Winston House builds a music community behind Abbot Kinney Boulevard

By Christina Campodonico and Joe Piasecki

The RSVP confirmation email proclaims two rules of Winston House: “Be friendly and welcoming to everyone,” and “when the music starts, it’s all about the music — side conversations are punishable by DEATH ;)”

Enter through a metal door directly behind Abbot Kinney Boulevard, and inside you find an expansive, three-tiered loft space that gets progressively more and more crowded with young, beautiful people who look like they bought their outfits across the street — the kind of effortless, somewhat retro cool that takes loads of effort and a digital marketing salary to pull off.

But rules are rules. A thirtysomething might feel old but not unwelcome, and when founder Corey McGuire steps up to welcome R&B singer-songwriter Phé to the ground-floor stage, the space shifts from house party to listening room. There are still whispers and flirting and giggling — fortunately the rules aren’t enforced to the letter — but by and large everyone is focused on the music, even as the collective energy builds through short sets by Phé and folk/soul singer-songwriter Dana Williams before concluding with the honey-voiced five-part harmonies of Next Town Down.

Having also attracted music industry royalty like Ed Sheeran, Janelle Monáe, The Shins, Justin Bieber and Hozier to play its intimate digs, Winston House is the kind of place where an artist with a budding following of 3,000 or a mega following of 300,000 can feel at home amongst kindred spirits.

But this isn’t just a house of music. It’s also a home for McGuire, who lives on the third floor and has been opening it up for such gatherings since 2015. It was also the home of Justin Bieber Purpose tour opener Corey Harper, whose music career took off after a stint at Winston House that helped him concentrate on his music, hone his performance chops and make connections with his future managers.

“What Winston House did for me was it helped me focus on not worrying about having to pay rent somewhere, not worrying about me having to go get a job,” says Harper. “Basically, every single day for 10 hours a day, I was working on music.”

“This was the light bulb moment,” says McGuire, who realized he could help emerging artists like Harper by opening up his pad to them and hosting showcases there. “Then another artist came to crash, and another and another.”

Those early shows started off more like house parties with friends jamming for friends, but over time grew into a weekly concert on Thursday nights, mostly populated by McGuire and the artists’ circles, but really open to anyone — as long as you’re on the list.

As exclusive as that may sound, the invite process is very democratic: join the Facebook group to get alerts about shows, sign up for the email newsletter for updates, and now Winston House can even text you when space opens up for its weekly shows.

“We’re very loyal to the creative community that we set out to serve in the first place, and we try to get as many of them as involved and invested in those events as possible,” says McGuire. “But then we’re finding ways to pull more people in randomly, too.”

Among McGuire’s plans for engaging more with the Venice community and beyond: turning the Electric March, a “New Orleans-style parade in the streets” that Winston House has previously hosted, into an annual tradition; making a happy hour at restaurant/bar Neighbor into a regular community thing; and taking Winston House on tour. Outdoor music block party SamJam remains Winston House’s marquee community event, but this fall Winston House will also be curating live music for the Abbot Kinney Festival.

“Winston House, for me, represents so much more than a space,” says McGuire. “Our hope is that we can take the name that we’ve built with Winston House, the relationships that we’ve built through serving the artist community, and the trust that we’ve built with the broader community — all by bringing quality experiences in music and art — to get even more involved in Venice.”

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