Saturday, January 16, 2010

Our Life in the Music Industry

Our dearly departed restaurant, hereafter referred to as Good Eats, had a wonderful, large patio with plenty of space for live music. And live music is big here. Or so we were told. Having never booked musical acts before, I thought long and hard about the process: pay, contracts, licensing, managers, booking agencies. Come to find out, I thought way too much. In the end, we posted some trial ads on Craigslist. Bands came pouring out of the hills, clawing at each other in desperation to play on our restaurant patio.

Negotiations were easy as well. “This is how much we pay,” we’d say, and 99% of the time, the bands said “Okay.” Of course we couldn’t afford much, nor could we charge a cover because of the unfenced courtyard layout, so we usually just ended up with two people playing guitars and singing.

We were very lucky in finding a couple of good acts right off considering we were going on ad responses or maybe hearing just a few songs on their myspace pages. But then there were the acts that made us glad we don’t have to deal with booking bands anymore since Good Eats’ demise. Such as . . .

. . . Desperately needing to fill a sudden vacant spot in our schedule, we contacted a guy who had responded to one of our ads. He had no songs for us to listen to but he promised he played Americana and sounded a lot like Buddy Holly. He showed up with what I thought was his drummer carrying a small wooden box. I showed them where to set up; the “drummer” set his box down then sat in a chair while Buddy Holly II set up his amps and whatnot.

“Maybe he has a set of bongos in that box,” I thought to myself as I watched the drummer sitting and smoking. After a quick sound check from Buddy, they started the show with the drummer sitting on the box and pounding out a rhythm with his hands on the box. I remember calling St. Pauli Girl and saying, “Yeah, he showed up. With a, uh, boxer.” It was weird, but the music wasn’t half-bad. As far as the singer sounding like Buddy Holly, he kinda did—if you consider it the voice of a dead Buddy Holly that has been decomposing for 40 years.

. . . Then there was the commensurate professional musician that visited us one day. He informed us that we couldn’t afford him, but he’d like to talk to us about getting the music up and running. He gave us some ideas and came back fairly often, which was odd for someone so expensive. Finally, he revealed to us he wanted to play there by himself without his band. So we gave him the standard rate. He was a no show. We never saw him again.

. . . And once, we somehow booked a 7-piece blues band for $200! They were good, and we liked them. We called back a week later wanting to book them again. The guy we dealt with before told us we had to call another guy because he wasn’t allowed to book the band anymore. Apparently, the band didn’t know they were playing for only $200 until after the show. It seems the ex-booker didn’t know he was supposed to negotiate a minimum rate for the band.

. . . Bands and musicians seemed to materialize on our doorstep, dropping off CDs or just flat out asking if they could play: one guy told us he would play just for tips because he was only in town for a short time and wanted to play with his son who lived there. Sure, no problem. We didn’t know what to expect from the gravel-voiced man who seemed to have weathered a lot of miles. Turned out he was good, but even better was his son who played the drums and bass at the same time and sang! It was a fantastic night with a good crowd, and everyone had a great time. I approached the son after the show, complimented him and told him he could come back anytime. “Sorry, I just do this for fun. Just a little side hobby.”

. . . Then finally, there was the notorious bandleader who never let the lack of a booking stop him from performing. Just for fun, we’ll call him Nelson Riddle. Nelson had a hard working band that played in clubs all over the area. But he really wanted to play on our patio. He begged and pleaded with St. Pauli Girl who finally agreed for him to do a short trial performance for free. The band was loud, un-interesting, and had a song list we didn’t want to force on our Saturday night patrons. In fact, St. Pauli Girl hid in the office all night.

After his band’s “audition,” Nelson kept coming back wanting to play again (and for actual money), but we politely declined. And declined. And declined.

In April, the town had its annual spring fling festival which attracted a lot of tourists. To get in the spirit, we booked some bands for the weekend. The Tuesday before, Nelson Riddle came into the bar and talked with our manager, Eduardo, and they shook hands. Nelson said, “See you on Saturday.” We asked Eduardo what he was talking about, and he just shrugged, “Guess he’ll be at the spring fling.”

On Saturday night, as things were hopping in the restaurant, a pick-up truck rolled up onto the patio. A couple of guys jumped out and started setting up a drum kit on the patio. St. Pauli Girl ran out to ask what they were doing. “We’re the Nelson Riddle Band setting up for the gig,” they said. At that point, Nelson Riddle came walking up the sidewalk. St. Pauli Girl asked him, “Who booked you?” Nelson stammered, “Your husband.” She took him by the arm and dragged him up to me in the restaurant. “Did you book him?” she asked me. Nelson jumped in, “Oh no, no, not him. It was your son, the manager.” She pulled him over to Eduardo, “Did you book him?” Eduardo shook his head.

Nelson panicked. “Obviously there’s some misunderstanding. But it’s no big deal. I play anyway.” A furious St. Pauli Girl responded, “No, we don’t want a band tonight.”

Nelson left for a few minutes and sat with his band on the patio. After awhile he came back in and said, “Look the guys are here, we really want to play. We’ll play for tips.”

“No. Get out.”

The band was still sitting on the patio. In our bar, I talked to a gentleman who used to have a night club in town. “Oh yeah, Nelson always does this,” he said. “At one club, he’d just show up, and I’d show him where he wasn’t on the calendar. He’d suggest I forgot to write it down and try to play anyway. But the scary one was his wife! She accosted me in Walmart one day and cussed me up one side and down the other for not letting Nelson play.”

Finally, the band packed up and prepared to leave. One by one the band members came into the bar and flipped off Eduardo, who they’d decided to blame. (At some point wouldn’t you get suspicious if your bandleader kept dragging you to places that seemed to have forgotten they booked you? You’d think.)

After they were gone, I saw a distraught St. Pauli Girl coming back from the restroom. “She followed me in there,” she said. “Nelson’s wife. She started yelling at me, saying that Nelson was a fine man who didn’t need to be treated that way. She said I didn’t have to be so mean! I tried to leave but she blocked the door. I thought she was going to punch me, but she just kept yelling. Finally she left and slammed the door.”

Nelson still plays around town. We suspect sometimes he’s even actually booked. I’m sure his wife thinks the closing of Good Eats was righteous karma for the way we treated him. That’s okay with me. I like not having to deal with people like Nelson. Or the customer who demanded enchiladas one night even though they weren’t on the menu at Good Eats. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog.

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