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No Room For Covers At Geno’s


In a town where playing other people’s music is a career for so many (or at least a few extra bucks in the pockets of local musicians whose own original efforts probably don’t even pay for gas), somebody is taking a stand against it. Geno’s Rock Club (who have always had the tagline of “We are an ALL ORIGINAL MUSIC ROCK CLUB!!” on their Myspace page) put out this message today:

As of today Geno’s Rock Club has a NO TOLERANCE RULE when it comes to cover songs on our stage. We are and always have been an ALL ORIGINAL rock club and take that statement very seriously. If a band plays a cover song on our stage from today forward chances are they will not be asked back. Please respect mine [booker Knaughty Sarah] and Jr’s wishes and leave the cover songs at the door. Thanks so much for all your support!

A big part of the reasoning behind it is that the venue doesn’t pay ASCAP, so they technically can’t have covers performed (so break the rule and you’re potentially putting them in danger, as well as getting yourself blacklisted), but in general it is a sentiment we can get behind. Though sometimes it can be fun to see a different take on a song you know (when you’re not familiar with the local band’s own music), it’s a good challenge to musicians to step it up with their own work and keep it original. I hope bands keep it in mind even when it comes to ironic terrible one hit wonder covers (Gully, I’m looking at you) and I’m interested in hearing what other musicians in the local scene think about this policy. Maybe even Kurt Baker, who clearly will not be playing a show at Geno’s any time soon.

Seriously though, can we take this a step further and ban all Beatles (and offshoot bands) covers in Portland? I don’t want to hear anybody play that intro to “Come Together” again.

27 comments to No Room For Covers At Geno’s

  • mikerattlesnake

    where does this leave bands who make a habit of covering other local bands?

  • mikerattlesnake

    I mean, I realize there’s no legal recourse for that sort of thing, but I don’t want to piss off sarah!

  • That’s a valid question. I don’t know…

  • KnaughtySarah

    You can cover other local artists as long as there material isn’t cataloged by ASCAP or BMI or if the artist being covered is at the venue at the time of the show and gives the ok.

  • Kurt Baker

    Actually… I WILL be playing a show at Geno’s very soon.

    August 1st with the group the Goodnight Process.. were i’m proud to say that i’ve contributed and co-wrote a lot to the original songs that we are playing.

    Also, I’d like to note that my work as a solo artist is not exclusively cover songs. I’m planning on recording a full length of originals to be released next year, and I will also be performing many original songs live. I guess I just picked the wrong time to release a record of cover tunes in Portland. 🙂


  • True, and people should totally support the Goodnight Process and your solo work. You’re doing it the old school way – start with covers to break in and then hit them with your great original work. No offense intended, but obviously it was an easy connection since you have the covers record coming out. Everybody knows Kurt Baker cranks out the hits.

  • Tom

    dammit, this means no hum covers from constants and city of ships now :/

  • Sam Pfeifle

    I’m not sure when the fetish for all-original performances truly gained hold, but rock music was founded and created on the premise of playing other people’s music. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton and all kinds of great bands got their start playing Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf and all kinds of old bluesmen’s tunes, and then they began working in their own music. And it used to be that most of the famous country acts performed songs written in the publishing and songwriting houses in Nashville. Willie Nelson spent years writing for other people before he recorded Red Headed Stranger and burst onto the scene as a performer.

    This idea of the singer/songwriter came into being and all of a sudden you were shite if you were performing someone else’s song. I’m not sure why that would be. Some people have a talent for songwriting, some have a talent for performing, and some have both. Frankly, there are quite a few songwriters in town that I wish would get out of the performing business and quite a few performers I wish would play other people’s songs. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with any of that.

    If you don’t want to pay ASCAP/BMI, that’s one thing, but degrading a performer for interpreting someone else’s song? That’s just crazy. What, is the PSO completely worthless? All they play are covers! The Jerks of Grass? They’ve written two songs in 15 years. You can make art with your performance as well as with your songwriting and I enjoy both forms of art-making.

  • knaughtysarah

    This isn’t a battle of original music vs. cover songs. This isn’t a battle at all. And we at Geno’s have NEVER “degraded a performer for interpreting someone else’s song” Just because we CHOOSE to not pay any music licensing companies and CHOOSE to support original music DOESN’T mean that we are belittling bands that wish to play cover songs or cover bands at all. It’s just not right for us. You can go into almost any bar in Portland on any night of the week and hear a band doing a cover song….why is it soooooo bad that we want to be a little bit different? Why are we wrong in saying that we want people that come to Geno’s to see live music to know that the band on stage is performing music that they wrote? We are getting a great response from bands and they respect Geno’s and the fact that we are sticking to our guns and NOT falling under ASCAP’s spell. And we thank you all very much for that.

