God Bless House Concerts!
We have two house concert series here, and they are my favorite place(s) to see music.
One series leans a little more toward trad, but I've seen Bill Staines and Lou and Peter Berryman there, too. This series is non-smoking (people who need can go outside during the break) but they do serve beer and wine, if I recall correctly. They have two "hats" - one for the performer (with a suggested donation) and another for the goodies, kind of on the honor system (the person who has a "dinner" of the snacks generally really does pay more than the person who sips a coke). By the time I "met" this series, it had been going on for several years, and was well established with an average attendance of 30-40 per show, about 5 times a year (SRO for Bill Staines, but what did you expect?)
The other series is mostly singer/songwriter. They have a set door charge, generally $10 with reservations, $12 without and that includes "goodies" (but all the money goes to the performer). No alcohol served and no smoking (I've never seen anyone here go outside between sets). I was in pretty much from the start, here, and yes, the first show had, I think, 7 people. Now, after three years, the everage attendance is probably 25. More for Michael Smith, and the Johnsmith concert I didn't make it to was also SRO, packed to the gills! Shows are about once a month except in the summer - too much else to do!
I like these venues especially because of the intimacy. With only 25 or so members of the audience, you can actually have a conversation with the performer, not to mention the other wonderful folk attending.
Someone above asked about security issues. Both these houses are set up so that the "public" can stay on the main floor, and the bedrooms are upstairs - nobody goes there. Fortunately, both houses have bathrooms on the main level. The second series for certain, and probably the first, started out with friends and neighbors, and grew with friends of friends. There may be someone in attendance that nobody knows, but with 25 friends there, nobody can get into the hosts' personal stuff. Didn't hurt that the one house also has a very large dog ;)
Two similar series have started up in church basements/fellowship halls. They seat more people, and thus have a slightly lower "cover". They're nice, too, but I still prefer the house concerts.