A tree house is where school kids go to create a world apart, where they’re in charge. The Treehouse is where 20-somethings kids go, finding a world apart from the standard musical scene.
The all-ages “pirate venue” at 109 S. Cedar St. is a bohemian gathering spot presenting an average of 10 to 15 shows a month, covering every genre from indie rock to noise to hip-hop and performance art into the wee hours of the night.
The Treehouse is in fact a house. Three 20-something men—Casey Jones, Dan Allen, and Chris Hota — reside there, like any other set of young bachelors.
“It is a functioning, real house,” booker/promoter Casey Jones says as I sit in his four-couch attic lit entirely by Christmas lights. House it may be, but it’s courageously taken on the ordeal of presenting shows over 15 consecutive days by big South-by-Southwest music and art conference names on their way to and from Austin, Texas. The shows started last week and will continue through March 23. Some of the artists are fresh from big university throw-downs (Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim just played UCLA and Princeton) while others have hosted MTV2 shows within the last month.
So what are they doing playing a house venue and not, for instance, Vino’s?
“A house show is just more comfortable,” Jones, a computer tech at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, explains. “When you’re at a business, you feel you’re at a business.”
The Treehouse doesn’t have to abide by the state law that restricts venues to ages 21 and up if smoking’s allowed. So it doesn’t have to choose between older smokers or a younger crowd that wants to see up-and-coming musicians. Instead, The Treehouse is an all-ages (including the musicians), smoking, BYOB establishment subject only to the rare noise complaint and occasional parking ticket by campus police for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
The Treehouse passes the hat to pay lesser known bands; a cover charge pays bands with a known following. Jones, Hota and Allen don’t make any money off the Treehouse, and in fact have had to reach into their own pockets to make sure the band is paid enough. Its advertising is unconventional, too; it spreads the word about shows shows through newspapers, posters and flyers on Damgoode Pizza delivery boxes.
“I like the idea of everyone cramming into a room and letting the band know that they’re there for the music, not just to be background noise,” Jones said. That scene was certainly the case on a recent Saturday night at the Totally Michael/Always Already show, when roughly 100 bodies packed into the medium-sized home, standing on chairs, speakers and even each other to get a better glimpse of the show going on 20 feet and two dozen people in front of them.
In the end, it’s the music that is the heart and soul of The Treehouse — it’s about the music, not the money, the clothes, the look, the scene, or any one person helping to bring to Little Rock the sights and sounds that the “real” venues in town won’t touch.
“It can be very stressful living here,” Dan Allen says with a shrug. “It can be very exhausting and you think, “God, I really don’t want to have this show with tons of people tonight!” But then I realize, I really don’t want to be anywhere else!”