You’ll find that if you’re in the bluegrass music business for any length of time, things can and will occasionally go wrong. Mistakes will be made, sometimes through no fault of your own (but who are we kidding?). I’ve found that the difference between mistakes that are just unfortunate and the ones that are downright tragic is an important distinction. A lot of times things can go horribly awry simply because the people making these errors failed to understand exactly what kinds of mistakes will blow over in time, and what will get you into major trouble.
Below is a very incomplete list of missteps you can and can’t get away with in our business:
YOU CAN let your show run over by a few minutes.
YOU CAN’T let your show run over by a few minutes, then for your encore, do the 12 minute Orange Blossom Special medley extravaganza, complete with Hava Nagila, Folsom Prison Blues, and a double time version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
YOU CAN accidentally, as the opening act, do one of the headliner’s songs because you didn’t know better.
YOU CAN’T perform all of the songs from the headliner’s last album because, you know, you really like those songs.
YOU CAN, as event producer, pay the band with a check when cash was promised.
YOU CAN’T pay the band half of what they were promised because it wasn’t a very good night (because of the weather, the price of gas, the Middle East conflict, the 13-year cicadas, etc.).
YOU CAN show up a little late to the sound check one time (how often are they set up by sound check time anyway?)
YOU CAN’T show up late to a sound check (or to anything else) in Switzerland.
YOU CAN sing a bluegrass song containing the lyrics “internet” and “GPS.”
YOU CAN’T sing a bluegrass song containing the lyrics
“She’s the soft naked lady love meant her to be
And she’s moving her body so brave and so free”
(unless you’re Flatt & Scruggs)
YOU CAN fire a band member with no notice. It’s not nice, and it’s not good form, but extreme circumstances can arise, and it happens more than you think.
YOU CAN’T fire a band member with no notice just because you found somebody you like better, or fire a band member with no notice, then leave him or her at a truckstop in Nevada (which also happens more than you think).
YOU CAN wear pajamas on stage if you’re in a jamgrass band, or you’re just very, very old.
YOU CAN’T wear pajamas and a bathrobe on stage unless you’re in a band called “The Bluegrass Hugh Hefners.”
YOU CAN act a little confused at the US/Canada border.
YOU CAN’T claim that you’re not working while carrying boxes of CDs with you and a mandolin player in the trunk.
YOU CAN play Wagon Wheel, when it’s in a club where almost everyone is drunk, yourself included, and someone has offered you money to do it.
YOU CAN’T play Wagon Wheel under any other conceivable circumstances, except perhaps if you’re co-hosting an awards show and it’s actually your song.
YOU CAN, as an MC, get the band’s name wrong once.
YOU CAN’T get the band’s name wrong repeatedly and introduce them before they’re ready to start.
Finally, one for the fans, based on recent experience:
YOU CAN decline to buy an artist’s CD at their table because you think it’s priced too high.
YOU CAN’T argue with artists about their CD price, saying that you “saw it cheaper online.”