Session in distress

Session in distress

We in LA have a bit of a problem. One of our sessions is too good. At this point you think I’m crazy, but hear me out. This session has been going for a couple of years now and is in a restaurant/pub in Santa Monica. It’s in an ideal place, they give us free drinks, the manager is a great guy, the people who work there were always on our side. Then word spread about this great session and things got out of hand.

We only have a small area for the musicians. Only 8 to 12 people (depending on their instruments) can fit in the given space without blocking the walkway for the waiters. Recently we have had up to twenty musicians showing up wanting to play. They are usually people who have come before once or twice, and were, ofcourse, perfectly welcome then. Now they set up where they think they can (in the aisle, blocking the waiters) and play. Because the session gets so big we have trouble hearing across the session (It’s a loud pub). And, ofcourse, they order drinks. Now the restaurant owner doesn’t like us very much. The way they see it, we block the aisles, cost too much in drinks and take too many chairs away from paying customers. The manager wants to keep us, but he has to please the owner too, so he told the session leaders to cut down the number of musicians.

Here is the problem.

How do you tell people not to come to a great session anymore when there isn’t another one as good within decent driving distance? Who decides who can stay and who can’t? If you go with the "first come first serve and if it’s full, no more" method, what do you tell to the good musician who just spent the last hour on the 405 parking lot (*ahem* I mean freeway), when he arives 13th because traffic was so bad? (Yes, most people do drive a ways to get there) If you do the "swap out" method, where do you put the people waiting to be swapped in? Do the people waiting on the outside get free drinks? Do we limit the number of drinks each person gets? Do we split the session? There is room in the back corner for musicians, but the accoustics are terrible, it’s away from the windows and quite stuffy. If so, who decides who gets to play in the front corner and who has to go to the back?

Unfortunately the session leaders have already taken action. It was not tactful and it offended many people. Now they are looking for a better solution. Any good suggestions would be helpful and I will pass them on to the session leaders.

I was lucky enough to not be present when all the drama took place, and I probably won’t go back down there until things are resolved (I definitely don’t want to add to the problem). I am good friends with almost all the musicians involved and, on a whole, they’re a decent, resonable group. I really want to salvage this session. Until about a month ago, it was the best thing for ITM in LA. Any help would be most welcome.

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Two approaches spring to mind - which can be carried out in tandem.

1) Get the phone #’s and emails of those most worthy contributors. Then close the session down. Then start it up again a month or 2 later, telling only those that are contactable as per above. This should at least provide a hiatus for the session’s almost exponential growth.

2) Start a new session elsewhere. There is obviously the demand for this among local musicians. The problem is trying to get another suitable venue. I’ve only ever spent a couple of days in Sta. Monica, many years ago, and although I got the impression it was a kind of surfer’s hang-out, it seemed lively enough to have a few nice little back-street bars that could do with some livening up! - I may well be miles off the mark for nowadays, though. The trouble there is someone has to do the footwork and go into bars, "cold", as it were, and just ask if they would like some irish music — but that *has* worked for me in the past, although SM isn’t London, which has a huge "Irish" population, 1st, 2nd & 3rd generation, who love the stuff.

Hoping you resolve this problem.

Danny

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Yep, I second Danny, start another session, preferably on a different night, maybe even in the same pub.

Other details: it’s easy enough to limit musos to two or three free drinks, and beer at that (if you want whiskey, pay for it). In my book, the session leader(s) should take responsibility for communicating with the pub owner/manager and making sure no one’s feeling taken advantage of. That’s a weekly, ongoing job, but well worth doing if you want the doors to stay open to your session.

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We had a problem where one night we drank $400 worth of pints! Needless to say management wasnt too happy with that, especially as they also pay 4 of the muso’s, so now they give us 30 free pints a night - which is grand cause half the people drive anyways - so there is plenty to go around. In regards to having too many people at the session - ours is in a small space as well so I know what you mean when there is too many people crammed in. You could try limiting the pints to only the regulars, and maybe just give one or two to musicians who come irregurlarly or are just passing through. I agree with Danny’s suggestions to either shut the session down and then re-start as a closed session or move somewhere bigger. Its a bit of a hard situation. Good luck.

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I agee with the idea of starting a new session in the same pub but on a different night. Also, the idea of limiting the drinks is great. Maybe you can even tell the mangaer to cut the free drinks, just so that he feels better about the whole situation. It wouldn’t be that much of a crisis if people had to pay for their stuff I mean, the manager is already giving you a place to hold the sessions… Limiting the number of players wouldn’t be good, it’ll divide the folk/celtic (whatever it is) community into the can go/can’t go sections. That won’t make anyone happy in the long run, plus any newcomers won’t get a chance to meet fellow folkies. Well, best of luck to you!

