Top 11 signs your band is breaking up

I hope the holiday season has treated you well, that the relatives who gave you that sweater that was two sizes too small saved a receipt, and that you didn’t get sick of Christmas Times a-Comin’ before Christmas time actually came.

There’s something about the week between Christmas and New Years that makes us all obsessed with lists and countdowns. I’m right in there myself, having just hosted a tribute to Bill Monroe on Sirius XM that featured the “top 25 Bill Monroe songs of all time,” something I felt truly honored to have the chance to do.

We also put our New Years resolutions in a tidy list. Here’s one I saw from a professional bluegrass musician friend of mine:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Start smoking again
  3. Quit smoking again
  4. Handle finances better
  5. Try to have some finances in the first place
  6. Practice banjo with a mute
  7. Save my marriage (see number 6.)
  8. Stop making New Year’s resolutions


It seems that in the post-Christmas sea of countdowns of various things, like the top 10 news stories of the year, the top 50 country songs, the top 20 arrogant statements by professional athletes, the top 5 IBMA conspiracy theories, the aforementioned resolutions we never keep, even the 12 days of Christmas themselves from Dec. 25 thru Jan. 5  – by the way, the 8 maids a-milking arrived without cow 1, so they’re just all sitting around the house – what’s often lacking is a countdown that’s really useful in our daily lives.

Since the recent subject of this column has been bluegrass band self-management, I thought I would share a list that I first presented at The Augusta Heritage Center’s bluegrass week: the subject of the list relates to a previous column on band personnel changes.

Some bands are unable to overcome the factors that are leading them, step-by-step to the edge of the cliff, where one more small negative event will send them over the edge to the bluegrass oblivion that awaits. Often these are factors the band members can’t even recognize, but perhaps if they could know the dangers, they might preemptively deal with them and escape the fate of so many bands before them.

Sometimes it starts with the little things that don’t seem significant at the time: poor attitudes, talking behind each other’s backs, band members pointing loaded guns at each other on the bus. But before you realize what’s happening, you could find yourself begging for your old job back—you know, the one you hated.

Here then, to help you to be forewarned and avoid this sad ending, in New Year’s countdown form, are the Top 11 (why not?) Signs Your Band is Breaking Up:

  1. You just pooled your money together to buy a bus.
  2. You’ve gone from staying in separate hotel rooms to staying in separate hotels, preferably in separate cities.
  3. During the last sound check, the bass player said, “I need a lot less of all of those talentless idiots in my monitor.”
  4. The guitar player has become romantically involved with the fiddle player.
  5. The banjo player (who had been married to the mandolin player) has become romantically involved with the bass player.
  6. The dobro player has become romantically involved with no one and has joined a cult.
  7. The guitar player’s wife has begun selling belly dancing instructional videos and homemade pork rinds on the band’s merchandise table.
  8. The lead singer has begun referring to himself in the third person.
  9. Your manager has fled to Mexico with no warning, and he didn’t even bother to steal money from you.
  10. Your booking agent retired from the business 8 months ago, and you didn’t even notice.
  11. You just took a new band publicity photo.


If you see two or more of these telltale signs in 2012, take swift and decisive action, or start looking for work.

One note about #11 on this list: the new band photo is a well-known bluegrass band jinx. If you really need a new photo, I recommend “photoshopping” the new band member’s head over the old member’s body. If the new band member is of a different gender, or weighs 200 pounds less than the previous musician, you may just have to be creative. It’s worth it.

Next week: being your own booking agent, being your own publicist, and being your own dentist.