Dave Rowe's most recent story about taking requests is just about the worst thing that can happen. Playing a gig with his acoustic-folk band the Squid Jiggers at Bull Feeney's in Portland's Old Port, it went down like this:
"They sent us a note to the stage as we were going on break, and it said, 'We're here on our honeymoon and here's a list of songs we like.' They were all right in our wheelhouse, and we thought, 'Great, we'll get right to them when we get back on.' But they got up to leave before we got up on stage."
"So Troy [that's the other Squid Jigger] says, 'Let's give them a CD.' So I pick up the CD and say, 'Hey, since you're leaving, take this,' and she takes it and then the guy comes by and he decks me."
Draws blood even. Leaves a good-sized egg on Rowe's head. "It was just some bad decision-making on his part," Rowe says, still not quite ready to find the whole incident amusing (since, you know, it kind of hurt), "and I have no idea what was going through his head. It's just screwed."
When the cops tracked the guy down in Massachusetts (small wonder the guy was a Masshole), he said he felt threatened. By a couple of guys playing Irish tunes and taking requests. Sounds legit.
POST-PUNCH Dave Rowe reels from the blow.
Most likely he was feeling that weird sense of ownership that's all too familiar to musicians playing in bars: In an on-demand world, many patrons (especially when they've got a few drinks on board) think an ability to play one cover translates to an ability to play any cover.
"In the American Idol age, with all these contests, I've seen an increase of people coming up to me and being like, 'Hey, I can sing, let me play a song with you,'" says Jason Basiner, one half of the acoustic duo North of Nashville and formerly a regular haunt of Bull Feeney's, performing as J. Biddy. "I think a lot of people think you can just forgo the ten thousand hours of practice and hard work, just because they can sing in the shower and think they have a good voice. There's a much more comfortable nature when it comes to an audience member in a bar trying to dictate what the artists should be playing or how the night can be structured."
Not that Basiner doesn't take requests. In fact, he's kind of famous for it. When he was first getting started in Portland, he used to pass out a song list into the crowd with as many as a thousand songs printed on it and people could just order up what they wanted.
"I did that menu thing for a couple of years," he says, "and finally I just didn't want to do it anymore. I didn't want to give control to the audience. I didn't want to be a trained monkey up on stage. Like you're the court jester."
Basiner has come a long way, really. First with This Way, and now with North of Nashville, he's played up and down the East Coast and can fill nights with largely original material, mixing in just a few choice covers now and then.