John Tosco stopped touring with his band, the Wild River Band, and came to Charlotte in 1983. He started teaching guitar lessons and, soon after, started throwing music parties in his living room, gathering friends together to play music and sing, just an informal jam session.
The music parties got bigger and so did the venues, first to larger living rooms, then to clubhouses at apartment complexes, then to a Veterans of Foreign Wars building.
Now, more than 30 years later, the Tosco Music Party fills the Knight Theater in uptown four times a year and is one of the most unique concerts you can experience in the city.
“It was just kind of a very organic thing that just happened,” Tosco, 58, said this week in his studio off Albemarle Road, where he still teaches guitar lessons four times a week. “It just took off. I didn’t have a master plan.”
The next Tosco Music Party is Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Knight Theater. Tickets are $17-$23 and you can buy them here.
Even though the venue is much larger now, Tosco still tries to keep the vibe of those first music parties in his living room, where people simply came together to share their love for music.
Here’s what to expect:
– Sing-Alongs. The audience isn’t “just sitting and watching a show,” Tosco said. “It’s very inclusive.” Prepare to stand up and sing with the rest of the crowd and the band several times during the show. Don’t worry, the lyrics are printed in the program.
– Variety. A standard Tosco Music Party features about 15 local, regional and national acts spanning a variety of genres and ages, each only playing a song or two. Saturday’s performance features nationally touring singer-songwriters, two guitar masters, a senior choir, a 13-year-old violin prodigy, an indie folk duo and more. “If you don’t like what you hear, five minutes later you’re going to hear something totally different,” Tosco said. “Where else do you see that?”
Except for The Beatles tribute each June (Tosco is a huge fan of The Beatles) the Tosco Music Parties don’t have a theme. And the format puts each performer on equal footing. There are no headliners in this show. “If Paul McCartney or James Taylor showed up, they still would only get to do one or two songs,” Tosco said. “It’s about all of us, it’s about why we’re here, just to share the music, so we don’t want to spotlight you.”
– A relaxed atmosphere. Tosco, who emcees the event, doesn’t have a script and continues to treat the event like it’s just a bunch of friends getting together to play some music. “You’re at my house,” he said. “I’m hosting a party like I used to 30 years ago. It’s just a bigger room and more people.”
Thirty years after starting in Tosco’s living room, Tosco Music is a nonprofit organization with a board of directors and does so much more than the music parties. He still teaches lessons, hosts a monthly open mic night at The Evening Muse (the next one is Sept. 14), offers scholarships for youth and adults to attend summer music camps, and goes to two or three senior centers each month to play music with the residents.
“I take a lot of pride in that,” Tosco said about the community outreach. “People know us for the concerts, but there’s a lot more.”
Photos: Courtesy of John Tosco/Tosco Music