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Danny,

In response to "1)", how do you decide who is worthy? This session is already just the better musicians in LA, plus the locals (some of which are among the best) who can’t travel for other sessions. It started as an "invite only" session. More intitations were given out than seats because most of us can’t come every week. Add to that the fact that we really all are good friends. Could you go to a session that a good friend has been excluded from and keep it secret from them? I know I couldn’t.

In response to "2)", this is the "session elsewhere". It took months to find a place to have us. Most pubs either want a plugged in band or nothing at all. We are still looking for another place to replace another session that shut down recently.

Will,

We already have another session at the same place on a different night. That was our original solution to the problem months ago. The newer one is on a weeknight so we haven’t had a problem. Different people usually go to each session with only a few crossovers. The problem is that there are just too many of us, even without the people that frequent the "open" sessions.

Thanks for the drink suggestion. Similar things have been talked about. Unfortunately our biggest problem is space.

um.. sorry that’s "Most invitations".

Sarah,
Sorry, we probably posted at the same time.
A lot of us do go to the open sessions as well so there is a connect between levels of players. Newbies are always welcomed at these other sessions and from there are directed to the sessions where they will fit in the best. There are also many house partys where all are welcome so there is definitely a connect between levels.

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Hmm - I know I wouldnt be happy if our session stopped giving out free drinks. If you think about the fact I have to catch 2 buses to get there and it can take up to an hour depending on if you miss the bus or not, then I have to spend $20 on a cab fare home. I think paying for drinks as well is a bit rich - especially as we always get lots of people coming in for a listen. The pub gets off quite lightly in terms of paying the musicians in drink. A live band would cost heaps more. Noooo way would I travel that far if there werent free drinks.

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Hi Kira,

we have the same problem here in San Diego at the Field. Usually, many more players would like to play than there is space. At this session, there is a group of core players that are welcome every Sunday. I think these are about 5 or 6, but not all of them show up every week. The rest of the players are welcome every three to four weeks (but I don’t think they keep a record on everyone πŸ˜‰ ). Although I personally never have had any problem (I was initiated to this rule right from the beginning and everybody was and is always friendly), other people feel treated badly when they are told not to come every time, along the lines of "who do they think they are". But anyone who’s played there when 15 people squeeze into a space just about big enough for 8 should understand the desire to keep it small - it’s no fun having to ask the punter standing right behind you constantly for more space for your bow arm, or sitting kind of twisted and sideways so that more players can fit in the small circle. From that comment, however, you can see that although people don’t go there every week, there’s still too many people on many occasions.

But I must say that being "allowed" only to play once a month or so does not help to develop the kind of community spirit that can develop in other sessions - maybe, subconsciously, it is always "them" (the core people) and the rest of us. And although I love playing with these guys, I have stopped going there pretty much since on the same day, there’s another small session with not too many people that has evolved quite nicely over the last year. Generally, there is a nicer atmosphere, at least in my opinion (and it’s much more comfortable).

I think for the core people, those that started the session and have kept it going for many years, it works. Maybe something like this can work in your case? I would think that most people realize that it’s a space issue and not a personal judgement of musicianship or personality (at least in most cases πŸ™‚ ). If the only alternative is ruining a great session… nobody would want that.

Keep looking for other venues. We recently couldn’t play at our regular pub and just wandered in to the pub/restaurant around the corner (quite a luxury, two Irish pubs that closely together). We asked them whether they would mind us playing (it was only 4 of us). Puzzled faces, "I don’t think so, well, I don’t know," the manager was called and consulted, and then, 15 minutes later, we were allowed to play outside on the patio until the football game was over - it was obvious, however, that they had no idea what to do with us. We had a bunch of people stay outside to listen instead of going inside. When we were leaving, we were invited to come back any time - I guess the guests mentioned that they liked the music (and I’m sure the manager liked that one of them bought us drinks). They just had no clue what to expect in the beginning. If we had asked them over the phone or just a theoretical question whether they would like some live music in the future, they probably would have said no. Maybe you can send out a couple of scouting teams with their instruments and ready to go… and make sure that the pub doesn’t have anything regular scheduled on that day. Or maybe record a good session to give them some idea what it would be like. Maybe you can send in some of you as "disguised" as punters to express their interest in live music even before you show up. "What, you don’t have a session here? Let’s go somewhere else!" If you prepare the ground like this for one or two weeks, that might work… πŸ˜‰

Good luck!

