Author: Cornish, Rick

Commensurate Compensation

Hello from our little slice of heaven here on Whiskey Creek. Our local web site,, has promised us a very livable 96 degrees today and I’m feeling very thankful. 2010 has been far and away the coolest summer we’ve had here in Jamestown since we arrived just under ten years ago. I’d like to think the phenomena debunks the global warming crisis, but I have an uneasy feeling it does just the opposite. But like politics, I’ll pass on that subject.

Let me instead share my eleven cents about Dan Bernstein’s post on the Message Board last evening entitled ‘Able to play for a “song” (festival budgets are tight)!’. I’ll start at the beginning….with the poster. What I’ve learned over the years about Dan Bernstein here on the CBA web site is that he doesn’t say a lot, but when he does it’s worth listening too….and responding to on the MB. And I’m happy to say people generally do. Sixteen posts at the time of this writing.

I’m glad Dan clarified his use of the word ‘sanction’…."support, encouragement; approval", though I’d feel even better if he left off the word ‘approval’. The California Bluegrass Association has enough political sharks in the water, (all non-profits with paid memberships do), without having folks suggest, even inadvertently, it has authority over other organizations. That said, I’m 100% positive that I speak for our entire board of directors when I say that the CBA supports and encourages employers of bluegrass bands, from the lowly coffee house owner to the fat cat festival promoter, to offer acts commensurate compensation, in keeping, of course, with the coffee house owner’s and the fat cat’s ability to pay. And, of course, all too often, there’s the rub.

Last Sunday I was one of 9 fat cat promoters who sat for a full two hours trying to figure out how we could pay bands for the 2011 Fathers Day Festival what they deserved and still eek out enough profit to keep the Association going for another year. Of course we failed. Most of we board members are either in working bands or have been in working bands and so what we think bands deserve is, in most cases, more than we’re able to pay them. It is, as Henry so aptly put it on Dan’s thread, what it is.

Dan Bernstein, of course, knows that it is what it is. Following our horrific meltdown in Bakersfield, Dan worked tirelessly with Bob Thomas to help the CBA dig its way out of financial ruin, and he would be the first to tell you that part of that process meant cutting all budget items, including entertainment costs. The FDF immediately following SuperGrass saw fewer acts for less money, but thank God we survived. We delivered a decent product at a fair price, bands knew they got every last dime the Association could afford, and people came. That’s the one good thing you can say about the band compensation issue: in the final analysis, the free market will always be the final arbitrator.

Now, having spoken as a fat cat promoter, let me change hats, speak as someone who’s been in a working band for thirty years, and, as Bruce Campbell did on the thread, tell you what really irks me. Sure, I like getting paid something at least close to what I think the band is worth, but there’s even something worse than not getting commensurate compensation. Once, many years ago, the Grass Menagerie was hired to play an Elks Lodge event up in the hills above Palo Alto….high rent district….and we were paid quite well. Five bills, and this has been twenty years ago. So we finish our first set, the band scatters, and as I step off the stage the woman who hired us, wife of the Grand Elk himself, rushes over to me and explains that during our break we are to, ‘you know, sort of straighten up a bit. Used napkins and cups, dirty paper plates. Please, dear, clear the mess. Oh, and then help yourself to some cookies. I made them myself.’ Which is exactly what I did, one hundred and twenty-five clams being even more a delicacy back then than now, but I didn’t tell my band mates. They wouldn’t have been mad at her, they’d have been mad at me for booking the gig. I’ll bet band leaders can relate to that, too.

Posted:  8/21/2010

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email