Monday, November 9, 2009

Stiffed by Maria Muldaur at Folk City

In the early 80s, I worked a Friday night shift at Folk City, a club on West 3rd Street in Manhattan devoted entirely to folk music. Let me say that again: devoted entirely to folk music. Such things once existed in New York City. Loudon Wainwright was dating the woman who made sandwiches in the kitchen and Lynn Samuels hosted the open-mike night. I can't remember how I got the gig, but it was perfect: I worked a low-paying entry-level day job at the corporate public relations division of a big ad agency (terrible job, but it's where I learned to write a press release), and I had this Friday night gig where I could hear great music and come away with around $35, which back then was plenty of money to entertain myself over the weekend. Plus it was an easy job. The house didn't care as long as every patron bought their required two drinks, so after that, you could either relax or hustle for more tips. We got $7 shift pay, and depending on who was playing, we could earn some decent tips. We also got two free drinks per shift, and all of the delicious cinnamon-flavored coffee we could drink.

So Maria Muldaur was playing one night, and this was a pretty big booking for the club. One of the managers took me aside and asked if I'd like to be Maria's personal assistant for the night. This involved getting drinks and sodas for Maria and the band, guarding the dressing room door and announcing visitors. The manager explained that I wouldn't get shift pay but that Maria would pay me a big tip at the end of the night.

It wasn't a hard night -- in fact, it was very pleasant, and Maria was very pleasant, and her bandmates were very pleasant. Except that she didn't pay me that big tip at the end of the evening. I was kind of panicky -- at 22 or so, I was not terribly assertive, and figured this had to be part of her deal with the club, so I went to the manager, who basically said, "too bad." So the other waitresses made piles and piles of money that night, and I went home without a dime.

One of the other waitresses said that Maria was recently "born-again" and that "born-agains" didn't believe in tipping. I still don't know if that's true.

Nonetheless, I just wrote a glowing review of her new album for Blues Revue. It's really, really good. She can still sing her ass off, and I guess I got by without that big tip 27 years ago or whatever.

I used to see George Gerdes at Folk City a lot, before he gave up music for acting, though he still plays once in a blue moon. I used to love Andy Breckman and one day when he played, David Letterman was in the audience -- this might have been when he was still on in the mornings. I also met Dave van Ronk at the bar there, with Frank Christian, and Frank and I went to Dave's apartment, where Dave charmed me by playing some folk records (from Romania? Bulgaria?) that he said he'd played for Paul Simon, and there were those Simon & Garfunkel-type harmonies, right there.

I would never have left Folk City except that they changed up the schedule on me and gave me a night that I couldn't work because of my day job. Apparently my Friday night shift was one of the "good" ones and they wanted to give it to a more full-time waitress. Otherwise, I would have stayed on there forever.

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