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@ first sight danny

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I think most of the suggestions are worth considering here. Another idea would be to rotate the session - if everyone is good and you can’t find an obvious "core"… have the first 7 people who show up play - everyone else can sit as a paying/listening customer for the first hour (or two or whatever)… Then swap out. You might find that some people prefer to come earlier, some prefer to come later.

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Kira, when you say the session leaders offended many people, and that now they’re looking for a better solution, exactly how offended were people? Would they be adverse to a come-all-ye house session wherein you guys could talk about how to deal with this? Ultimately, it’s going to be up to you players as to how to deal with this.

If I was in your place, I’d just remind people that what got y’all into trouble in the first place was lack of good manners in regards to your hosts. If in the future, no matter how many people show up, each and every son/daughter Jack and Jill of you should make it a personal crusade to be sure the session doesn’t get in the way of patrons, staff, and owner — that’s why you’re there, after all, because they’re in business to be in business. If everyone is willing to stick by that, then you’ll have no problems.

Zina

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I guess I would limit the drinks and tell all those who show up ( have a general announcement in an email) that there will only be allowed a certain amount of folks due to space capacity: first come first play. I would also ask the owner if he/she were willing to have another night. Frankly, a session is fun for the audience but it isn’t a performance. The musicians are not there for the onlookers and have little responsibility to them except to keep the music flowing. I see nothing wrong with asking the musicians to buy drinks after one or two and to buy their dinner there so the owner doesn’t lose out finacially. Taking away space and chairs from paying customers is bad business, and you’ll want to make sure it is a win for everyone. Good luck

Jenn

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When you live in a town that’s not immersed in Irish and session culture, it’s not so easy to find a willing session venue. I shopped around all the pubs and many of the restaurants in our town, and most replied the same way: "We don’t want a bunch of amateurs scraping away and scaring off the customers. If you’re not a band, with a polished (or at least rehearsed) show, we’re not interested."

Honestly, I can see their point. Let’s face it—we’re not talking a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert here. Our session has some terrific players, and people come up to us all the time remarking about how good the music is, even better than some of the bands around town. But we also play by the seat of our pants most nights—we never know who is going to show up (and sometimes more importantly who will be a no show), whether the energy level will be high or dragging, or even whether we’ll survive any given string of tunes without a trainwreck. So it’s a wonderful session, but not much of a performance (unless you’re into improv comedy πŸ™‚.

It’s also "Irish music." To most people, it’s whiny, acoustic, out-dated, foreign, and all sounds the same. At best, it’s a novelty, not something they want in their bar every week.

We were lucky—a local micro-brewery liked the "community-building" aspect of hosting the session in their taproom. They had some say in our being an open session. And we’ve had an occasional problem fitting all the players and punters into this fairly small room. But we’ve also stuffed the waitresses tip jar every night, kept a weekly conversation going with the owners, and included them on our session email list that goes out every week—so they always know what’s happening. And most of us also limit ourselves to one or two drinks (in part because the porter is so potent—8.5% alcohol—that the music audibly suffers after three pints).

It strikes me that you’re looking for a place big enough to sit all the interested players—which is a different animal than a small, high-caliber session. It’s great that all these folks want to play together and so show up on the same night. But if the venue isn’t big enough, you’re stuck.

Other options we’ve used:
Occasionally playing out at a coffeehouse or other bar—we have two or three other places that are willing to host Irish music if it’s just a few times a year.
Sporadic house sessions.
Sessions in other public places—a downtown outdoor performance park in the summer, and the local college.
Sessions in conjunction with events put on by the local step dance school.

Some of these let us bring our own beer, some of them discourage that. Some of them are small venues, so the crowding problem rears its head again, but some are huge halls—we’ve had *too much* room at some.

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This was the subject of talk this weekend; a new session venue (like across the street, even??) would be most welcome- I’d love to see something out in north orange county-hint hint, need something for us less experienced. I can’t believe that all the ITM is out on the west side.

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House sessions. BYO. We’ve done this; it’s great.

—-Michael B.

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Maybe it’s time people started paying for their drinks? If nothing else, to be good guests? Might separate the serious from the social …. We always make sure to at least leave a good tip for the staff after every session or gig; it’s the least we can do since they’re so kind to give us a venue.

Just a thought …..

cat.

Oh, and house sessions are a blast. We actually have some regional ones around here; people will drive up to 2 1/2 hours to get to a good one on a weekend. Everyone brings food & drink …. Best of all, you can go as late as the neighbors will stand. πŸ™‚

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If people can’t be bothered to go to a session unless there are free drinks then you’re not a real musician. Sessions aren’t about the free beer. They’re about getting together with people who share your interests to enjoy playing music together. Don’t go only for the beer, that’s not what it’s about. It’s too bad that some people think that way.

