The "Terminal Tavern"

It should come as little or no surprise that, as an “emerging artist”, I have felt “forced” to play in venues less than wonderful for the musical soul but nonetheless profitable. David Wilcox once described this (quoting, yet another artist, come to think of it) as playing the “Terminal Tavern”. A place the artist plays on his way to “somewhere else” as it were. I had such an evening the other night.

In many ways, it was really a test of my own endurance as a solo performer than anything else. It looked like an auspicious locale to begin with: a small, newly-established, cozy tavern in a small town not too far from my home where the owner personally chose acoustic artists like myself. However, my warning lights should have started flashing when I was directed to a corner of the tavern that had little in the way of lighting while five (5) wide-screen TV’s showed various sports events in progress. Not an ideal situation, but perhaps the evening would improve over the 3-1/2 hours I was scheduled to play. Yep, 3-1/2 hours; Enough to stretch any performer’s memory of repertoire. But, on the other hand I was being paid $150 for my time by the venue owner alone, so . . . .
There were some positive moments during the evening a couple asked if I knew any John Denver as they thought I sounded a bit like him. So, I tried my hand at “Rocky Mountain High” as a request though I hadn’t played it for more than 30 years and they applauded, which was nice. But the vast majority of the time I played as little more than “atmospheric music” while folks watched TV, drank their beers and cocktails, talked among themselves while generally ignoring me. I might as well have been a jukebox. And, of course, there was the obligatory drunk who liked to talk loudly and aggressively towards me and other patrons as well as the patron who wanted to hear “freebird”. .
All of this raises the question of whether the “Terminal Tavern” type of gig is actually, really, worth taking for the “emerging artist”. I made no CD sales, no one seemed to want to converse with me, no one signed my email list and I was generally relegated to the status of background music. Wonderful. Not. But I did make $150 for my time which is not bad. But the gig did nothing to advance my music or myself as a musician (other than stretch my lyric memory skills). On the other hand, perhaps it is important for an emerging artist to play the “Terminal Tavern” for different reasons. Perhaps beyond the money, emerging artists need to remind themselves the differences between a music-supportive venue and a Terminal Tavern. Yes, money is important for any gig, certainly. In a time when many venue owners and presenters take musicians as little more than a commodity, like pork bellies or orange juice concentrate, it is nice to be paid relatively well for a night’s work. But that’s only half of the story to a great gig. On another level, if the music you play is not served by the venue you perform in by introducing it to new activated listeners, your time as an emerging artists may not have been well spent. Lesson learned.
But I did make $150 . . . .
Yours in DADGAD
Rick Gottlieb