Money-driven art is not ideal, but a necessary evil

My creative resources are the bands that I book at the Purple Fiddle. And I am very fortunate that they mostly all come to me for a gig. So my job entails two things –  first, to make sure there is some talent there. Secondly, is whether their talent can benefit the profitability of Purple Fiddle. That is the much more troubling and difficult thing to judge.

Quite frankly, I absolutely despise being driven by the almighty dollar. But since this venue is struggling mightily, we must find the bands that generate the most cash. And the customers are a fickle and ever-changing group to figure. That is why I never outright deny a talented musician or band. I simply say ” we are not interested at this time.” It is hard to predict where the public’s tastes may wander in the future and who am I to even try to predict that?

Up until recently, as far as booking weekend revenue-generating bands are concerned, I have outright denied anything that was not either very popular, or very energetic and danceable, or both. To me, a high energy band means more audience participation, which equals more sales for us, and ultimately that means I can pay the PF bills come Monday.

Paying the bills is good for the whole community – from the people at H&H Hardware up the street, to the people delivering beer from Mountain State Brewery, to the people who work for the City of Thomas who collect our garbage and water fees, to the people at Shop n Save where we buy much of our raw product. They all want us to stay in business.

So, I maintain a short list of our most popular and best revenue-generating bands that I book as often as they will let me. Bands like  – the Hillbilly Gypsies, Dangermuffin, Sol Driven Train, Enter the Haggis, Yarn, the Black Lillies, Greensky Bluegrass, Steppin In It, Sim Redmond, the Fox Hunt, the Steel Wheels, etc. These we can not get enough of, at least not until the customers lose interest, and it seems like it will be no time soon for these bands. (I am sure there are some more I have left out – sorry)


Robinella - where does she fit in?

But, the biggest problem, is what about all the other incredibly talented bands out there that don’t generate the cash flow? I HATE telling amazing acts that we cannot use them, and up until recently, I have been doing that, at least in regards to the weekend dates when attendance is guaranteed to be way higher.

But part of survival in the art world, or any business for that matter, is adapting to suit changing needs. That is why I am making a concerted effort to book the not-so-energetic acts with a different approach.

Take Robinella, for instance. This amazingly talented woman has a hold on audiences like no other I have ever seen. The last time she performed, the moment she opened her mouth just to check the microphone, the eager and early crowd of nearly 80 people went silent. You could hear a pin drop. She is THAT talented and worthy of their attention.

But what do I do with that?! When I am trying to generate energy to, in turn, generate sales?

That is where a new found approach needs to be contemplated an undertaken. And here it is, for now – I simply raise the cover charge by $5 or so, proclaim the show to be a “listening show” and pocket the extra fee on each ticket. That is the only way I have figured out how I can justify the critical loss of sales at the cash register. A listening crowd just does not circulate to the counter to buy things during a performance.

Very capitalistic huh? And I am inclined to apologize, but ultimately, I cannot apologize for trying to keep the Purple Fiddle alive and in Thomas, should I? It is to everyone’s benefit, including the artists, right? I did not create this capitalistic society. I am only trying to survive within it.

And like I said, this is not the end of our adapting to changing needs. There may be many more solutions to this problem, hopefully some I have not contemplated before. Already on the agenda is a series of benefit shows where we pocket ALL the bands’ money (April and May). And I feel horrible about having to do that – to temporarily cut off income to the very creative minds that have kept us alive for this long (9 years now).  I am humbled by the response of 17 popular bands that will do just that – play for free to help us survive. Wow, we are blessed!

Now our mission is to determine how never to face this predicament again. But with gas prices rising rapidly, it may be difficult. Help me out. Suggest something else if you know of other creative solutions.


About purplefiddle

Owner/booking agent for the Purple Fiddle Cafe, Brews and Stage in Thomas WV
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3 Responses to Money-driven art is not ideal, but a necessary evil

  1. Katie G. says:

    It’s great that you’ve put so much thought into this, John, and I love your attitude of open business.

    Has your method been working out for you?

  2. Just discovered this blog. I really like the way you think about art/business. If I lived near your place, I’d definitely patronize. Good luck to everyone here on this blog with growing art in their area! 🙂

    • Bruce W says:

      We appreciate your reply. If your comment was directed to John Bright and the Purple Fiddle, you will be well rewarded if you are ever able to come. The Purple Fiddle is a fantastic musical asset to the entire Highlands region. The problem that he addresses in this post–of having to book the acts that create a “social” atmosphere rather than a “listening” atmosphere in order to pay the bills–is a vexing one. Three things are very clear: (1) the Purple Fiddle presents a consistently high quality of performance and entertainment; (2) the cover charge is very low; and (3) the Highlands would be without one of its principal attractions if the Fiddle were to fall silent. A lot of people in the area–not just John–are grateful for the bands that have offered their performances in the next two months to benefit the Purple Fiddle. Long may it sing.

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