“I cannot sleep. I’m just thinking about Garden Wonder and I want to come back to Hungary” – said one musician after performing in Budapest for the first time. House concerts are popular in Western-European countries where musicians invited usually play music with smooth chill vibes. In Hungary, this trend and music style is not that well-known. To broaden the reputation of indie folk music and house concerts, Hanna Gulyás established Garden Wonder two years ago to provide a rare and unique opportunity for music lovers. I sat down with her to talk more about Garden Wonder.
What is Garden Wonder?
Garden Wonder is more of an experience than a simple concert. In Hungary, little concerts and gigs are popular in rooms and flats, but Garden Wonder is still different from that.
“It has its in-house features, but it is not 100% a house concert experience.”
In the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland these concerts are extremely popular and Hanna experienced these concerts on her own skin. There are concerts almost everywhere: in flats, restaurants, cafés, and even in yoga-centres. This house concert trend is popular and well-known in Western European countries and in the United States. Hanna emphasised, that in Hungary, only Garden Wonder organises similar house concerts and its aim is to introduce these special concerts to Hungary and to make indie folk music style more popular in the country. Moreover, Garden Wonder is a bridge to foreign artists, giving them the opportunity to increase their reputation in Hungary.
How was the idea of Garden Wonder born?
“I started it in June 2017, and I did not even plan to do this and had no experience at all. In the spring of 2017, my sister got a message from an American musician friend. He said that he wanted to come to Europe for the first time but had no money for the travel. But if we organised him a concert and people would pay for it he would be able to visit Budapest.”
Hanna’s sister showed her this message and as she is a big fan of music she started to organise her first ever house concert. This very first occasion was in her family’s garden and this is how the name Garden Wonder was born. Seventy people attended the concert. They had BBQ, campfire and, of course, music. The concert was a huge success and Hanna could pay the musician’s flight ticket back.
“After this occasion, I started to get loads of feedbacks about when the next ‘garden experience’ will be. To get more inspiration I moved to London for six months where I attended many house concerts to gain experience and ideas.”
How many members the team of Garden Wonder consists of?
The team of Garden Wonder consists of volunteers. Currently, Hanna has 10–14 enthusiastic people but the main engine is only her.
“I organise three or four meetings every week with my volunteers to catch up or to talk about a project. The ‘Wonder Crew’ attends every Garden Wonder concert where they constantly help to prepare every venue before the guests arrive. Everyone has their own roles, for example, taking pictures, videos, posting on our social media platforms, etc.”
How do you choose your artists for concerts?
Hanna decides which artists will have the opportunity to perform on the next Garden Wonder concert with the help of one or two other people and in some cases, the audience writes to her about which musicians they would love to see perform. On the official Facebook page of Garden Wonder, there is a Google Form where people can apply to be a volunteer or the next performing artist. The artists would generally represent the indie folk music style, but Garden Wonder broadened its repertoire with electro chill, pop, chill pop, rap, and ambient styles so far.
“They can either fill out the Google Form, or sometimes others give me ideas, otherwise I also like to discover new artists.” – explains Hanna.
Hanna uses a specific strategy with four points when she chooses future performers.
- The music has to be of quality and it is also important for Garden Wonder to work with experienced musicians. Here the number of followers or reputation does not matter but only the music.
- The music needs to be original. Garden Wonder never invites cover bands as it prefers and supports musicians who write their own original songs.
- Technical features are also important when Hanna chooses the venue for the concert. It is important to know how many instruments the musician brings, and would the venue have enough space for the equipment and the audience. Also, the music the artist represents need to be compatible with the house concert atmosphere.
- Garden Wonder only invites musicians if their music has the ‘spark effect’ which means you get goosebumps while listening to it.
How do you organise a concert?
Garden Wonder always chooses the international artist first to determine the whole concert’s concept. The next step is to choose the venue and the local or support musicians to perform. In the beginning, Hanna chose the venues for the concert: her acquaintances’ flats, her favourite cafés, etc. Since then, Garden Wonder organised many concerts and became known in the capital, and many venues offer their services for future concerts and are keen on hosting Garden Wonder.
“We have venues booked four months ahead. I always meet with the director or manager of the venue and we sit down to talk and to examine the venue’s services. The most important is that we would have enough floor space for the audience, and this year we are talking about approximately 50–100 guests. I always emphasise that Garden Wonder brings the audience, volunteers, sound equipment, and the performers.”
