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.