  • Valery

    Yay! I met Geno Jr. a coupla weeks ago and he struck me as completely genuine and kickass. I am glad that he has a badass like Sarah doing bookings and as a venue they have every right to choose to not pay these institutions and stick to their guns

  • Sam Pfeifle

    My fault – I should have been more clear. My comments weren’t directed at you/Geno’s, Sara. When I said, “If you don’t want to pay ASCAP/BMI, that’s one thing,” I was addressing the Geno’s situation, then I moved onward to address the anti-covers sentiment that’s infiltrated Portland as a whole. I’ve heard a number of anti-cover tirades over the past six months and was speaking to that experience.

    Geno’s, and any club for that matter, can do whatever they want, obviously. I would be sad, however, if every club took on the same Geno’s stance, as I like to hear, for example, Beatles songs performed live, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever actually see the Beatles play live…

  • William B.

    The sound is so bad at Genos who could even tell if a band is playing a cover or not. Let’s see, a free-jazz group is covering another free-jazz group. Who can tell the difference? A loud hardcore band just played a riff from a million other punk songs. Better ban them. Oh Oh! I’m a musician who belongs to ASCAP but I can’t play MY OWN SONGS at Geno’s!! Nice policy!

    I guess Sarah hasn’t heard of the First Amendment which protects one’s right to FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, Speech & Press. Spiro Agnew tried to ban songs he didn’t like, and his position did not hold
    water. It wasn’t long before he resigned for extortion & other charges.

    It’s hipocritical of Genos not to play by ASCAP’s rules, but expect bands to play by their rules. Its ironic that Genos purports to be a ‘patron of the musical arts’ or ‘musicians friend’ or some such thing, yet they do not support the property rights organizations that protect musicians.

    What about the juke-box, or when Matt Little DJs there, or what about the music the burlesque girls dance to? If the burlesque girls can play covers, then why can’t bands?

  • Sarah, all of this attention on your plan to avoid PRO fees is concerning me.

    Theres a fundamental misunderstanding here; it matters not if a song is a cover. Even if it is the song’s writer is performing the song with his publishing company owner standing up there beside him ; you owe the PRO. The artist may not waive that fee that they have enlisted their PRO to collect for them. Its assinine, but thats the way it is.

    The above poster is correct; he would not be able to play his own ASCAP songs at Genos per your policy. Hiss and Chambers, too, I’m ASCAP, Shawn is BMI. You would be liable for a fine of something up to $10k per infraction per PRO if we performed there (and we have!) and you were being audited by ASCAP. I’m sure some of your bigger touring acts are registered with the PROs as well.

    So you see, this has less to do with covers than the way you are all discussing it.

    The above poster is also correct that you are in violation when you have a DJ or when the Burlesque girls play music. During a public performance of a movie as well…are the geek chorus movies licensed?

    But he is incorrect on the Jukebox, your juke vendor pays the PROs on behalf of you, which is perhaps why you havent been shaken down yet as we were at the Empire.

    Geno’s has been really lucky to not be audited by the PROs, so I’m surprised of all the noise you’re stirring up. Shhhh! lol.

    There’s tons of articles out there on similar club deals with a no cover policy to avoid pay the PROs; they all wind up getting chased down in the end.

    So, please, take caution. They are here, in Portland, looking for violators. It not a “choice to join”, its a legal license you need to have if you are offering music. It sucks, its gestapo, because even with your rule, you are guilty before proven innocent, but thats what it is. Since it is impossible to prove you have never violated, and will never violate; they will require you to pay for a blanket license.

    I encourage you all to go google some articles on this subject. Empire now pays both major PROs now, and without sharing too much, lets just say we are fighting the urge to adjust our 100% of the door to defray PRO cost which would mean less money for local artists. Sucks huh.

    here are some good ones:

  • katerade

    There is nothing wrong with JR and Sarah choosing not to pay ASCAP. It is JR’s club and Sarah is the booker and therefore, if you don’t like the rules you don’t have to play there… Plain and simple. There are plenty of bands who will play their original music and plenty of people who want to hear original music.

    William B, comparing a dj to a band is like comparing apples to oranges. That’s like comparing listening to the radio (where djs choose the songs that are played) to seeing a band live. The songs that are played on the radio and by djs are originals (generally, unless they’re cover songs themselves).

    I applaud my favorite club for taking a stand. The fact that this is even an issue up for public debate is a little ridiculous. It’s a rock club, not the effing Oasis.

