Music teacher John Tosco just wants music to be enjoyable — throw your inhibitions out the window, sing along if you know the words and, most of all, have fun. It's an attitude that started with musicians getting together for jam sessions in his living room, and one that continues today with the Tosco Music Parties at the Knight Theater. Sometimes the series pays tribute to his favorite band, The Beatles, and other times there's no telling where the night — which features a variety of acts playing one song each — will take the listener. "You can hear bluegrass, jazz, barbershop quartet, blues, classical, whatever," Tosco says. "There's really something for everyone. It's not about performing to the audience, but keeping it casual and getting the audience involved."
Creative Loafing: Was there a goal when the Tosco events first started 25 years ago?
John Tosco: "The initial goal was to get together with friends to make music. I would invite musician friends and their families over to my house — 15 or 20 people. We would have all-night jam sessions, sing-alongs, song circles. People would say, 'Tosco's having another music party.' As time went on, we couldn't fit people in the living room, then we found an apartment clubhouse, then we rented out the VFW building in Derita. People worried we'd lose the living room feel, but it has kept the charm of people playing one song and leading sing-alongs and it's kept growing. It went to the Neighborhood Theatre and the Great Aunt Stella Center, McGlohon Theater, Halton Theater and as of this year, we're now at the Knight Theater. We continue to sell out or come close to it."
It has to be hard to believe it started in your living room.
"It's very hard to believe. It's become much larger than me, now. In 1999, we became a 501(c) nonprofit. We just got a grant with the Arts and Science Council to help us develop a strategic business plan to figure out how to continue what we're doing. I can see us growing into something like LEAF — from the volunteer organization to being a big family event — getting that level of performers."
How do you go about the booking process?
"I'll talk with venue owners about artists having a performance at their venue and being available to play at one of the parties. It helps people break into the Charlotte market. We've had performers sell more than 100 CDs after playing one song. We've had wonderful acts over the years — Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Steep Canyon Rangers, the Avett Brothers. People are ADD about music, so one song is usually enough — whether you like it or not. The whole point is variety and to get a bit of everything represented."