It occurred to me that while I was sounding off about types of gigs that bluegrass bands should avoid, I was perhaps giving the impression I was trying to exclude whole categories of work for a bluegrass band, with no exceptions. As many of us know, it’s good to be flexible, and more importantly, excessive pickiness about the kind of work we’re willing to do can lead to a calendar that’s less full than it could be, and this can have serious consequences.
No one likes to see a solid four-figure income dip back into the high three figures, and bluegrass musicians aren’t the only ones who will suffer from this kind of squeeze on our normally lavish lifestyle. Soon it affects the makers of bluegrass music accessories, like mandolin straps, capos and digital tuners. Before long, those companies will have to lay off workers. Those workers will then cancel their plans to buy new vehicles and washing machines, and there we are as a nation, right back in the depths of a recession, all because we didn’t feel like playing a few gigs that didn’t meet our high standards.
To provide some balance, I probably should have pointed out in the last two columns that it isn’t all bad to play for a crowd of people who secretly (or openly) wish you were playing some other kind of music, or just wish you weren’t there at all. I know I’ve certainly had a few performances in which I would have preferred that the crowd be talking loudly amongst themselves while doing their best to put away their chicken-like entree, instead of hanging on every note I was playing.
So, if you’re going to take a few private gigs, like conventions, the least I can do is recommend a few worthy organizations that are more pleasant than most to work for.
Note: You’ll notice that some of the associations listed below have pretty cumbersome acronyms. Fortunately, we in the bluegrass community are used to this. We have organizations like SPBGMA (pronounced “SPIG-ma”, the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America), MBOTMA (pronounced “Meh-BOT-ma,” the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association, and of course the BANUATTPOW (pronounced “Ba-NOO-at-pow,” the Bluegrass Association of Northern Utah And a Teeny Tiny Portion Of Wyoming). I have the highest regard for these organizations, and I’ve had the pleasure of playing shows for most of them, but you have to admit that these acronyms don’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Here are a few I’ve had some experience with, and these are all organizations I wouldn’t hesitate to work for again.
SOGP (pronounced “SOG-up”: The Society of Overly Generous People
This gig paid very well, and the people were great to play for. The buffet was amazing, and we were encouraged to go up as often as we liked (I think one of our band members is still there). There was an open bar, they paid us double what they had been contracted for, and we were each given an expensive Swiss wristwatch at the end of the night. I wouldn’t turn this one down.
I had a similar experience with this next group when we played their annual convention:
APWLSBMWM (pronounced “Apples-BIM-wim”): Association of People Who Love Showering Bluegrass Musicians With Money
I know it breaks a rule among artists to tell what we were paid for any given gig, but I don’t mind telling you that the above organization paid us $15,000 (plus expenses) to play their annual convention. We were supposed to play two sets, but the event organizer said that it’s likely that we’d be tipped hatfuls of $100 bills to play a little longer. I was personally offered $1000 to sing Wagon Wheel, and after I explained that I don’t really know it, they said to just keep the money and play whatever I felt like.
Though many are cautious about admitting it later, I know a number of male bluegrass bands who have enjoyed playing for the IOIBWATTBIS (pronounced “Eye-oy-BWAT-bis”): The International Organization of Incredibly Beautiful Women Who Actually Think The Banjo Is Sexy.
You’ll notice I didn’t specify how many members this organization has.
Similarly, I spoke with a member of an all-female bluegrass band that never misses the annual convention of the SOBHYMWLOTGBRACTFBGM (pronounced “Sob-him-we-lot-ge-BRACT-fa-BIG-um”): The Society of Brilliant and Handsome Young Men Who Live Only To Give Backrubs And Chocolate To Female Bluegrass Musicians.
I asked my friend if she would mind divulging how much she and her band were paid for this job, and she said “I don’t remember and don’t really care.”
BEJWIWTMLTIASCANL (pronounced “Beh-je-WHY-wit-multi-ass-CAN-el”: Bluegrass Enthusiasts of Jonesboro Who Inspire Well-Travelled Musicians to Lead Truly Interesting and Successful Careers And Normal(ish) Lives
This is an inspirational self-help group that’s really good at what they do, though they clearly need someone else’s help and inspiration in coming up with a catchy acronym. We felt very good about ourselves after playing this one and didn’t even care that CD sales were low.
Lest I get overly positive about conventions and other private work, I would recommend steering clear of a few of these groups and their annual events. On the plus side, they have better acronyms:
ISOLABS (“Iso-labs”): It sounds vaguely scientific, but in fact it stands for the International Society of Loud and Belligerent Souses. Some of their members may frequent the bar gigs I was referring to a couple of weeks ago.
NAAHS (“Naahs”): North American Association of the Hyper-Sensitive. This politically correct group will likely take offense at most of your lyrics as soon as they figure out that bluegrass songs are just as violent as any “gangsta rap” ever hoped to be, seeming to suggest that being turned down by a woman is reasonable grounds to chuck her in the nearest river. If you do play this convention, I suggest making your lyrics as unintelligible as possible (many bluegrass singers already do this).
AGOWG (just sound out the letters; anything else makes them mad): Association of Grumpy Old White Guys. The post-election analysts have been telling us that their numbers are in decline across the country, reducing their political clout, which only serves to make them grumpier. If you do play for these guys, I would couch all your song introductions in negative terms: “This next song was done by Flatt & Scruggs, before they started selling out and ruining bluegrass.” They’ll enjoy that. You’ve probably played one of their conventions and not even realized it.
SNORES (“Snores”): Society of Numbing Orators (who) Refuse to Ever Stop
This is a group of people who were banned from all Toastmasters events for being too boring. This was one of the longest five hours of my life. Eventually I sought revenge and decided to make our entire second set one long introduction of Lonesome Road Blues.
Next week: Performing gospel quartets under water, and breaking news about new technology that will make all singing (and breathing) unnecessary.