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Monday, March 10, 2014

Playing Original Music in the Keys and The newest Bar Tending With Boris

      ^ Listen to this demo of “7 Mile Bridge” while you read the blog!^
(The “7 Mile Bridge” was written the day after Sir Peter Anderson, the Secretary General of the Conch Republic, declared the old bridge Sovereign Territory of The Conch Republic after Cuban rafters landed on the bridge and were sent back to Cuba by U.S. Immigration, as the bridge was not considered “U.S. soil”)


Over on Facebook, my friend Ray West posted the question of why original music is shunned in live music venues. It garnered a lot of replies from both musicians, as well as listeners. A lot of interesting angles were touched on from all involved and Ray poised a fantastic question to a subject that clearly is a curious one indeed. Here’s my take on it:

To begin with, we are here in the Conch Republic, a nation within a nation. A foreign country within the U.S. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When talking with visitors here back when I was in the retail business, I’d say “You know you’re in a different country, right?” and their reply was always something like “You’ve got that right!”. Likewise, in the blog we often post a silly tourist question, a common one heard here is “Do you accept American money here?”

The underlining point here is that there is a very different mentality here in all of the Keys. In a previous blog I highlighted that people up in Key Largo, over one hundred miles (160km) up the road from Key West, will say “I have to go into town” referring to Key West, while Homestead on the mainland, is less than twenty miles up U.S. 1 from there. What I’m stating here is that it’s no different than if someone in Italy near the Swiss border, is going to shop in Italy rather than go to Switzerland, even if they live close to the boarder. Of course they will cross the border from time to time, perhaps for recreation, but for the most part, they’ll stay in Italy. Likewise, France to Spain, Germany to the Czech Republic… it’s only natural. And the same thing happens in the Keys, the Conch Republic, if you will. Why? Because the Conch Republic IS a different country, within the state of Florida and within the United States, all at the same time. However, the underlining point here, of course is, the mentality of the Conch Republic, is its own.

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Now, with the aforementioned in mind, as a tourist/visitor to say Jamaica, and you walk into a bar, do you expect to hear Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, or Bob Marley’s The Redemption Song? You see my point? Fact is, most likely in that situation, you’d be disappointed to hear anything by Van. Nothing against Van, but that’s what you’d expect to hear in any bar in the U.S. So, why wouldn’t people visiting the Conch Republic want to hear music from the Conch Republic? Interestingly enough, on Ray’s Facebook post, the non-musicians expressed an overwhelming desire to hear original music. When I say overwhelming, I’m not kidding. It’s not that they said they didn’t want to hear cover songs, but virtually everyone responding said they wanted to hear original music.

The ones who are most vehemently against original music are bar managers. Of course, not all of them, but maybe 75%. Why? The answer is elementary. Most of these people are good at managing a bar. They did a wonderful job back in Duluth, Georgia, Springfield, Missouri, or Binghamton, New York. However, when they moved to the Keys, the job they took also entailed something that was quite alien to them: Live Music.
So, you have someone who is confident and experienced in their field, they feel that music is no challenge at all. Multiple issues arise here however. They really don’t know anything about music to begin with, but they think they do because it’s part of their new job description. That’s problem #1. Let’s face it, you have someone who, back home in Los Angeles was listening to something like Lady Gaga, then they move here to the Keys, where it’s mostly acoustic based music.  A saying in English we have fits this situation well “Like a fish out of water”. It’s the nature of the beast unfortunately. With cover songs, they are in their comfort zone. With originals, they’re on the high wire without a net and they don’t know how to walk a high wire to begin with.

As for myself, I often do around half of my sets as original music, give or take 10%. I always get supportive reaction from the crowd. Beware, if you’re doing an original song for the first time. Never announce that you’re doing an original song until after you’ve played it! Especially if it’s a new venue, where management is concerned. Additionally, there are people who don’t want to hear original music at all. A musician says “Here’s one of my own songs” someone at a table might say “Oh here we go with some sucky individual who sees themselves as a songwriter” putting a pall on the entire table they’re with, before you even start. Likewise, if the bar manager hears that and sees no reaction when it’s over, it’s not only a major strike against you, but also to any other artist who goes there with original material, in management eyes.

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On the flip side, play your first original song unannounced and be sure to make it one of your best ones. Gauge the reaction at the end. If there is minimal, or no reaction, go on to a popular cover and try another later. What the management and audience know is that they just heard a song they were not familiar with. Later, do another and when you get a good reaction when it’s over, then say it’s an original. The audience is happy and hopefully the management sees it.

Overall however, once I’ve established myself in a set… bear in mind that the audience down here can be completely different every day of the week, fifty two weeks of the year, I get much appreciation for my originals from the people visiting. They are in a very different place geographically and socially from where they’re from and really enjoy hearing music that is from and about the locale they are visiting.

For what it’s worth, that’s my take on it anyway.

Regardless of what genre it is in, if it’s from the Keys, it’s Conch Rock!


Bar Tending with Boris

Bar Tending With Boris continues to strike the funny bone when on the subject of Bar Tending! We've been having a blast while our friends Larry Poff and Michelle Dougan are here for the winter and offering their sailboat "Transition" for us to do the videos on! Thanks Larry and Michelle!!!

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