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House Concert Series The Parlor Shuts Down with Founder Accused of Selling Alcohol

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman House Concert Series The Parlor Shuts Down with Founder Accused of Selling AlcoholOfficers seizing beers from Joey Hendrickson's Downtown apartment. Photo provided by Hendrickson.
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“You’re in your living room, in you’re home. And all of a sudden you find yourself building the familial culture that you’ve wanted for so long. You create a room where the artist is close to the audience in a private setting. There’s nothing like having your friends in your living room and together, supporting an artist directly.”

– Joey Hendrickson

House concert series The Parlor has hosted small house concerts since 2018 at the home of Joey Hendrickson, a familiar face in the Columbus music scene as the founder and a former member of the Columbus Music Commission and Columbus Songwriters Association, and an advocate for local music.

Shows at The Parlor were no more than 20 or 30-person gatherings in the living room of Hendrickson’s Downtown apartment. The audience, often made up of 40 to 50-somethings, came looking to support local artists and musicians. That need became even more apparent in the last year or so, with the shut down of large concerts and live performances because of the pandemic.

However, this past spring, the series and similar informal performance spaces were put into question.

One night in March, during one of The Parlor’s regular shows, a man Hendrickson didn’t know came through the back door of his apartment and sat among the audience. He looked uncomfortable and even a little out of place, Hendrickson said, so he thought he would be hospitable and offer the man a beer from his fridge.

That man, as Hendrickson would later learn, was an undercover agent with the Ohio State Highway Patrol’s Investigative Unit, and it wasn’t the first time undercover agents had visited a show at The Parlor.

Officers would storm Hendrickson’s apartment weeks later, almost breaking his front door down, according to him, before going to the back door — all while he stood cooking in his kitchen. Upon entering, officers served him a warrant, charging him with keeping a place where intoxicating liquor or beer is sold, a first-degree misdemeanor. They searched his entire apartment, taking beers out of his refrigerator.

No one has ever been sold a beer at The Parlor, asserts Hendrickson, and him hosting concerts there wasn’t some underground, shadowy secret — he claims even some city leaders have attended these concerts. Just last month, The Parlor was nominated for the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Dale E. Heydlauff Community Arts Innovation Awards.

In a year that has been characterized by record-high crime, coupled with the assertions that police departments are understaffed and under-resourced, Hendrickson has questioned how investigating a house concert became a priority for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, a division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

As for why officers were there that night in March, they received a complaint, according to discovery documents shared by Hendrickson. But he has no idea where it could have come from. There weren’t any noise complaints as far as he knows, and he affirms he had approval from his neighbors to host these concerts.

“They weren’t really invited at all to be in my living room, so not sure how we got on their radar,” he said with a half chuckle.

Discovery documents recall agents attending “the 7 p.m. show,” and entering his apartment through the back door, which Hendrickson points out is different from the people who typically attend shows. According to officers, Hendrickson passed out drinks to approximately 12 people — Hendrickson has said only 12 people and an acoustic artist were in attendance that night — and that no one had brought additional drinks.

Hendrickson said the descriptions of him are “peppered with mistruth.”

“They make me sound like some sort of a house concert lord or…like some nefarious character,” he said. “Reading the stuff that they said to really make this a huge dramatic thing. Like I came out of a backroom or something like that when I was literally in my kitchen cooking.”

“Stuff like that just makes me lose faith and trust in how the city is going about…their police force,” Hendrickson said. “Obviously we’ve seen other examples of how the police are managing situations. We look to understand and we look to learn from other people’s situations, but there’s really no level of learning until it really happens and (is) right in front of us.”

Previous patrons of The Parlor have expressed outrage over the accusations.

Jim Paoletti and his wife, Sharleen Newland, have attended shows at The Parlor almost since it opened, and never saw Hendrickson sell alcohol.

They heard about The Parlor through word of mouth, with Newland purchasing tickets for Paoletti’s birthday one year. Ever since then, they’ve been hooked.

“Which a lot of people are once they go and experience that environment,” said Paoletti. “We just felt it was a great way to, one, satisfy our own desire to listen to live music and two, support local musicians.”

Paoletti said he was “surprised and disgusted” to hear about what is happening with Hendrickson and The Parlor.

“The whole thing’s ridiculous. They have, in my opinion, no proof whatsoever that he ever took money for alcohol because he never did,” he said. “Joey’s not that type of person.”

Newland shared similar shock about the situation.

“There doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. I don’t know why they targeted Joey, but it feels like they did,” she said.

The Ohio Investigative Unit Responds

OSHP’s Ohio Investigative Unit is responsible for enforcing the state’s alcohol, tobacco and food stamp fraud laws and investigating suspected illegal activity.

This unit may investigate bars, restaurants or carryouts operating without a permit; the illegal manufacture of alcohol; and the sale of alcohol and tobacco products to underage individuals or over-serving alcohol to a person involved in a crash or other incident.

