Greetings from Ireland, where I’m currently on tour.
Have you ever housed a bluegrass band? You know, put them up in your own home after a show, or maybe en route to one?
I was musing on this subject while on this tour because our band was the beneficiary of wonderful hospitality courtesy of Arnie and Sharon Loughrin last week, who host a house concert series in Northern Ireland. They ended up hosting us far longer than expected because the worst winter storm in at least 35 years had hit Ireland, prompting the cancellation of four straight shows, all while our mandolin player Mark Stoffel was stranded in Brussels, then Shannon, Ireland. The Loughrins got more bluegrass band in one stretch than they may have bargained for, and we’re extremely grateful.
Most bluegrass musicians really enjoy this kind of lodging situation as a change of pace. Even the Eagles eventually tired of trashing 5-star hotel rooms and would probably have enjoyed the change too. You meet new and interesting people, experience other people’s homes and way of life, and you’re generally well-taken care of.
Of course it carries risks for both parties: some bluegrass bands are ungrateful or unsociable guests, or they’re painfully high-maintenance, with obscure allergies (water, all vegetables, people, etc.) and diet restrictions (“our mandolin player only eats buckwheat and goose eggs”) which no one mentioned beforehand. Some have a sixth sense about where the most expensive liquor is kept, and quickly drain the supply.
There’s risk, too, for the visiting musicians: some hosts may expect four of the band members to sleep in one bed, with the fifth one on the couch with the two dogs, or some place an unrealistic expectation that their guests will stay up until 3:00 a.m. and jam with their friends after the show they already played, and in spite of their 7:00 a.m. departure time the next day.
Still, for the most part, this often works out well for all concerned. But here’s an important question for the hosts: are you absolutely sure these musicians you’re caring for and feeding are actually part of a working band?
The guesswork is removed when they’ve just played a house concert in your home. Even if it was their only gig this year, at least they were able to play one. Likewise if you’ve just seen them play a show somewhere else that night, and you’re in charge of providing room and board, it’s pretty apparent that this is in fact a professional band.
But what about the ones who call you and ask if they can stay with you for a few days “in between shows”? They also work in a specific meal request (“make sure Nancy makes that catfish we love!”). Think how easy it would be to just travel around the world, taking advantage of kind people’s hospitality long after your band has broken up?
Beware a conversation that goes something like this:
Host: So glad you were passing through our way. Where did you say your upcoming show is? Can we come to it?
Musician: It’s at least a 15 hour drive from here in . . . uh . . . western Nebraska . . . or northern Wyoming.
Host: Oh, Carl and I have been longing for a road trip. We might tag along.
Musician: Oh you’d hate this place. It’s rough. Someone was shot there just last week, and they didn’t even consider it unusual. Unfortunately the money’s good, so we kind of had to take it. We’ll play somewhere nicer and closer next time we see you. I’d skip this one.
Host: Got any new recording projects in the works? I’ve still got your last CD from 12 years ago.
Musician: Yeah, we have all the material set to go, but we’ve been in a dispute with our former label. It’s been years of legal issues. We should be free of that soon. What a business! Man, this catfish is the best yet!
Host: Don’t forget, I made that pineapple upside-down cake you love. Can I get you some more of that hideously expensive 35 year-old bourbon we keep on hand?
Musician: Oh sure, since you mentioned it. By the way, I just got word that our next three shows have been cancelled due to severe winter weather. Is there a chance we can hang here a little longer?
Host: Sure, but the weather’s fine here aside form a little wind.
Musician: This area must have just avoided the path, but this one is really bad. They’re calling it “Winter Storm Fernando.” It’s already dumped 5 feet of snow on Jackson, Mississippi. Pretty serious stuff.
So this “band” will be there for a while, until they move on to their next vulnerable mark. Just consider this a warning.
If, in extreme cases, they don’t actually move on to someone else, and they start acting overfamiliar, possibly even getting their mail forwarded to your house, you may have to enlist professional help:
Well, so long for now from our Ireland tour. We are playing actual gigs over here, I promise. You can check the web site and everything. I’m also writing this from a hotel.