The Charleston, SC area has some wonderful artists; writers, songwriters, creative people of all kinds. It is what I love about this town; there is nothing better for me than hanging out with other like minded creative people.
By the same rule Charleston area musicians and songwriters really are taken for granted. In most cities across the US there is a cover charge to listen to music which goes to pay the musician; not so in Charleston, for whatever reason it will not fly here. The bar or restaurant has to eat that cost, and often there is an attitude that they are somehow doing the musician a favor.
And largely because the music is free; to most patrons the musician is just a human juke box providing ambience to the dining experience. They mostly want to hear cover tunes, popular songs that are familiar so they don’t have to listen, but simply have this pleasant sound in the background.
If the artist plays an original composition, it is unfamiliar so the audience is forced to either listen or shut it out completely; usually it is the latter. And yet every artist you hear on the radio, and every song ever written started out being played in a bar somewhere. If it were not for this fact there would be no popular music.
A few years ago a group of Charleston area songwriters (Including myself.) got together to just play for each other. The songwriters became their own appreciative audience; the group grew, and so did the quality of their music as each fed off, and in turn inspired each other.
We took up residence in a local bar and restaurant every Monday evening. Prior to this, Monday evening was pretty dead for this particular venue; a few locals left when happy hour ended, and the place would typically close by ten.
The Songwriters’ Night changed this; the songwriters along with their own friends and families became paying customers, and also other patrons who just appreciated the artists and their music began to follow and attend regularly.
Since 2006 when we first moved to this venue, the Songwriters’ Group brought a lot of business to this particular establishment, so it was an extreme disappointment when without any prior notice they simply closed their doors last New Year’s Day, leaving us scrambling for a new home.
We found another bar and restaurant close by, and the owners promised us a quiet listening room, but that has not happened; it is just another noisy bar. It is a successful local watering hole with a large established clientele. We, the Songwriters’ are the outsiders coming into their territory. The owners made empty promises they knew they couldn’t keep just to bring in a few more paying customers.
No true artist becomes an artist to make a lot money; those who do, usually do not make any and rarely become good artists. However, a performing artist does need some kind of recognition, if it is only a small listening audience who appreciates what they do.
The musician provides a service to the restaurateur; he/she expects to get something in return for that service. Like any job; people will work for low wages if they are made to feel they are appreciated; but few will work for low wages and take abuse any longer than they have to.
Last night I went to a different alternative Songwriters’ Night at a place called Parson Jack’s Café, hosted by my good friend and fellow songwriter Chris Tidestrom. (Video above.) I was pleasantly surprised when the owner of this establishment gave everyone who played a couple of free beers.
As always, it is not size of the gift, but the thought that counts. Here is a restaurant owner who is saying, “I appreciate you coming and playing for free, have these two beers on me.” It is nice that someone appreciates us.
Parson Jack’s is just another noisy bar, just like the other one, but it is less noisy because at the moment it has a smaller clientele. And for me a noisy bar with two free beers, trumps and even noisier one with no free beer.
Footnote to all my regular readers who come here for bike related stuff. I chose to write this today because I have a life outside of the bicycle; this piece is for my many local Charleston friends.
However, on Thursday of this week I will fly out to California to attend the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) held in Sacramento, March 2 – 4.
I am looking forward to seeing many old friends, some I haven’t seen since the 1980s or early 1990s. Also I am looking forward to meeting other friends who until now are virtual friends on Facebook, Twitter, and some who email me from this blog.
If you are attending the NAHBS stop by the FUSO Booth and say hi