  • knaughtysarah

    Sorry if our sound isn’t up to your standards Mr William B. Though our sound system has improved ten fold in the past year that has nothing to do with the question at hand.
    There are countless songs that are public domain if bands want to get creative and really want to play a cover.
    You can play anything that is your own if it’s cataloged with ASCAP or not. That statement makes no sense. It would just stop other musicians from being able to play your music unless you gave the ok for them to do so.
    And yes I have heard of the First Amendment thanks.
    ASCAP is something that venues CHOOSE to join. We don’t have to follow rules. And we CHOOSE not to be a member of there club. That’s it.. plain and simple. There is no cover song vs original song battle, there is no cover band bashing, we don’t think we are better then any club that does CHOOSE to pay ASCAP. It’s just not right for us. And we are a “patron of the musical arts” or a “musicians friend” or some such thing and have been for 28 years. We support musicians and the music THEY MAKE. And we are protecting the musicians that are members of ASCAP by not letting any old band get up on our stage and play a song that they don’t have the rights to play because we choose not to pay ASCAP or any of the other licensing companies. It would be wrong for us to say that we are not paying these organizations and then continue to let bands play cover songs.
    And our jukebox is rented. From a company that pays ASCAP for the rights to the music on the jukebox. And the burlesque girls can pay ASCAP a one night fee to be able to play music that is licensed. And we can host events and pay a one time fee for djs and things like that.
    And thanks for all your support.

  • knaughtysarah

    yes ryan you are 100% right. i don’t know alot about ascap and there policys. i am just the live entertainment manager and i am just following Jr’s wishes….if i think it’s right or not. i have tried to educate myself as much as i can on the PROs but no matter what i do i can’t change Jr’s mind. and i only starting talking about it openly when i felt like Geno’s and Jr were getting attacked.

  • knaughtysarah

    and all the movies that we play are either public domain or Tristen from the Fun Box pays for the rights to show the movie for a night.

  • brandont

    If that is the policy Ryan, than if they knew a musician booked to play Geno’s was a member of ASCAP, they could pay the one time fee for them to able to play. Of course if tat was the case and I were Sarah, I would take the fee out of the cover charge. I wouldn’t pay you a portion of the cover and a percentage of the bar, along with the fee for you to play.
    I would believe Geno’s has the right to not pay this fee. The bands that play Geno’s are all original, who sometimes toss in random covers for giggles and shits. Now we can’t play covers, oh well. We’ll have a SONG BATTLE! September 11th!! covered in bees, spawn of man, confusatron, man-witch, ghosthnter, clubber lang, pigboat and more!

  • William B.

    Sarah… As a music venue, it’s not an ‘option’ to choose whether you pay ASCAP or not. ASCAP & BMI have been at this for quite a while now, and have been up against more stubborn & more clever music venues than Geno’s who have tried to wriggle out of paying. And guess what? Ryan Doyle is correct… They will make an example out of Geno’s and sue JR in court, AND they will win! It will probably put him out of business. Is that what you want to happen? If so, just keep sticking to your plan.

    Without getting into the major flaws of your policy overall, you will need to get off of your high-horse and stop dictating what bands can or cannot play while at the same time insisting you ‘support’ their creativity. It’s hypocritical.

    Before you let a DJ or the burlesque girls or the movie guy do their thing, do you check & see that they have paid the one-time fee? I think not. It just sounds like you want to put the onus on them, as if that will somehow keep you in the clear. Some ‘patron of the arts’ YOU are! Trying to shift the blame on the very people you claim to support. Making this their burden & responsibility.

    If you go as far as to take the misguided notion suggested here by withholding a portion of an artist’s DOOR MONEY because they played a cover song, or forcing bands/DJs/burley girls & others to pay one-time fees (or docking them because you’ll supposedly pay), that would be shifting the onus onto them because YOUR club is unlicensed. By trying to come up with different ways to get around this, you are showing us that you don’t really care about an artist’s welfare. “It’s not our fault that we have to pass these fees on to you, it’s the system”. What kind of crap is that for a hard-working band to hear?

    People like Ryan are trying to save you from yourself. You & JR should listen carefully. Just stop griping and pay the PRO licenses like every club everywhere else does, and be done with it. You & your bands & your patrons will be happier for it.

    Once the stifling dark cloud of oppression that your policy has cast over the seeds of creativity clear up, music will grow unencumbered at Geno’s, both original or otherwise, just like it does at all the other clubs in town, and just like it has historically as Sam Pfeifle pointed out.

    So, I guess the CHOICE is yours. You can step up to the plate & do the right thing like other venues do, or you can march to a different drummer and end up losing in court like other venues have.

  • William B.

    Sarah wrote: “And we are protecting the musicians that are members of ASCAP by not letting any old band get up on our stage and play a song that they don’t have the rights to play because we choose not to pay ASCAP or any of the other licensing companies.

