Sacred Spaces: Half House in Urbana, Illinois

Sacred Spaces is a series of articles that highlights local, homegrown, and DIY music and arts spaces in the Champaign-Urbana area.  

In historic East Urbana, friends Mic Kauffman, Bryan Maxwell, Katie Carrillo, and Alyssa Hall have created a safe haven for the Champaign-Urbana music and arts community. This safe haven is Half House, an idea born out of the four friends’ pandemic daydreams and made into a reality in August 2021. Half House is a special place, composed of magical elements: dark green siding, a red door, a backyard guarded by trees, twinkling lights, a candle lit stage, and an assortment of mismatched chairs for the audience. In late September, I sat down with Mic, Bryan, Katie, and Alyssa to talk about their love for music, Half House’s origin story, and how the space is impacting the local community. 

Top Row: Alyssa Hall and Mic Kauffman; Bottom Row: Bryan Maxwell and Katie Carrillo


WPGU: How did y’all get into music?

Mic: Music is a huge part of my family’s life. My dad is a DJ. He’s been doing that for years, and I grew up listening to WEFT. Once I moved to Urbana, I was like “I want my own radio show!” So, I have been doing that for two and half years. I am on WEFT on Saturday nights from 6 PM to 8 PM. 

Bryan: Yeah, I’ve also always been involved in music. My parents were big into music. They were big Dead Heads. I also grew up playing piano for most of my life. 

Katie: I’m not a musician, but I really love music. I met these guys at the Rose Bowl, and I go there as often as I can. I have actually lived in a few show houses before as well. 

Mic: Legendary show houses!

Alyssa: I grew up in St. Louis. I am not a musician, but I listened to KDHX a lot and KSHE95. There was always music going on at parties, at get-togethers. Twelve or maybe thirteen hours of the day, I have music on. It just really helps me live my life to the fullest. 

WPGU: What music are y’all  listening to right now?

Mic: This album by Big Daddy Pride & the East Side Five. It’s called Snake Jazz. I am obsessed with it. I just saw them at the Rose Bowl, and it was incredible.

Bryan: I’ve been listening to that Snail Mail album recently, Habit.

Katie: I don’t know. I go back and forth. I get nostalgic for something, and I’ll listen to it. I have been playing this band called Warpaint. They have an album called The Fool that I just listen to over and over.

Alyssa: Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief. I’ve had her solo stuff on repeat. Last night, I just went to an Alanis Morissette show, so that was badass. And I saw Garbage and Cat Power, so that was amazing. 

WPGU: How did you get the idea to start Half House? 

Katie: We can’t really pinpoint it. 

Mic: Katie said earlier that we all met at the Rose Bowl. We met during the pandemic which is crazy, a weird time to make friends. We started hanging out during the pandemic, having a lot of family meals together. It was brought up that this would be really fun because Katie had been involved in the house show scene years ago, and I would always hear that we needed more house show venues – especially with the pandemic and big venues not being open or people feeling apprehensive with COVID. We talked about it and started writing things down and were like, “We are going to make it happen.” Katie helped drive that home. 

Alyssa: She really did.

Mic: She’s the organizer here. 

Katie: I have all of the lists.

Mic: She is the list maker.

[group laughs] 

Alyssa: I went to school down in Carbondale, and they have a lot of DIY punk houses that have been there since the 1970s. When I moved here, I was looking around for that too. Then Katie said she had been in the scene, and we connected with the music queen, Mic. We were like, “Yeah, let’s do this. We definitely need that here.” 

WPGU: Once you had the idea to start Half House, what was your first step in organizing it?

Katie: Manifesting it, you know, asking ourselves, “What did we want it to look like?” 

Mic: It sounds so basic, but it was getting an Instagram page up, reaching out to artists and letting them know that this was our idea and asking if they were on board. Once we got the first show booked, everything has been on fire since.

Katie: Everything has been falling into place. 

Mic: Piece by piece. We started asking people to give feedback. And it just keeps getting better. It’s like a fine wine, getting better with age.

[group laughs]

WPGU: What are the inspirations for Half House?

Mic: I don’t want to speak for everybody, but I think that we definitely wanted this to feel like a homegrown space. 

Bryan: When I moved up here, I was pretty impressed by how much of a music scene this town had. It’s not that large of a town for how many musicians there are.

Alyssa: And artists too!

Bryan: Exactly and artists too. So I was pretty interested in making a collaborative music space, not just booking bands. That’s why we do this thing where if musicians show up an hour beforehand, they can perform on their own if they want to showcase something. 

Mic: Absolutely and I think it was really important for us to widen our venn diagram because there are so many folks here who have either just moved to town or they are involved through the music scene at the university but have not yet found their scene, found their place. I think it was really important for us to create that space where we could meet new people and help new people meet each other. We very much wanted this to be a space where people could network and feel like a collective.

Ayla McDonald performing at Half House on September 19, 2021
Rory Book performing at Half House on September 19, 2021

WPGU: What is the DIY scene like in Champaign-Urbana? Why is the DIY scene so important?

