Success Stories: Holcombe Waller’s Bed-Ins

In the past couple of years, hotels have started to more fully embrace the role of music presenter: series like the Renaissance Hotel’s RLife Live and venues like the Maritime Hotel’s Hiro Ballroom offer guests access to big-name artists, while almost any hotel with a restaurant or a large-ish lobby offers exposure opportunities to the right kind of artist.

Recently, the chamber folk artist and composer Holcombe Waller has been showcasing his music in hotels in an even more exciting way: the bed-in.

The basic idea of a bed-in is simple: during the day, an artist takes over a suite, plays a short, stripped down set to a small guest list, and spends time before and afterward meeting and greeting fans, all for free.

Waller first debuted the bed-in idea at SXSW, a week so choked up with concerts and showcases and musical events that it can be unbearable. Attendees like The New York Times’ Ben Sisario and The Los Angeles Times’s Ann Powers welcomed the intimacy of the experience, and since then, Waller and his tour-mates have held bed-ins at a string of locations across the west coast.

The first east coast bed-in happened last week at New York’s Ace Hotel, and it illustrated the idea’s appeal. In an Ace “loft,” a high-ceilinged cross between a suite and a large room, Waller and his bandmates took advantage of both the small gathering and the fine acoustics. Waller has said that he dislikes solo acoustic performances, and luckily for the audience, the mini-set he turned in last Thursday reflected that. In the company of a violinist, a violist, and a cellist, Waller imbued four of his better-known songs – including “Hardliners”, “Troubled Times” and “Risk of Change” – with warmth, delicacy and dynamic range that are hard to come by in a larger, darker venue; the string and vocal harmonies in “Hardliners” bloomed from thin and sweet to full and warm, and the chorus of voices behind Waller’s on “Risk of Change” thrilled.

The ample sunlight and informal seating also gave Waller the chance to connect with everybody in the room. Instead of trying to make out certain faces and sweat it out under house lights, Waller got to make eye contact with anyone he wanted. It was a nice continuation of the catching up he got to do before the set, when he spoke to everybody that he could. He even, for a brief moment, got his guests drinks.

About two thirds of the way through the show, Waller reminded everybody that he and his tour mates would be playing at Mercury Lounge that night. And the crowd of about 30, which had been utterly rapt from the beginning, heard every word.

It may take some convincing to recreate Waller’s bed-ins at another hotel, and with another artist. But watching and listening to them Thursday afternoon, it seemed like something that would be worth the effort.