I learned very quickly the realities of playing in local bars - the rude drunks, the sleazy bar owners who often disappeared when it was time to pay, and the sad fact that bar owners always view musicians as the most expendable employees in the place.
One day I was talking with my dad about this and he said: "Two things to remember. 'If business is good, it's the food! If business is bad, it's the band!' and ALWAYS COUNT THE MONEY!" These turned out to be truly words of wisdom.
For a couple years I did the Ground Round circuit in southern Massachusetts. I don't know if Ground Rounds still exist because there are certainly none around here now - and for good reason. A precursor to the TGIFridays and 99 restaurants of today, they at least hired singles, duos and trios who played primarily listening rather than dancing music. But I swear, there must have been a box on the application for manager of those places where if you checked "asshole" you were sure to get the job. Again, a learning experience but at least I was playing out. Unfortunately, it made becoming cynical about the local music business very easy and I confess that I became one of the bigger cynics around.
The final straw for that period of my musical life came when I went up to New Hampshire during ski season for what I was told would be a decent paying 4-night engagement, only to find that the owner of a very popular place in North Conway intended to pay my less than half what he had agreed to. "I would hire a trained monkey to bang on a guitar if he's do it for $25 a night," he said with a smile. I got back in my car and drove home.
Fortunately, not long after that I was introduced to a fiddle player named Marie Rhines. Over the course of the next three years we played some wonderful concerts, festivals, toured the Pacific Northwest and recorded an album for Philo/Fretless Records. It was and amazing experience and as close as I came to wider recognition. That story will be for tomorrow.
Peace & good music,