A home for music

Dala's Nest concert series provides intimate venue for local and touring acts

Some folks take up golf after retirement. Others travel, downsize or simply relax. For Aimee Bolter Campbell, retirement has meant dedicating more time -- and space -- to a lifelong love: music.

Roughly once or twice a month, spring through autumn, Campbell opens her Menlo Park home to musicians and music fans as part of her Dala's Nest concert series. Incorporating artists from a range of genres, the events are a win-win-win for audiences (who get to encounter high-quality performances in an intimate setting and at a low-cost), musicians (who get to play in a friendly, comfortable and financially rewarding locale) and Campbell, who revels in her role as a patron of the arts and active member of the community.

A classically trained singer with many connections in the local music scene, "I realized when I retired in 2016 that you need a project. What I decided to do was bring the music to me, because as an aging, disabled senior it's harder for me to get around now," the Palo Alto born-and-raised Campbell said. "I still go out; I'm not dead yet," she laughed, "but what I wanted to do was build a community around people who were really into acoustic music and hearing artists that either are local and unknown but very good, or people who are touring that you won't see in a big venue."

Campbell asks for a donation of between $10-$20 per person for most concerts, with all proceeds going to the musicians (and she guarantees the band a minimum fee in case attendance is lower than expected). No one's turned away for lack of funds; anyone who volunteers to help her set up can attend for free, and Campbell also offers mentorship to others who'd like to learn about running a successful concert series. Musicians are fed and offered a place to stay for the night, and guests often bring snacks and drinks to share, contributing to the cozy, communal environment.

The name "Dala's Nest" refers to the colorful Dala horses that pop up in Swedish folk art ("What younger people might call a crib, I call my nest," Campbell added). Weather permitting, the concerts take place in the garden, with the performers "on stage" on the deck. Some bring amplifiers, microphones and speakers but most just go fully acoustic. Guests are sometimes invited to take home samples of the bountiful vegetables and herbs growing. Tiger Star, the friendliest of Campbell's resident cats, makes his rounds, greeting visitors and zipping enthusiastically around the stage.

Local singer-songwriter Wendy Waller recently performed a sold-out concert at Dala's Nest, her second time playing there.

"I have enjoyed Aimee's hospitality, kindness, warmth and respect for what I do. These are things that make me want to play at her venue again," Waller told the Weekly. House concerts like Dala's Nest's give musicians the opportunity to perform for a very small, very intentional crowd: a welcome respite from either large, impersonal venues or coffee shops, bars and open-mic nights, where the music competes with conversations and often comes without financial compensation.

Stephanie Crowley, one of Waller's vocal students and a local arts professional who attended the July event, said of Campbell, "She genuinely just loves music and understands how important a small, intimate venue like this can be."

After a long career in business and science, Campbell said she utilizes her organizational and business skills as well as her music connections to make the concert series successful, publicizing the concerts via social media, mailing lists and in cross-promotions with local businesses, such as the nearby Cafe Zoe.

"I'm always taking metrics on my own performance. I'm very analytical about where I feel I can make improvements to get more people involved," she said. "I would say my biggest challenge is creating a season that has enough variety so that I'm not wearing out people; the same crowd of people with the same kind of music every time I do an event."

Past concerts have covered bluegrass, folk, blues, roots, jazz, classical and more.

"I'm a good picker. I know good music when I hear it," Campbell said. "I book a mix of local and touring talent so it's not going to exhaust the gene pool of artists."

Coming up next on Sept. 16 is the Americana duo Jennings & Keller, with jazz/pop/bossa nova singer-songwriter Avi Wisnia following on Sept. 29. In July she hosted Jackie Bristow, who's toured with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Art Garfunkel, and earlier this month she partnered with the City of Menlo Park to host a National Night Out event. She has a mailing list of regulars, many of whom are repeat attendees, and is always keen to reach new potential listeners. Attendance ranges from a sold-out house of around 40 seats to her all-time low of two (plus Campbell, her son and his fiance, who are also residents) on one cold, blustery night, when everyone cozied up in the dining room. "That was the smallest attendance I ever had but one of the best times!" she said with a grin.

For Campbell, opening her home and running a concert series is not only a labor of love but a welcome challenge.

"I have terrible social anxiety so opening my sacred space to people is a real stretch for me. That's also one of the things you get to do when you're retired; you can take social risks because your income has nothing to do with it any more," she said. "I'm not big scale; I don't have a gazillion bucks, but I have enough. I can't pay for the pleasure it returns to me; I can't put a price on that."

Campbell credits her lifelong love of music and community to her father, Elliott Bolter, who in the early 2000s took it upon himself to raise funds to save, temporarily, the now-defunct, city-sponsored Brown Bag concerts in Palo Alto.

Like him, "I like hanging out with musicians. I like hanging out with people who come from different places than I do. I like that people know who I am in the neighborhood, to feel like I'm part of the community," she said. "As an older person, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant. I'm consciously trying to avoid that. I'm making an effort to stay fresh, stay open-hearted, stay open-minded, to the extent that I can be."

For more information on Dala's Nest House Concerts and for the upcoming schedule, go to Dala's Nest or email adbcampbell@comcast.net.

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