As most music venue owners know (or quickly find out), performance-rights organizations can be relentless once they've tracked down a business that books live acts. Since nearly all musicians will include at least one cover song in their sets, buying blanket licenses is virtually the only way to avoid potential lawsuits.
Last week, it was the Briarhurst Manor Lounge's turn to feel the heat. Following a visit from an ASCAP representative, it received a lengthy email from the organization. It contained all sorts of friendly advice — including a link to a document titled "What Kind of Music Sounds Good in Your Establishment?" — before finally getting to the bottom line:
"We realize that your time is valuable and that important matters, such as obtaining the rights to perform music legally, are occasionally postponed. Let us help. Simply sign and return the attached license agreement with the appropriate payment as indicated on the invoice. We will return an executed copy for your file."
This is not the first time the Indy has reported on local venues dealing with ASCAP, an organization which represents some half-million songwriters from around the world. The most colorful was when local bar owner Frankie Patton got sued by the organization, who designated Led Zeppelin as its plaintiff in the case. "Yeah, Jimmy Page and all those guys, they were hurting for money," scoffed the Frankie's Bar & Grill owner in a 2008 cover story. "So they're like, 'Let's sue Frankie, he's got it all!'"
It should be noted that songwriting royalties are one of the few income streams left to recording artists who fall below the level of, say, the Lumineers or Foster the People. Album sales have been severely undercut by free downloads, and revenues from streaming services are essentially a joke.
But ASCAP isn't always the most sympathetic enterprise, having gone so far as to shake down the Girl Scouts for sitting around campfires, singing copyrighted songs.
When it comes to local venues that book local musicians, this can all add up to a lose-lose situation. Manor management estimates annual ASCAP licensing fees for indoor and outdoor shows would exceed $600. That amount would likely reach $2,000 once BMI and other rivals catch wind of the ASCAP arrangement and step up to claim their shares of the pie.
The Briarhurst responded to the situation by holding its final live performance last Friday. The lounge will continue to offer food and drink, and perhaps an all-original open mic somewhere down the road, presumably with a strict no-"Stairway to Heaven" policy.
Meanwhile, for upstart songwriters who may or may not be represented by ASCAP, this year's MeadowGrass will be holding "intimate" workshops at its Ponderosa Lodge with national acts Steve Poltz, Birds of Chicago, Willis Alan Ramsey and Caitlin Rose, a new-on-the-scene artist who's been racking up critical accolades. "If Caitlin Rose is the future of Nashville and American country music," the BBC predicted last year, "then it would seem that its future is in safe, appealing and mellifluous hands."
The Memorial Day weekend music festival will also host a screening of The Last Dispatch, the new documentary about the indie band Dispatch, which was founded by Chadwick Stokes, who produced Elephant Revival and will be performing right before them on Saturday.
You should also know that advance ticket prices for MeadowGrass will be increasing this Saturday. Full details at rockymountainhighway.org.
As for the coming week, Stargazers will be hosting a free concert by Chauncy Crandall and friends this Friday. Word has it the local singer-songwriter, who's easily one of the best and most distinctive in the state, will finally be picking up an electric guitar, something we last saw him do at the Americana Music and Art Festival way back in 2012. Should be worth the wait.
Then on Saturday, look for a rare local performance by Dave Mansfield's glam band the Roxy Suicide, who'll be sharing a bill with Four Moons, BAES and GMAT at Zodiac.
And finally, in more urgent news, a fundraising campaign has been launched for Otis Mitchem, one of the genuinely nicest people on the local music scene. Otis, who's currently working the door at the Triple Nickel, is suffering from a chronic disease called RSD (reflex sympathetic dystrophy), which can be life-threatening without treatments that are only available at hospitals in Italy. You can go to gofundme.com/otis-quest-for-life to find out more and donate to the cause.