The location of the venue is always secret, and guests get notified about it via e-mail or WhatsApp one day before the concert. As the first concert venues were living rooms of Hanna’s friends they did not want to share the exact address on the Internet. Only those got the exact location who bought a ticket to Garden Wonder. Although most of these concerts today are in commercial places, Hanna decided to keep this ‘secret location’ tradition as it makes the whole event even more exciting. She added that there are guests who write to her days before the concert and try to persuade her to tell them the exact address of the location. The most special place to host Garden Wonder so far was an underground gallery.
Who are your guests?
Garden Wonder’s concerts are mostly attended by university students and young adults, from age 19 until 35. On the other hand, Garden Wonder had pleasant surprises from the older generation and basically, everyone is welcome, no matter their age.
From what nationalities do your guests arrive?
About 50% of the guests of Garden Wonder are Hungarians and 50% arrives from countries like Germany, France, and the United States, but there are always guests from new countries and interesting places. The concerts of Garden Wonder are not only visited by foreign people who live here but tourists who spend one or two weeks in Budapest.
How does a night with Garden Wonder look like?
Hanna arrives with the Wonder Crew at the location around 4.00–5.00 pm to prepare for the concert. They prepare the DIY stage for the performers, clean up the place and check the lights, cameras and technical equipment. The doors open at 7.30 pm. The Garden Wonder welcome team greets everyone personally with a name-list. Each arriving guest receives a sticker, a stamp on their hands and is then invited to take their seat on the floor – frequent and prepared guests usually return with their own pillows.
“The concert begins at 8.00 pm. It is important to emphasise that the crew, artists, and guests at Garden Wonder speak in English during the whole concert. I tell the audience the short story of Garden Wonder and inform them about the programme which is usually 20–30 minutes of music and 10-minute breaks. We always encourage the guests to enjoy the concert and fully be present during the music sets.”
In the breaks, people can talk with each other, with the musicians and there are special ‘social challenges’, for example, “high-five three people around you”, tell the person on the right that he/she looks smart and ask what their favourite book is, etc. It is a priority for Garden Wonder to make people get into interactions and to provide them with an exceptional and fun experience. After the concert, the merchandise of each musician can be bought, and Hanna always announces whether the invited performers will have other concerts in Hungary or abroad.
What kind of responses do you receive from the artists and guests?
After every Garden Wonder concert, Hanna and her team receive exemplary reviews. One of her favourites is from a Portuguese girl.
“This Portuguese girl first visited Garden Wonder last April and she could not believe that in Hungary this kind of community would exist. In fact, she wanted to return to her home country as she did not find that creative community she was looking for but thanks to Garden Wonder she found it and since then became a regular guest.”
A lot of Hungarian people who first met with house concerts through Garden Wonder have also become regular guests. The special and unique experience Garden Wonder gives to people is told by one friend to another every time and month by month more people come to these concerts.
The foreign artists are not only performers but guests as well and Hanna always finds time to spend with the musicians. She usually takes them for sightseeing in Budapest where she introduces the most famous sites of the Hungarian capital, for example, the Chain Bridge, Széchenyi Thermal Bath, and the Buda Castle, but excellent restaurants and cafés in the city centre are musts too. Every invited artist who once performed always say:
“We cannot wait to come back. Budapest is our favourite city!”
What are your plans for the future?
The aim of Garden Wonder is to become more popular in Hungary and to introduce its magnificent experience to more people. Another aim is to increase the number of concerts (two each month) because currently there is only one every month. Hanna’s biggest dream is to organise an indie folk festival in Hungary.
What does Garden Wonder mean to you?
“Music, chill, friends. Here everyone finds a friend and it is always good to see that the community of Garden Wonder is growing month by month without any limits.” – said Hanna.
After visiting Garden Wonder’s 18th concert in Budapest I was amazed by the atmosphere and the energy the whole event had. Everyone was kind to each other and had the best time during the night. Guests did not just enjoy the music but did the night’s social challenges immediately they were told to do it. The music was great and unique, and the artists themselves interacted with the audience during the breaks, which was a rare opportunity for everyone to talk, take selfies, get an autograph, etc. Garden Wonder truly brings magic every month to people’s heart. It is an excellent programme if someone feels stressed after a long day and would like to chill out among good people with great music. To sum up the interview and my first ever Garden Wonder concert, I truly recommend everyone to visit it and experience its magic.
Featured image: Garden Wonder by Nicky Burkert