Pierce photo live dublin 2015 colin murnane rsz

Pass the hat? No thanks!

Pierce Turner playing at the National Concert Hall in 2015. He will return to the Dublin venue on Jan. 16. Meanwhile, he will perform at the 11th Street Bar on this Wednesday evening.


By Irish Echo Staff

When Pierce Turner gives a last New York performance for 2017 at the 11th Street Bar on Wednesday night (8:30), you can be certain of one thing – there’ll be no passing the hat.

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Instead to guarantee a seat in the 510 East 11th St. venue in the East Village, you’ll have to pay for a seat ($20).

“Fred Parcels will be with me, and Cillian Vallely is on pipes,” Turner said.

It’s not as if New York music fans don’t know the County Wexford-born singer-songwriter is value for money. And that’s apart from the positive critical reception he’s received over the years.

Turner’s collaboration with leading U.S. composer Philip Glass at Carnegie Hall won plaudits from the New York Times, particularly his “Yogi With a Broken Heart.”

And Rolling Stone magazine described him as a “cross between David Bowie and Joni Mitchell."

Back home, where he has performed at the National Concert Hall and around the country, the Irish Times said he’s “easily one of the most important Irish artists of the last 20 years.”

Turner occasionally performs for no pay in projects he supports, but for regular gigs passing the hat just won’t cut it anymore. It’s against the interests, he believes, of the professional musician and ultimately the music-loving fan, too.

We reproduce below a blog post by Turner from his website about how he believes it all went wrong.

Pass the hat, not!

The first time that I came across a venue that didn’t pay its artists, was Sin-é over on St Mark's Place. Shane, the owner, was an expert at socializing, at spreading his charisma. I had enough of a following to demand payment for a gig.

But Shane had been building a name by getting all kinds of famous people to play in Sin-é for fun. Sinead O’Connor was hanging out there, and Jeff Buckley had been a regular. Shane came to one of my shows and said that I would be welcome to play at Sin-é any time. I (like most people) can only play so often in one area, if I want to maintain my drawing power. So playing at Sin-é for nothing meant risking my income for that period. But I also was drawn towards it, like a Lemming to the cliff. So I did it, Shane said it was most that he had ever seen in the passed hat. I think it was around $280 (for Fred Parcels and I) -he also said that it was the most beer he had ever sold, they had to keep going to the Bodega on the corner. I couldn’t even get Shane to pay for Fred’s taxi from four blocks away (he used an amplifier, Fred wheeled it over on a trolley). Afterwards I wondered why I did it. I knew that the spirit of it was wrong.

For young artists who can’t find anywhere to cut their teeth, this kind of thing is important. But for anyone who has done all that, and established a hard-earned following, it’s insane. The only one who really benefitted from this was Shane! From a business point of view he deserved it. But, he started something horrible for musicians, as far as I can see. Now, everywhere you look in Manhattan, there are places presenting free music, being played by high quality, mature musicians.

In the 1970s and 1980s (pre-Sin-é) venues paid musicians to do that, it might not be a whole lot if you weren’t a draw, but $300 or so was the common fee. Now they pay you a compliment by allowing you to play. I have volunteered to do one of these new places recently, for the same reason that I did the insane Sin-é gig, some kind of peer pressure. They said yes, sure, and offered me a gig next March 2018!! It’s not even impromptu. Needless to say, I ain’t doing it. Get stuffed!

Please remember when you are in the audience at one of these places, that what goes in the hat, is all the musician gets. I have seen great artists blowing the audience away, and watched people either putting nothing in the hat, or just one dollar! We are supposed to leave 20 percent tips now for being waited on in a restaurant. If musicians play for 40 minutes at the minimum wage, you should be putting $8 in the hat.

Thanks to initiatives like Sin-é, exploiting musicians has become so normal, we don’t even know it is happening.