one step from pan handling

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Here’s a great post from good friend Dean Drouillard’s site that I somehow missed and came across today. It explains the dichotomy of all musicians sometimes good friend and usually worst foe, the jug……….


…this isn’t a strategic pause in a game of poker. it’s actually a humbling tradition of the bar musician. appearing here is the hand of my good friend ron leary figuring out how to divide coins from the jug between the three musicians who just played a night of music at the local, a west toronto watering hole. the passing of the jug is an unpredictable and misunderstood ritual and its respect can vary between venues. but for some artists and jug wranglers there is art in it – they understand it’s a negotiation. i assure you – nobody WANTS to pass the jug around. but sometimes it’s the only option, if you care about being paid for your work.

my first experience as an audience member with the jug was sometime in the 90s and i was wandering around the lower east side of new york, looking for some music when i found myself in front of the popular singer/songwriter mecca the living room. I grabbed a drink, found a table and had a seat at the back. minding my own business, a customer from the table ahead of me handed the jug (or “pitcher” from where i come from) back to me. i must have looked at him with an expression of, “i’m sorry, i don’t work here.” so he explained quietly under the music that it was for the performers. the sign on the jug said, “$5 suggested donation.” the part of me that had been pleased about finding free live music in new york was quickly deflated. several years later i would find myself a regular recipient of the jug money.
the living room is an established and respected venue for its quality of music and sound quality and the locals know the drill when they enter the door. in toronto the unaccompanied jug floating from table to table would not be a very effective strategy. but i think if it was made clear to bar patrons why there is a person waving a jug in their face everyone would feel less bitter about the whole experience.
i spent 10 years (1999-2009) of sunday nights playing with kevin quain and the mad bastards at the cameron house on queen st. kevin has a lot of experience with collecting the unenforced cover charge. In the introduction of the last song of the set and with commanded audience attention he carefully (and entertainingly) illustrates what is about to happen and why they are about to be asked to throw some “real money” in the bucket, mentioning that if they are planning to throw 35 cents that they should perhaps invest that money and bring it back when it has grown up. you see, thirty-five cents between six musicians doesn’t…  well, i don’t need to explain that, do i? nate mills from run with the kittens is in charge of the task as well. with his band rocking like the end of the world on stage, he shakes himself out to the crowd that is undeniably won over and they all want to meet him. he smiles talks a bit with anyone interested and looks them in the eye instead of at the jug while they deposit whatever they feel is fair. what is fair differs from person to person. there are things to consider: how long you have been there, if you are enjoying the music, how many musicians are playing, and what (this) live music is truly worth to you. realistically, most patrons don’t have this inner dialog in the seconds the jug go by but if they did i think we could all come to a reasonable agreement. the sad truth is that people tend to dig for the small change that they’d be happier wasn’t in their pockets (which often doesn’t even amount to thirty five cents) or shake their heads for you to go away like you are a squeegee kid at an intersection.
the jug ritual is in place for a reason and like i said, it is a horribly humbling experience for an artist who just wants to play music to have to beg strangers to be paid for it.

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