Kimono My House: A Great Place For Community Through Virtual Music Venue

Musicians and lovers of live music may remember last March — when the COVID-19 pandemic era of social distancing and stay-at-home orders began — dealing with a great sense of loss and disruption.

Shows everywhere were canceled wholesale, meaning lost income for performers and good memories never to be made for their audiences.

But from the start, an idea came to life that would bring music back to thousands, through online livestreamed concerts.

Kimono My House, an Atlanta-based virtual venue and media group hosting hundreds of house concerts, was created and hosted on Facebook by co-founders Andy Gish and Kim Ware.

Today, the group comprises almost 8,000 members from all over the world.

Gish joined “City Lights” producer and contributor Summer Evans to tell the story of Kimono My House and how it got her, and an entire music-loving community, through the pandemic.

“I’m a certified emergency room nurse and was working in the emergency room in March of 2020. I’m also a musician and have been since I was a kid. And so my life revolves around seeing music, and rehearsals, and playing music, and it’s really the most important thing to me,” said Gish. “So in March of 2020 … the world seemed very small all of a sudden. And for me, I wanted a way to stay connected to that community. So I came up with this idea of, why don’t we find a way to play for each other online?”

The new Facebook group grew exponentially, starting almost immediately, though Gish and Ware never expected such widespread enthusiasm and participation.

“My idea was for me and 20 of my friends, the people that I’ve played with, the people that are in my bands, to stay connected. It was very much about what I needed. But what turned out, is that that’s what everybody needed, and I think that’s why it took off.”

Gish added, “I would say pretty much within two weeks, most musicians that I know in Atlanta, that I’ve seen play and played with, were members of Kimono My House and were saying, ‘Hey, when can I play a show?’ or ‘How do I do this?’”

On Kimono My House, musicians go live from the group’s timeline, treating it like a real music venue.

All performances are live, never prerecorded, and remain visible on the group page afterwards to be enjoyed by anyone, anytime. There are now over 600 archived shows available to stream, a massive collection of content documenting the experiences and artistic output of countless musicians as they weathered a universally challenging time of social isolation.

The livestream audiences offered valuable moral support for performers but also created opportunities for more direct financial support.

“It’s become a venue. … The feedback that we were getting was, ‘Oh my God, this is a godsend, this is what I needed,’” said Gish. “Many of these people were professional musicians, and they rely on it for part of their income. And one of the things we always encouraged when … you go live, [was to] check in and let us know how you’re doing, and if you need anything.”

As the community grew, Gish and Ware assumed administrative roles — booking, scheduling and creating an online etiquette.

“We kind of wanted this to run itself, which it really does,” said Gish. “There is a Gmail address that we created and a Google Calendar, and you can look at the Google Calendar, and if there’s a spot, you can take it. You write us and say, ‘I want this time.’ As long as someone else hasn’t signed up for it, you can have it.”

The group also hosted online festivals, including one in April that benefitted unemployed workers from the live music venues of Atlanta.

As more venues reopen, and festivals welcome in-person audiences, the future of Kimono My House is under discussion.

“Everything with this group has been very genuine, and just a natural transition of what people want, or what the needs are. I suspect it will continue to exist. If it doesn’t, I’m OK with that, too. Because it has served an amazing purpose for me,” said Gish. “What we are seeing, and what we’re encouraging, too, is if somebody has a live show, to have someone have a camera there and go live from that show … so if you can’t get to the show, you can still watch online.”

You can find their calendar and upcoming events here.