Ruth Acuff, Merry Ellen Kirk, & Drew Lance at The Spellcaster

Nestled in a quiet and verdant neighborhood just north of University Drive, The Spellcaster isn’t your typical house venue. An assortment of chairs, couches and benches are lined up in the long and romantically lit sitting room. A pedal harp, every bit as gilded and grand as one would expect, commands attention at the front of the room. In the dining room, Emily Capehart lays out a spread of delicious offerings including lasagna, spinach pizza, and sweet potato fries. Capehart is host at The Spellcaster, Denton’s go-to spot for house concerts. At a house concert, the vibe is mellow, the emphasis is on the music and by the end of the show you’ve met every other person there. Oh, and there is food. Guests are encouraged to bring snacks and sides, in addition to a little bit of cash for the touring artists. 

Capehart says she’s not exactly sure when she hosted her first show at The Spellcaster, but knows that it started sometime between 2007 and 2009. She doesn’t actively seek to book shows and instead relies on word of mouth to bring artists to the space. Singer-songwriter and one of this evening’s performers, Merry Ellen Kirk says that is precisely how they find venues when they go on tour. They rely on a network of people to not only locate existing venues like The Spellcaster but to allow people to open up their home to friends and strangers alike for the very first time. Both Kirk and Acuff currently hail from Columbia, Missouri and are in the middle of their aptly-named “Earth Angels” tour, accompanied on this leg by percussionist Drew Lance. The tour is focused on the Eastern half of the U.S. but ambitiously traverses 20 states in just about two months. 

Nearly every of the twenty-odd seats available fill up, as Ruth Acuff sits down to her harp and fills the room with sounds both rhythmically measured and heavenly. Acuff falls somewhere folk-pop goddess and angel, her simple, sweet melodies belie the definitively worldly and human lyrics throughout. Merry Ellen Kirk draws frequent comparisons to the likes of Tori Amos and Ingrid Michaelson - her earthy, powerful vocals warrant the likeness alone. Her adept keys add to create a sound that is at once whimsical, longing and urgent. Kirk plays soft extremely well but some of her notably edgier efforts, particularly “Rise Up Against,” were especially impressive. 

Throughout the evening’s performances, All are silent and still, entranced by the unique experience before them. Soft lighting and rich acoustics make it immediately apparent how the venue has earned both it’s name and reputation. In between sets, attendees chatted with the artists and were invited by Acuff to sit down and play the harp (almost certainly all of them for the first time.) Acuff lovingly answered any and all questions about her “dream instrument,” and profusely extolled the value of harp insurance. It was striking how inviting the experience was, many of the attendees were new to the venue and even new to house concerts but they were welcomed as though they were old friends. Exemplifying Denton itself, It’s a place where you will most certainly be embraced as long as the music calls you there and food is always appreciated. 

Photos by Emily Cline
Header image design by Sara Button