Alyssa: I don’t want to talk for everybody either, but growing up in St. Louis, house shows, basement shows are so important for a lot of musicians who are just getting their feet wet. Sometimes venues are always booked or always packed and people feel very nervous. If you make it a community based space that is supportive, not judgemental, you are giving people the space to shine on their own and get their name out there. I feel like it’s very conducive to creating community.

Mic: We wanted this to be a catch all for a lot of different genres, so I think that makes Half House unique. We aren’t just focusing on one genre of music. We are really trying to open it up to anybody. 

Alyssa: We have had a classical violinist.

Mic: A cello player too!

Alyssa: That is so cool for people who maybe haven’t gotten to experience classical music.

Mic: And it seems like the DIY scene is picking up as people are feeling more safe to get back out there. We could be the first of many to be born out of the pandemic.

Alyssa: And Half House is for everybody, students and the community too. Champaign-Urbana is a gem, a diamond in the rough. There are so many artists, and they all make unique amazing things. 

Ethan Schlenker performing at Half House on September 19, 2021
Tim Duggan (left) and Kurt Bielema (right) performing at Half House on September 19, 2021
Kayla Green performing at Half House on September 19, 2021

WPGU: What do you hope that people take away from Half House shows?

Katie: What we have been taking away… glee.

Mic: Joy.

Bryan: Awareness of how much music and art there is in our community, our town. It still blows my mind the turn out that we get, the people that show up.

Mic: Togetherness. It’s kind of amazing because each show, I don’t know over half of the people that come. By the end, it seems like you have made some new friends, some new connections, and can start building relationships with people. And I think that’s what I hope people take away from this space. Feeling like they belong. And they are having fun.

Guy Saba performing at Half House on September 19, 2021
Mic Kauffman’s kids with Bryan Maxwell performing at Half House on September 19, 2021

WPGU: What do you think Half House will look like in a year?

Mic: We always intended this to be a limited project. I would love to see other people take this space over after we have all moved on to something different.

Bryan: We want to grow over the next year.

Mic: We do! We want to book some big acts too. And one thing that we didn’t mention is that we aren’t making any money off of this. The whole mission and goal for this is to provide opportunities for artists to make money, so that is really awesome. We are trying to support the arts in a really meaningful way.

Bryan: We always ask for donations at the door for the artists. 

Mic: And if people can’t pay, that is totally fine too. We want everyone to have an equal opportunity to see music.   

Alyssa: The first show that we ever had, the musicians were super cool and donated all their money to Girls Rock CU.

Mic: Yes and we are hoping to do more of that too. In a year, I hope we can have more fundraising opportunities. 

WPGU: Tell me about your work to center not just musical artists, but other artists as well.

Bryan: For every show, we arrange to have a visual artist, a medium artist to showcase their stuff for the art community.

Alyssa: We have had a hula-hooper, spoken word, someone from the Urbana Dance Academy.

Mic: It’s a good eclectic mix.

WPGU: Who are Tick and Clarence?

Alyssa: Clarence shouldn’t be in the interview! 

[group laughs]

Bryan: Tick is my dog. I have had him for ten years. I found him in Tennessee while I was hiking. He has been with me ever since. He is funny here. Last show we had, any time someone showed up, he would walk over to them like an usher and he would walk them to their seat. 

Alyssa: We did think about making him the mascot. We want to make buttons. 

Mic: In a year, we would like to see a full range of Tick merchandise here at Half House. All proceeds go to Tick. 

[group laughs]

Katie: Clarence is my cat, and he is twenty-two pounds of fluff. He isn’t allowed outside.

Alyssa: Except for when you just saw him!

Mic: Yeah, that was a freak accident [laughs]

Katie: If you see him, tell him to get back inside.

WPGU: If there is an artist that wants to play Half House, how should they get in touch with you?

Katie: Reach out to us on Instagram – @halfhouse.shows.

Mic: Right now we are so open to people coming to do open mic, and that is the best way to get your foot in the door. 

Alyssa: And if people want to attend or play shows, go to Instagram because that is where you will get the address too. 

WPGU: Anything else you want to add?

Alyssa: We want to do anything we can to support local artists and musicians. We want to build this community. Validate. Affirm. Help the community grow.

Mic: We want Half House to be an inclusive space where people can come as they are, be who they are, and walk away feeling affirmed in who they are.

Half House’s Favorite Local Musicians: The Bashful Youngens, Big Daddy Pride & the East Side Five, The Superior State, Emily Anne, Sweet Melk

Half House’s next show, Half Moon @ Half House, will be this Saturday, October 9th. Doors open at 7:00 PM, and open mic begins at 7:20 PM. Andrew Ryan will take the stage at 8:00 PM followed by Maps of the Midwest at 9:00 PM. Artist feralFLORALS will also be in attendance.  

Check out the playlist that Half House curated for the station below.

About Emily Guske

Emily (she/her) is a first-year graduate student researching energy governance with a specific focus on the politics of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Illinois and Iowa. You can catch her browsing the record store, plugging away at her never ending to-be-read list, or dreaming about running through the streets of New York to David Bowie’s “Modern Love”.

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