Splitting the Jar
The egalitarian economics of touring
By Gabe Meline
'So, how are we going to split up this money?"
Someone was bound to ask it sooner or later. It's hard enough to count all the crumpled-up and folded bills from the pickle jar when there's only enough room to form separate piles on my knees in a back seat crowded with 12-packs and sleeping bags, and now we have to figure out what to do with it. What's more, the van is rocking with celebration, while 10 feet away inside this garage in Arcata, a hundred people sweat and sway to the sounds of the sixth and final band of the night.
What at first seemed like a recipe for the cops showing up has turned, miraculously, into a successful show; perched delicately on my knees, the random collection of bills grows and grows. Not bad, considering that after the first two bands the promoter simply stopped working the door to hang out with her friends, the job and the pickle jar falling into the hands of a semisloshed guitarist from an opening band. After amassing a collection of batted eyelashes and various beers, he turned into a fully sloshed guitarist, passing the door duty off to, oh, someone standing nearby.
Thus, the show became a beautiful cohesion of individual disarray. Out here, the waves of the intoxicating night reign supreme, and responsibilities are anybody's guess. No one knows exactly who moved all the landscaping equipment to the back of the garage; no one knows exactly who set up the PA in the corner; no one knows exactly who paid and didn't pay to get into the show, but somehow, at the end of it all, I am delicately balancing exactly $300 in my lap.
"Do you think we should get all the bands together and talk about it?"
The logic of distributing door money is fairly complex, further complicated tonight by the presence of six bands on the bill, all of them from out of town and in need of gas money. It's not my job to split up the pickle jar, but old habits die hard and my brain starts in on the customary considerations of the task. Which band headlined? Which band has the longest drive tomorrow? Which band didn't play for two hours or break the microphone stand?
"What about $100 each to the Midwest bands, if they're cool with that, and $25 each to the West Coast bands?"
Inside, where there's barely room to move as a gelatinous mass of bodies swirls and reverberates, the crowd responds with screams after each gut-filled song. It's a diverse spectrum of punks, hippies, students, hipsters and models, but tonight they cohere as one under the garage roof, and from atop a stump next to a wheelbarrow filled with mulch, I can watch friends square-dancing, couples making out with teenage abandon, fans literally hanging from the rafter beams.
"All the bands playing tonight are on tour!" the bassist shouts between songs, "so please go see what they have to sell at the table in the back!" A collection of silk-screened records, dubbed cassettes, hand-printed thrift-store shirts and photocopied zines occupy precious table space with their respective, humble price lists. The headliner, a band from Indiana called Defiance, Ohio, displays a sign, scrawled on corrugated cardboard, that asks just $6 for CDs and $8 for T-shirts.
The band who've just finished, called This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb, sell their own dirt-cheap merchandise alongside that of other bands from their hometown of Pensacola, Fla., and after their set I overhear the singer offering a rare guarantee to a curious onlooker. "If you don't like it," he says, "write to me, and I'll give you double your money back."
At the end of the night, as the crowd slowly disperses--many of them on bikes, still others stumbling into the main house for a midnight dance party--I go out to the van to grab the pickle jar. But to my surprise, it's nowhere to be found, because the headliners themselves have already grabbed, and decided what to do with, the cash.
Most people would be worried, but the night has been so strangely amazing that it seems natural what happens in the end. Hell, it's such a tiny amount of money anyway, the headliners say. After all of the hemming and hawing, they simply give every band $50 each--an equal six-way split--and everyone raises a toast to each other.
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