Author: Campbell, Bruce

Some Hams Can't Be Cured
When I travel on vacation, I try and seek out opportunities to catch live music wherever I go. Some places, like Chicago, LA, Nashville, and Las Vegas have outstanding musicians in the coffeehouses and taverns. Itís not hard to understand why Ė all these places are musical Meccas of one sort or another, and the resulting local talent pool is very deep. Once you get out in the sticks more, the talent is usually less surprising, but not necessarily less enjoyable.

I just returned from a trip to Mexico, and saw live music in most of the places I visited. The proprietors there are the same as here: they understand that live music can draw people in, and keep them there, spending money on drinks and food. I suspect the local amateur musicians encounter the same reluctance on the part of tavern or restaurant owners to pay anything. Several of the musicians said plainly that they played for tips only, but I donít know if they were telling the truth or just appealing to my sympathy. It didnít look to me like a whole lot of money was flying around down there, to be honest.

None of the performances I saw were desultory or perfunctory, though. Every musician I saw gave an earnest, spirited performance. One act was just a keyboard player and a female singer in a tiny (constantly almost empty) bar in a resort. But they played like it was the biggest casino in Vegas, and gave the impression that the sound of 4 hands clapping was a huge ovation. Similarly, a two man combo in a seaside restaurant featured renditions of Beatle and Creedence songs on guitar, pan flute and bongos, and they gave their all on every tune, too.They all revealed the dirty little secret that keeps musicians underpaid: they love what they do. Money means respect, and for some, itís their main source of food on the table or the roof over their heads Ė but if they canít get much money, theyíll play anyways, somewhere. This can make musicians appear eager to be exploited.

The day after I returned home, I played a Farmerís Market, which I donít do very often. Why not? Long hours (youíre usually expected to play for 4 hours), early start (hours are usually 9 AM till 1 in the afternoon), and low pay (mostly tips, with sometimes a stipend from the manager). Add in a sparse and marginally interested audience, and it sure doesnít sound like a very good gig. But I hadnít played ANYWHERE in over a week, and it was a nice day, and what do you know? There was a constant crowd of interested, appreciative onlookers (lots of little kids, who always react wonderfully to live music), and it turned out to be a pretty darn fun way to spend a Sunday morning!

After 7+ days without playing an instrument, I actually relished the burn in my fingers from playing bass for 4 hours. I love playing music, itís true, but I REALLY love playing music in front of people. The only difference between me and a real ham is a real ham can be cured!
Posted:  4/2/2008

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