A part of the Ohio Revised Code states, “No person shall keep a place where beer or intoxicating liquors are sold, furnished, or given away in violation of law. The giving away of beer or intoxicating liquors, or any other device to evade this division, constitutes unlawful selling.”

In a statement provided to Columbus Underground, Ohio Investigative Unit Enforcement Commander Eric Wolf said the following:

“There was an event that was held at that location and OIU Agents purchased tickets to the event. While at the event, agents were provided with alcohol—a violation of Ohio law. As a result, a search warrant was executed and criminal charges have been filed in the Franklin County Municipal Court. The criminal case is still pending.”

– Ohio Investigative Unit Enforcement Commander Eric Wolf

The Parlor and Why It Matters

Hendrickson can talk extensively about house concerts and why they’re worth saving. But more than his own shows, he’s concerned for a community of people who host, attend and have regular gigs at these kinds of concerts, and frustrated by how the situation is being handled.

“There’s several artists who perform in house concerts and make a living on it. I know 10 or 20 people in Columbus who have house concerts in their living room,” he said. “And it’s very scary for me to think about the police going in and destroying these places that are just generally supporting artists and actually healing a lot of the audience members with a very intimate connection with music. It doesn’t happen that way at a bar.”

Steven Ramey played at The Parlor the night before police served Hendrickson the warrant. That was actually his first time hearing about The Parlor.

His band, the Rameys, plays just as many house concerts as they do other venues, he said. He’s a folk artist, and is pretty used to intimate settings.

He said The Parlor means a lot more to him now than it did back in April.

“I’m 100% behind what they do,” he said. “It’s great to have a place where you can go and play a show where music is the purpose. If you show up playing on a patio at a (bar), you are incidental to whatever purpose people have for going to that bar most of the time.”

Ramey said Hendrickson and The Parlor being caught up in these charges was confusing to him, because Hendrickson has hosted The Parlor for years.

“And there are other people across the city that have been doing it for years. In my mind, the question is why, why now?” he said. “What Joey is trying to do there is not seeking profit, he’s just trying to help encourage local music, encourage local songwriters and encourage local performers, and to bolster Columbus’ music community.”

Paoletti and Newland said they’ve had nothing but positive experiences at The Parlor, and that they miss it.

“We’ve always been very supportive of the arts in general but especially local musicians, and we thought The Parlor was a great way of doing that,” said Paoletti. “It’s a great atmosphere for listening to live music and the people there always seem very appreciative and the artists enjoy playing there a lot.”

He said people don’t know how much time and money goes into being successful as a musician, and how often that’s looked over.

“My wife’s an artist, so I know how hard artists work and they are not appreciated. Musicians, in my opinion, are very much underappreciated,” he said.

Aftermath

The Parlor was a space local musicians could count on for gigs, but now those shows have stopped. Hendrickson said he fears continuing to host shows would give the impression that he was purposely being rebellious, not to mention the current litigation has taken up a great deal of his time.

Hendrickson has had to hire a defense attorney for his case. And now months after the charges were filed against him, he’s still trying to get to the bottom of why this happened.

“I’m having to put time and resources into not only defending myself, but trying to defend the sanctity of supporting artists in our living rooms,” Hendrickson said. “(I) have just devoted myself to understanding these things because I know that there’s a lot of house concerts that happen in the city.”

That includes understanding how other cities handle house concerts, especially in cities like New Orleans and Austin, where local creative arts economies are thriving. A permit may be required in some instances, but in Columbus, there isn’t one pertaining to concerts of this size.

“If there were a house concert permit available through Columbus Parks and Recreation similar to what other cities offer, I would have applied for it. There isn’t. Instead, we became a registered house concert host with a national organization that supports such shows two years ago,” Hendrickson said in a blog post discussing the incident. The Parlor is recognized as a house concert provider by Folk Alliance International.

He said this situation makes him want to help change Columbus into a more progressive city that is “accepting” of house concerts—ironic given the city’s longstanding support for the arts.

Though his case was not brought by the city, and he’s being charged with allegedly violating one of Ohio’s alcohol laws, Hendrickson thinks new policy could help legitimize these kinds of venues so that they are not the target of complaints and investigations.

He said people should not have to support artists in fear, and that would help ease the concern. Given the chance to do the right thing in the eyes of the law, hosts will.

“The prospect of a house concert permit in Columbus could provide guidance for hosts and clarity for law enforcement,” he said. “If City Council were to sponsor policy that supports house concerts, it would reinforce our reputation as (a) community where artists are welcome and set the stage for musicians who are looking for smaller spaces to perform.”

A jury trial could begin as soon as this month.

Hendrickson has had several dozen letters written from previous concertgoers and friends, offering to testify in support of him and The Parlor. Many are planning to come to the trial and support, and he’s inviting the community to attend as well.

“I think that they should also be present in these proceedings to understand how the city is going to deal with, or support or destroyed the house concert community in general,” he said. “We definitely want a clear picture about how the city will be approaching house concerts because we want to know what we can do to support artists, and also what we can’t do.”

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