Jar Head (The Tip Jar, Part Two)

I went to grad school at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio.  In the nearby city of Dayton, there was a sandwich shop that I would play at about once a month or so.  Once, while playing there, a guy dropped a ten into the tip jar and said, “You remind me so much of Jim Croce!”  I took that as the high praise it was meant to be, and enjoyed the rest of my gig.  About a month or so later, a gal dropped a ten into the tip jar and gushed, “You are so much like Harry Chapin!” Again, I appreciated the compliment.  But about a month or so later, another customer in the sandwich shop dropped a couple of fives into the tip jar and said, “You really remind me of Steve Goodman.”  About this time, I was a little nervous, because, as great as all three of these songwriters are (and I play songs written by all of them), by this time they were all dead.  However, it’s been years since that sandwich shop in Dayton, and I’m still kickin’.

I mentioned in the previous blog post about the Native American tradition of counting coup.  To count coup was to earn honor; typically by showing that you could kill an opponent, but deliberately refraining from doing so.  I realize that the tip jar is a far cry from that tradition as such, but I regard the tip jar as a musician’s form of counting coup.  Getting someone to drop a little something in the jar is a very real and obvious affirmation.  What you are doing as a musician has pleased someone to demonstrate it in a noticeable way.

I was playing at the Feckin’ Brewery, in Oregon City, last Saturday.  Besides being my second time playing at Feckin’it was my birthday, and playing  a gig is definitely one of my preferred ways to mark the occasion.  Within the first twenty minutes of the first set, a guy dropped a twenty into the tip jar and flashed me a big grin (turns out he especially like the blues that I played early on).  In addition to that, when the bartender drops money into your tip jar, I find that a real vote of confidence (after all, they hear everyone who plays there).  And the same with the cook asking to buy a CD; that, too, makes me feel I had a good night.

As I said before, I think it’s important for the venue to show a basic respect to the musicians by paying them  something  for their service.  That leaves the tip jar to serve as a gauge of what sort of energy you bring to the show, and how you do connecting with the audience.

Like I said: counting coup.

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