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I suspect, Sarah, that folk don’t mean that they wouldn’t come out to play tunes if there weren’t free drinks, but rather that they would not put themselves out to play tunes in an inconvenient location without some compensation - they’d play tunes somewhere else instead.

bb, I am sure, would play tunes under wet concrete 8>)

While I don’t feel entitled to free drinks as I don’t play much yet, it does take me either a 30 min walk, 3 bus trips and a 25 min walk to get from work to the session and home, or 4 bus trips and a 25 min walk - were I one of the pillars of the session and the session was pulling drinkers into the pub I would feel that a free $4 or so’s worth of beer wouldn’t exactly kill the management.

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Its all very well to ask musicians to pay for drinks, but why would I play in a pub at a noisy session with lots of noisy punters where I have to pay for drinks, when I could just as easliy get take away drinks (about half the price) and have a closed session with a few top musicians in the house? Then - everybody would call me a snob, when that isnt the case, its just a he*l of a lot less travel time and lots cheaper. considering the last gig I got free food, free drink and $125 for about 30 minutes of tunes. I dont think free pints is that much to ask.

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And Sarah - I disagree wholeheartedly with your statement, how can you say that if someone wants a couple of free pints then they arent really musicians. I would say that they probably are *real* (whatever that means) musicians, who like a couple of pints. I notice your still in school, so I wont hold that comment against youπŸ™‚

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And, bb, add to that "when I have to put up with more than the usual earful from Him Indoors because I crawl home reeking of cigarette smoke." πŸ˜‰

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Omigod, sessions are totally about the free beer! I mustn’t be a real musician then. Oh well, what a shame. ‘nother Guinness please πŸ™‚

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This is getting a little off fiddleK’s topic, but bb, your juxtaposition of "gig" and "session" kinda raises one of my pet hobby horses.

"Amateur player" does not necessarily = "hobbyist who will be abjectly grateful for any opportunity I generously provide for him/her to play in public and whose time and talents, therefore, I do not need to respect, even if I do benefit from them."

Not all pub managers would see a session as an asset (many sessions in fact would not be an asset) but if it does turn out to be a plus, it would help engender mutual respect to offer something back to the players, who may well, as bb says, have better alternatives. I wouldn’t refuse to go to a session where the management offered nothing other than time and place, and I’m not saying players are automatically entitled to expect free beer/coffee/whatever, I’m just saying that sometimes it wouldn’t hurt.

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Dont worry Dow - we still think you are a *real* (whatever that means) musician. I on the other hand am a *fake* musician, I sit around *pretending* to play for hours on end but really I just drink beer and dont play at all - what a marvellous lifeπŸ™‚ Trust me lads, its alot easier than learning to actually *play* the tunesπŸ™‚

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It’s much better to get your free beer for doing nothing than actually having to *earn* it, eh Beebs?

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I said that if the only reason you go to a session is for the free beer then you aren’t really getting what it’s about. Free beer is great but it really shouldn’t be the deciding point. I have nothing against free beer (!), so long as you’re in it for the session and the beer is secondary! I didn’t mean to offend anyone. It seems I didn’t phrase my previous message as well as I could have.

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well, if you’re an alkie like dow, free beer is probly a big incentive… :~}

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I’d say ‘huge’ incentive for DowπŸ™‚
I’d also mention that anybody who spends all their non playing time on a website talking about playing is not really in danger of thinking tunes secondary to beerπŸ™‚ mmmm beer….

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Screw the tchunes, get yer priorities right and get the pints in lads.

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Kira:

This is Richard. I agree that the solution that the session leaders took is not a great one (apparently sending email messages to 10-11 people, including some that were original members of the session in essence "disinviting them."). Probably the best plan is to set up an alternate session either earlier in the day on Sunday or later. Cait Reed and I have been talking about doing something in the South Bay. If some of the disaffected players would be interested in frequenting a pub down by our part of the Santa Monica Bay, I think we could either accomodate them at a pub or at our home. Drop us a line and see if we can’t do something like that sometime.

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Free BEER! Not in the sessions here in Suffolk/England. We’ve played in the same pubs for ten + years on a monthly rolling program, and not so much as sniff. (Except one pub where he gave us the first drink free…but he’s retired so that’s gone).

It’s not the beer, it’s the feeling that you’re wanted and that what you do is appreciated.

Landlords hardly ever say even a thank-you out here.

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yeah - luckily the landlords say thank you with beer here!

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