On national tour, Tennessee musican finds spare couch on Northside


As the Internet reaches maturity, it’s quickly becoming a primary source for social introductions, no matter what social group a person falls into.

Young mothers have mommy blogs, philatelists have stamp collecting forums, and these days, another subgroup of web surfers have couchsurfing.org.

The website connects people who open up their houses to complete strangers who need a place to stay for a couple of days. The site allows users to read each others’ written posts and determine if they’d feel safe allowing that person to stay the night.

And this is what allowed a local Internet entrepreneur, Jia Ji, of East Deutschtown, and a burgeoning musician from Tennessee named Nicholas Naioti to set up a dual concert and fundraising event, without ever meeting face-to-face. Ji is hosting what the couch surfing community calls a tradition — a couch surfing potluck on the grassy plot in front of Schiller 6-8 on July 12.

Naioti will have both a place to stay on his national tour and an attentive audience, and Ji will use the concert as a way to raise money for the Pittsburgh Promise through a voluntary $5 cover charge.

On a regular basis, Ji sets up social functions in an effort to utilize his fundraising know-how to benefit local nonprofits.

The idea for the concert began a few months ago when Ji found a request on couchsurfing.org for someone to house and feed an unknown musician from Tennessee who wanted to book his own national tour.

Nicholas Naioti, 25, the front man of a folk band called Children of Spy, was in search of place to play a show and rest the night between previously scheduled shows in New Plymouth, Ohio, and Philadelphia, Pa.

“I just posted something to the Pittsburgh board and [Ji] wrote back pretty quickly. It looks like he’s going to be a good contact. I can really get behind what he’s doing,” Naioti said from his home in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

According to Ji and Naioti, couch surfers hold regular monthly potlucks in just about every major U.S. city.

“Usually, the way I phrase it is that I say, ‘Hey, will somebody have a potluck and let me play music for free, and I’ll help cook?’ It’s different than playing in a bar. At a bar, a lot of people are there just to drink, but this way, it’s more personal. It’s just more fun to play when people aren’t drunk,” said the soft-spoken Naioti.

Naioti is no stranger to the popular itinerant’s website.

“I never get hotels. I insist on finding someone to stay with. The couch surfing community has been really good to me,” he said. “The idea is that you use it so you can meet a new person. It’s an experience unlike staying at a hotel.”

“The main reason Pittsburgh has an active couch surfing culture is because we have so many students and international students,” said Ji, whose website, couchange.org, helps nonprofits use technology to raise donations.

He expects at least 40 members of the active Pittsburgh couch surfing community and friends to attend the concert, which will be held from 6 to 10 p.m., and welcomes anyone else to join in the potluck ritual of the couch surfing community.

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