Published: Feb 09, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 09, 2013 05:28 PM
The crowd at Motorco was hootin and hollerin for my friends in the band this mountain from Johnson City, Tenn. I was a little jealous, to be honest, and we hadnt even played yet.
One of them had gone to college with one of us, and they brought 70 people out to a show for us in Bristol, Tenn., last November. We wanted to return the favor, but I wasnt sure we could. In East Tennessee, this mountain is at or near the top of the heap, but the heap is a lot bigger in these parts, and my band, The Pinkerton Raid, is buried somewhere in the middle.
I found out pretty late in the game that Motorco had another show scheduled on its Showroom stage. Id booked the Garage stage because I knew it would feel full even if we had only 30 or 40 people there, and playing to a room that feels empty can just suck the energy out of the experience.
But once I heard the other show was a free CD-release party, I felt like we had to make ours free, too, if we were going to compete for the walk-in traffic. So thats what we did, counting on generous tips from whoever might show up in effect, hoping folks just as poor as we are could help defray some of the costs of recording, promoting and sharing music. So not only was this mountain in the hole a couple hundred bucks for their rental van, without even considering fuel, but now we couldnt even count on paying them.
We do it because weve created something, and we want to share it with the world. We do it for the joy and the love and because whether were playing or listening to someone else, nothing feels closer to the heart of what it means to be human than music. But it doesnt make much sense from the cold calculations of an accounting office.
Well, I did manage to book a fantastic opening act, the blues-folksters Bevel Summers, and they brought an entourage of early 20-somethings from the Southern Part of Heaven. And then the other show got cancelled due to someones illness. And then Motorco put the Tar Heel-Wolfpack game on a giant screen in the Showroom. So more than 100 people must have passed through the Garage that night, and good fun was had by all.
A few days earlier, one of the guys in this mountain had asked me if we might be able to give them a bigger share of the tips to help with their travel costs. I was nervous about it because I knew Bevel Summers was trying to pay for time in a recording studio. I told him it wasnt something Id ever run into before.
At a bar we played in Philadelphia, the owner asked every patron which band theyd come to see, planning to pay us only that portion of the collection that we had directly brought in. I explained to him that I had done hours of work to find and recruit the other bands and that if they came to Durham, we would expect to split the take equally with them. But when youre a band, or a bar, or any kind of small business in fierce competition for too few dollars, its really easy for that sense of fairness to fly out the window.
At least when I confronted him, he did make it right sort of. Hed only been charging the cover for people who said they came to see a band, not those who just came in for a drink, so four bands got to split about 80 bucks.
In wild contrast, I had a hunch that this mountain had given us a bigger split in Bristol, and their drummer Andrew confirmed that.
We always do with out-of-town bands, he said. Its a pretty common thing around Johnson City.
After our closing set, Jeb Brinkley from Bevel Summers came up to me with the beer pitcher full of cash his bandmates and some fans had collected during the other sets. He had a little over $100
I think we should give this mountain a bigger cut since theyre on the road, he said.
I think so too, I said, relieved.
That was a moment of humanity thats all too often missing from the business-side of the greatest medium of communication known to humankind. Heres hoping that as our music scene grows , we can stay closer to small-town generosity and steer clear of cutthroat, big-city cynicism. As Jeb and Andrew and others reminded me that weekend, were all in this together.