From The Side of the Road… Juke app invades the world of bluegrass

There’s an intriguing new app that’s recently been developed, designed to both enhance a concert-goer’s experience and make a few extra bucks for the artist at the same time. It’s called Juke, and it was developed and first used in South Bend, Indiana, but there are ambitious plans to take it to major venues in places like New York, San Francisco, Nashville, possibly even Terre Haute.

Griffin Eaton is the brains behind the project, which is essentially an app that audience members can use to make requests of the band on stage, sort of a live juke box concept. The band benefits, too, however, because all requests are made for a financial contribution (there’s no free Rocky Top here).

Eaton described his experience seeing an artist on stage who was performing mostly originals: “I remember thinking . . . I would love to hear how he made any song his own, because he had a unique voice . . . I would pay him $100 right now to play some cover but I didn’t know what covers he could play. I didn’t have cash on me . . . and it is awkward to go up to the band.”

Just a side note here that any audience member who feels awkward going up to the band while they’re playing and who is also willing to give them 100 bucks for a request should be bronzed or bottled, or should just be encouraged to reproduce abundantly to create a new generation of fans like that.

The Juke app, though, helps foster that artist/fan relationship without the rash measures just mentioned: a QR code is set up at the concert, fans scan it to bring up a menu just as we’ve all done at some point in restaurants in the COVID era. There attendees can choose from potential covers or originals, all with some sort of price attached. The band can either perform them or not, I guess, but the band gets the message and the request during the show, accommodates the fans, if it chooses to, and fans feel more involved in the show and the musicians enjoy the interaction, too. It’s also hoped that the financial compensation will help make up some of the losses brought about by dwindling music sales and the COVID years in general.

Songs aren’t the only options, necessarily, either. Fans may also have the chance to request certain “experiences” or enhancements to the show like a personal dedication, a bass solo, or as the article I read about the app described it, “a personal serenade at their table” (often awkward), and those options are decided on in advance by the artist.

This is certainly a promising idea that might be a welcome development for both artists and members of the audience, but I would say some nagging questions remain:

Are these requests answered giving priority to those who paid more? Is that fair to poorer audience members (e.g. fellow musicians)?

What about an audience member who just made a killing that week in pork belly futures, who makes 85 requests and tips handsomely for all of them? Do you answer them all?

Does this new system become the new default, leaving behind older audience members who either don’t have smart phones or can’t figure out how to operate the smart phones they have? Would this mean the end of coming up to the band and shouting a request and handing them a ten dollar bill (usually to whoever is singing or playing a break at the time)?

Perhaps most importantly, who checks this app on stage? The person in the band who does most of the MC work? Do we really want to see the lead singer checking his or her phone during the show?

Deciding what options to list on the app for a bluegrass band and how to price them would take a lot of thought. Here’s what might serve as a starting point, anyway:

Blue Dryfting Thyngs – Concert Menu – September 24, 2022:

  • Title track of band’s new album, Enough With The Moonshine Already – $5.00
  • Any other song from new album with personal dedication: – $5.00
  • Title track of band’s debut album, Now It’s Us – $10.00 (we’re kind of tired of it)

Standard requests:

  • Any Stanley Brothers song of band’s choice: $2.00
  • Except Rank Stranger – $10.00 (for difficulty)
  • Barbara Allen – $25.00 (for length)
  • Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms – $15.00
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken – $15.00
  • Foggy Mountain Breakdown – $20.00
  • Fox On the Run – $25.00
  • Rocky Top – $35.00
  • Dueling Banjos – $35.00
  • I Cain’t Say No – $50.00
  • Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – $100.00
  • Wagon Wheel – $3,500.00
  • Wagon Wheel translated into Dutch – $500.00

Experiences and other requests:

  • Lead singer sings the “geese fly south” verse of Old Home Place looking only at me the entire time – $40.00
  • Slap bass break on Bury Me Beneath the Willow – $50.00
  • Extended jam mandolin break on Bringing Mary Home – $100.00
  • Take band set list home – $20.00
  • Take lead singer’s shirt home – $40.00
  • Take sweaty stage towel home – Free
  • Dance on stage with band during encore – $500.00
  • Feed band after show – Free
  • Go on date with fiddle player – $100.00
  • Bear the bass player’s children – ($-1,500.00)
  • Give the band a 15-minute musical critique immediately after the show – $300.00

Please enter credit card information at checkout.