I know i was going to talk more about house concerts, but i wanted to get this up here while the performances I just did are fresh in my mind. Essentially, this is summed up in a few short suggestions.
Be prepared. Know what you are going to do before you go out there. I like to do a set that is semi predetermined. After two or three songs which I have chosen in advance, I think I can tell what the audience is responding to and I give them more of that. You can tell what they are enjoying and what they are not, by their attentiveness and their applause and laughter. Loud and prolonged is what I go after.
Reading an audience is not a difficult process, if you are paying attention. I know that as I do a show in an arena or large hall, I can actually feel the attention of the audience. As if it is a pressure coming from them to me. I can also feel if the pressure isn’t the same from some area of the audience. I swear you can feel their lack of engagement, their lack of attention. So I focus more energy there with my eyes and my body language. The inattentive feel it and respond to the attention I am giving them by paying attention. Then you may feel it drifting in some other area and you must attend to that. What I do now is to look around and to try and engage the entire audience with my eyes. I keep my eyes open and I try to look into their eyes. I try to connect. Never staying too long in one area of the audience; slowly panning the entire audience as if I were a camera shooting a scene of the audience. I have worked with people that tell me that they have to close their eyes to give their performance their complete attention. I am sure that they feel that this allows them to give their best to the audience, but I feel that eye contact, emotional contact is almost as important as the performance itself. Actually I think that it is part of the performance. When I am in the studio recording, my eyes are mostly closed. I'm just listening to what I'm doing and trying to create the connection just by the notes and the choices I make as a singer. But when you're on stage, you owe it to the audience to connect with them on every level, not just sonically. I strive to continually engage the entire audience. That being said, here is the main theme of any performance.
If you're on stage, then it's about entertaining them. It's not about anything else. A lot of folks use a set list, and when I play with John Batdorf, or Peter Tork then I use one. But we still play it by ear and change things around if it seems like the thing to do. Put your show together, be prepared and then, if you decide to be spontaneous, do it.
Finally, this is the big one. It must be fun. Fun for you and fun for the audience. I know that sounds lame or hackneyes, but it's simply true. Have a great time up there. And do whatever it takes for you to have a great time up there. (Short of altering your self with drugs or booze. You simply cannot perform as well if your faculties are diminished. Fun is the big one. It carries you thru everything else.
I remember going to a Kingston Trio concert as child. It was my first legitimate concert, and what I noticed was how much those fellows enjoyed each other; how much they enjoyed what they were doing and how smooth and easy the whole thing seemed. These guys worked hard to get that way. I found out later that they would literally practice for six to eight hours each day and also do a show that night. They were tight. So tight that they could have enormous fun with it. Fun is the big one in performance. And you can do that most readily if you are prepared. You practice like crazy. Don't forget that part.