that keeps them in the loop on upcoming events.  

"We put a much bigger emphasis on people in the audience than who is necessarily playing," says McGuire. "There are a whole bunch of people who are here tonight that come every single week and we are involved in their lives in a whole bunch of ways outside of these shows -- introduction to a manager, giving them a space to write, helping them find a recording space, giving them a couch to sleep on, just finding ways to help."

Winston House is one of a growing number of companies offering living-room concerts with surprise lineups: others include Sofar Sounds, which transforms everyday spaces like retail shops into locations for secret live shows, and AirBnb, whose intimate concert series gives fans the chance to watch their favorite artists perform in wacky places like inside of pink salt rooms or on top of a skyscraper.

"You never know who will make an appearance," says Joe Stolte, who lived at the house in the early days. "We are just a bunch of young folks trying to start a business and make a little impact. Pretty soon you've got Justin Bieber performing in your living room randomly out of nowhere. He just shows up and starts singing a song live with other folks that are performing."

On a recent Thursday night that marked the 150th show in McGuire's home, the lineup included up and coming Southern California artist Valentina, Nashville singer/songwriter Quinn Lewis, and two members of Utah's 6-piece pop project, The Strike.

Upon receiving confirmation that they made the cut for the evening's festivities, guests were sent an email with the house's address and the official rules:

1) Be friendly & welcoming to everyone.

2) When the music starts, it's all about the music - side conversations are punishable by DEATH ;)

Doors opened at 8 p.m., and guests made a beeline to the kitchen for Boxed Water and Stone Delicious IPAs. McGuire emerged from his third-story bedroom, which also houses the artist green room, to mix and mingle with the crowd -- everyone from up-and-coming artists scoping out the venue before performing there in the upcoming weeks to the local barista at the neighborhood coffee shop.

Around 9:45, McGuire took the stage. "Ssh. Almost there. It's almost quiet," he cooed, from the microphone. After another minute of continuous chatter, a grin swept across his face as he said, "Hey! But seriously. Tell your neighbor to be quiet."

He welcomed guests that were returning, greeted those that were new and proclaimed that being a part of bringing music to L.A.'s West Side has been "an amazing thing to be a part of."

Valentina, who has performed at the space on 10 previous occasions was the first to take the stage. Following her three-song set, which included her freshly released single "Child," she meandered into the crowd where she told Billboard that she originally found out about the series when a fellow artist direct messaged her on social media, suggesting that she play.

"I love the fact that when you play here, you are about a foot away from everyone watching. The emotion that you try to give out through your songs, you really see how it affects people," she explained.

After cutting her teeth in front of a Winston House audience, the budding songstress is currently working with a lawyer and putting the finishing touches on her debut EP.

Lewis took the stage next, telling the crowd that he discovered Winston House several years back after stumbling upon their official Instagram page. "And now to be playing here -- it's a magical moment honestly," he said.

The Strike rang in the night, performing an intimate set with lead vocalist Chris Crabb and Myles Lawrence on saxophone. "The guys have been playing here since the very beginning of Winston House. It's a spot where they come to showcase new songs and to have fun doing something stripped down," said the band's manager, Jason Winkler of W Music Management.  

Crabb, told Billboard that the first time The Strike played at the space, Bieber hopped up to perform from the crowd. "And he seemed to dig our set," he joked, noting that Bieber was "very polite and attentive" and "a great audience member."

McGuire says "most artists that have played here have just been introduced to us by someone who was hanging out here, whether it's the biggest artists in the room or someone just starting out. We don't respond to random requests on Twitter very often. Most of our acts are introductions or people that have literally been hanging out here for a while."

Going forward, McGuire is looking to expand. "We have investors backing us now, a growing brand business, we're taking steps into festivals. Right now people think of it as house shows because that's primarily what we've done, but our next big opportunity is to take steps to have Winston House be truly viewed as a brand outside of the house," he explains, noting that his company co-hosted this year's Venice Beach SamJam festival and has put on shows in London, New York, Toronto, and Sydney.

Around 10:30, The Strike wrapped up their set. The house lights turned on and, as "Video Killed the Radio Star" blared through the speakers, McGuire again took the stage, instructing fans to head to Neighbor Bar one block over for an afterparty.

"This was easily the most intimate concert that I've seen. It was so cool," chirped first-time attendee Nick Murray, making his way out the front door and out onto the Venice streets.