Attorney Gary Lysaght touches his smartphone lightly, and the sensual sounds of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” ring through his contemporary riverside home. He presses the device again, and the smoky timbre of Diana Krall’s voice fills the 2,500-square-foot open space. A classical piano piece flows next.
With each song, Lysaght drinks in the sights and sounds as he sits amidst a sea of pale rock maple hardwoods, a three-story-high living room, soaring rooflines, walls of glass, large, lit ficus trees and artfully arranged photographs and stones. His sheltie, Max, eggs him on to throw him a ball.
Those flawless acoustics and magnificent river views are what propelled the defense attorney to open up his recently built home to five or six public concerts a year.
Strategically situated by the Victorian splendor of Dauphin County’s Fort Hunter Mansion and Rockville Bridge’s aisle of arcs in Susquehanna Township, Lysaght’s Front Street home is a venue for both indoor and outdoor concerts, which take place either in his airy living room or under a cozy, Caribbean-style pavilion on his river-facing back porch. The summertime soirees typically feature catered hors d’oeuvres, open bars and a feeling of being suspended over the Susquehanna.
“I’m an audiophile,” he said. “My house is like an aquarium. It’s not pretentious. It’s like an art gallery with white walls.”
Music, art, architecture, the law, the environment, fine food—all are part of the guilty pleasures in the Lysaght ecosystem.
Few Feet Away
The plan to transform the riverside retreat into an intimate concert hall began when Lysaght’s neighbor, violinist Odin Rathnam, stopped by, and they discussed the impersonality and discomfort of huge concert halls.
Although a grand piano sits in the corner of the cavernous living room, Rathnam uses it more than Lysaght. Son Ryan, now an assistant district attorney, took piano lessons as a child, but found his passion in baseball and the electric guitar instead.
Rathnam and Lysaght conversed about the value of having a violinist or pianist right in front of you, and, as an added bonus, having the glassy, sun-flecked Susquehanna River stretching out before you, thanks to a double bank of 16 windows in the all-white, wood-filled home. The idea for a concert hall in a home was born.
Lysaght notes how streaming music in high fidelity on your phone or in your car sounds amazing, but a recording cannot compare to a live performance, unfolding just a few feet away.
And a distant stage and stiff velvet chairs cannot compare to his modern sanctuary, built in 2014 from all things recycled, reclaimed and repurposed. Steel beams that cantilever the house over the floodway are repurposed bridge steel. The floor is a one-time gymnasium floor from a renovated school. Rehabilitated offenders who paid their dues in the county’s criminal justice system performed much of the construction work.
On a dreary, late-winter day at dusk, the lights of a passing train crawling over the Rockville Bridge broke through the fog, and the river swirled in angry torrents. By ascending the narrow circular staircase in the living room to the third-floor guest room, one has a bird’s-eye view of it all.
Lysaght, a criminal defense lawyer perhaps best known for his DUI defense work and billboards along Route 83 by Union Deposit Road, also has his law office in his home-turned-concert hall. The minimalist space, also occupied by a paralegal, is filled with framed photographs Lysaght took himself of fiery orange sunsets along the Susquehanna.
“I always have to be doing something,” he said.
That something could be dabbling in electric-powered cars, preaching the vegan lifestyle, or acquiring a brick-red, 1922 caboose from the B&O Railroad, which, in his next project, will be transformed into a posh, “Murder on the Orient Express”-type of destination.
His conversations careen from topic to topic, from the origin of mankind and the caveman era to lactose intolerance, the dangers of plastic bottles and processed food, the popularity of lawyer-novelist John Grisham, and the local history of the Hecks and their sawmill in Harrisburg’s coal-hauling and canal-using heyday.
His eclectic interests are reflected in every corner of his home.
The kitchen is devoid of cabinets, but is a tidy blend of white ceramic floors, stainless steel and reclaimed pieces. Thanks to Lysaght’s love of eBay and the ReStore of Habitat for Humanity, he was able to discover and incorporate all kinds of conversation pieces. He broke a 20-foot-long conference table into three parts—a bistro-style dining table, a desk and a worktable.
Much like his house, Lysaght’s annual series of concerts are an eclectic mix. It’s not all Brahms and Bach.
This summer, for instance, Lysaght will host a June fundraiser with the classic rock band, “All Jacked Up,” which features his son, Ryan, and Court of Common Pleas Judge Scott Evans. He receives no compensation for the use of his house—he insists he just wants to share. Concerts can accommodate up to 75 guests. He has already hosted judges, politicians and other local celebrities.
“I think this house wants to have music in it,” he said. “It’s intoxicating.”
Gary Lysaght’s “Riverhouse” is located at 5258 N. Front St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.garylysaght.com/riverhouse.
By attending a Riverhouse concert, you have the chance to indulge both your love of music and architecture.
May 18—Odin Rathnam
June 8—Public Defenders’ Fundraiser with the band, All Jacked Up
July 14—Steve Rudolph, Odin Rathnam and vocalist Anais Ono
Sept. 8—Odin Rathnam and World Class