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« Back from NAHBS | Main | Does the UCI stifle innovation? »
Tuesday
Feb282012

Just a human juke-box

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.

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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

 

                         

Reader Comments (4)

Nice diversion and have fun at NHAHBS. Keep us up to date on the FUSO and look forward to your reviews on the exhibits.

Here's another musician to enjoy, son of a good friend and someone I've known since he was just a child: http://mattmorgan.fourfour.com/home

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I enjoyed the diversion from all things bike. Musician I'm not, though can strum a few chords on guitar - usually through a distortion pedal. I have some friends who are musicians, some in the pro audio industry as well.

I always appreciate people putting their art out there - being music, photography, drawing, writing - whatever it may be. I find a pretty good cross over of cyclists also into music, art, and other creative means. Similar thinking and outlook.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

The only "successful" band I was ever in played 90% covers in the VFW, Legion, Honky Tonk market. I define successful as making enough money to pay for the equipment. We sarcastically referred to it as "whoring."
Most owners are decent so long as you are bringing a following, but there sure are a lot of jerk bar owners out there.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdoc

One man’s ceiling . . .
Open mic nights

We’ve beaten, drummed and pounded sticks against stone since the dawn of human history. Clubs, branches, antelope hooves and dry bones have rattled or been driven, thumped and rattled against anything and everything resonant; hollow trees, rocks or, perhaps, even an empty skull or two; vacant then except for its ability to produce that rhythmic calliope we think we find so necessary to fuel our camaraderie, that joining of spirits and souls that occupies so much of our wishful consciousness.

It’s in our DNA, this camaraderie. Much akin to like particles tumbling through empty space, we’re drawn to each other by this ancient, psychic bond; that ingrained need to be together formed in us through our earliest ancestors. Our strength has always been in our numbers and our camaraderie has served as a hedge against loneliness as well; this handholding with the hopeful as we gather to celebrate other like-particles such as ourselves and celebrate our successes.

And we grew. We became more sophisticated. Goatskin stretched over a wooden frame replaced that errant skull (well, in most places), a human radius bone worked great as a drumstick – make it two and you got yourself a genuine Buddy Rich! Point is, this gathering of souls around music and huddled in smoke-filled rooms is as old as our species itself. Only the music is changed.

I grew into adolescence under the tent of the Big Band era of the forties and early fifties. Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett – generationally, all my father’s music. Their camaraderie over their music formed a great deal of the “glue” that held their like-particles together. Their music was their common thread, their security and contained the expression of their passion for them very much like our music does for us today. But time marches on.

Late 50’s. The Kingston Trio, The Lettermen, The Weavers, Pete Seeger picking up the anthems Woody & Leadbelly left behind and driving them right through our comfortable, middle-class souls. Then Joan Baez with her sheik scruffyness wailing “Barbara Allen”. Dylan with “The Masters Of War” & we were hooked. Cisco Huston, Pat Sky, early Richie Havens; it was our turn, Goddamn it! Our generation! “Move Over, Pop! The times they are-a changin’!” The great shift in our generational camaraderie came precisely because of our music, and everybody knew it. These were OUR issues and OUR causes and we cared about them so much that when our camaraderie came a-callin’ we gathered in coffee houses in NYC and then across the land and celebrated the unique vision of our brave, new world. The weight of our beliefs forced our gatherings of camaraderie to be silent and respectful of the ideas and the ideals that were being vocalized. Old drums were being replaced by new ideas.

Today? Camaraderie? Music in a bar? You gotta be kidding. Truth is: It’s the same, smoke-filled room joined by that same old need for camaraderie that we’ve always embraced throughout the centuries, and if there’s any point of differentiation between now and back then it’s in the reality that this current sing-along, with its rather limp-dick message, doesn’t do much to galvanize an audience, does it? Pop music hasn’t really changed a great deal over the last couple of decades and has not offered much for the faithful to believe in – especially in the area of believing in a fresh sound, one that’s different and unique to them.

So . . . I, along with other like-particles, continue to stumble along and try to make the best of this current situation while I still try to glean the whole truth from that single grain of wisdom uttered by Saul Bellow back in the sixties. He and his wife were in NYC when his Nobel Prize for Literature was announced. Somehow the press found out he was in town and staying at a local hotel. They camped out in the lobby and made genuine pests out of themselves until Mr. Bellow relented and allowed a small party of them up to his room for a short interview. One cub reporter asked the obligatory question, “How does it make you feel to win the Nobel Prize, Mr. Bellow?” Not missing a beat Saul replied, “Well, the child in me is delighted but the adult in me really doesn’t give a damn.”

. . . and I’ve been wrestling with that comment for nigh-on forty-five years now, and have felt the push-pull from both sides. Sure, the child in me would like the attention, the adoration, but the adult in me? Hell, I’d just as soon have another beer. Especially if they’re free.

... is another man’s floor.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Boyd

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