    Actually, NOT letting a band perform an ASCAP song HURTS the ASCAP affiliated composer, not protects them as you claim. AND, as long as Geno’s is unlicensed, it doesn’t mean it’s the artists responsibility to secure the rights for public performance as you imply. Nor should it be. That’s not how it works.

    You yourself admit you don’t know much about PRO licensing, yet you are making bold statements in the newspapers & elsewhere about your policy on the matter. Is that what JR is paying you for? Making a fool out of him & the club. I bet you even consider yourself a ‘professional’ as well. When you say “i am just following Jr’s wishes….if i think it’s right or not.“, don’t you realize how bad that makes you & your boss look?

    Personally, I think you’re in the wrong line of work… and that JR should hire a real booker who knows the ropes. Not an amateur like yourself who just uses Geno’s to fulfill your personal vendettas.

  • Ryan Dolan

    Stop ganging up on Sarah and JR. They can do what they want; if you’d like to help by having a great discourse explaining maybe some of the consequences of the actions all good. Lets facilitate a great discussion on a subject few know much about. Sarah is good at her job.

    Pretty succinct and long (if dated) article:

    Attempts by club owners to post “No ASCAP material to be performed here” signs or to ask that no musicians perform ASCAP material have not worked (Dreamland Ballroom vs. Shapiro, 1929; also Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. vs. Veltin, 1942), and invariably some musician unwittingly performs something in ASCAP’s immense catalog. Note that even though the musicians or the employees decide what is played, it is the owner of the establishment where the music is played who gets sued. ASCAP bases this on the claim that “it would be a practical impossibility for ASCAP to locate and license musicians, who are often itinerant.” Being a type of tort law, is not unlike the “deep-pockets” style of lawsuit that enables aggrieved parties to select which of the “jointly and severally liable” parties to sue, presumably whomever they might be likely to get money from, rather than just the party that caused the problem directly. According to current legal precedent, there is no way to beat this system, as numerous nightclub owners who felt that the fees were unjust have found out. Antitrust laws have given ASCAP a little trouble over the years; however, current legal arrangements have created a seemingly monopolistic system that even powerful groups of television and radio stations have failed to break in court. (You are not free to shop at another licensing agency if you don’t like the deal or the price ASCAP offers. If you use the music, either you pay their fee or they sue you if they catch you using it without the license. And they can charge you penalties up to $20,000 + legal fees per infraction!) ASCAP has teams of lawyers who do nothing else and who are extremely well-versed in the technicalities of the law, and a tavern owner and a small-town lawyer have essentially no chance of winning a lawsuit. Legal right to do this has been established over a series of court rulings and legal precedents, and so far no one has been able to win a lawsuit against ASCAP for infringement of copyright by “public performance.” Apparently ASCAP has the judicial system in their back pocket, and even organizations as large as CBS have lost lawsuits against them. To quote an ASCAP pamphlet: “ASCAP infringement cases are ‘open-and-shut’; for all practical purposes there is no defense to them.”

    To quote an ASCAP pamphlet: “ASCAP infringement cases are ‘open-and-shut’; for all practical purposes there is no defense to them.”

    @BRANDONT to address the a la carte argument:
    “(In the case of what ASCAP calls “serious music concerts” where the artist is paid more than $1500, the promoter is allowed to submit a concert program or list of works performed and pay for only those works performed. Under no other circumstances that I am aware of are concert venues allowed to pay for only the works performed. And I can find no actual definition of “serious music” in any ASCAP literature.)”

  • Ryan Dolan

    actually, look at this breaking news about direct licensing! DMX just won an important case:

    its not for live music; but a chip in the armor of BMI is so promising!

  • William B.

    Ryan, with all due respect, Sarah is a hypocrite who just dissed her boss in this thread. If that’s her job, then I agree, she’s good at it.

    And why would you applaud putting a chink in the armor of a Performance Rights Organization? I suppose you’re against Unions and worker’s rights too?

    If a venue’s business is enhanced by music, they have to ante up with the PRO’s. That includes restaurants with background music, and most certainly clubs like Geno’s and The Empire. It’s not fair that the Empire complies, but not Geno’s.

    PRO’s favor, protect & support the composers, and any club that purports to be on the side of the musician should not try to weasle out of getting licensed.

    Do you think The Asylum tells Rev. Horton Heat what he can or cannot play? Of course not. And neither should Geno’s.

  • Nancy Chalmers

    I book a show a month at Geno’s. I’ve always thought the most important part of booking was the crowd,the bands,and the booking agent having fun. Where is FUN when you’re worried about someone scrutinizing every song that’s played. When you think someone is going to come down in the middle of a set and shut down the band. And believe me that has been threatened. Pay the damn money and have ASCAP benefit shows to get everybody off the hook. This false pride in “only covers” is really sickening-everything I book started with Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry and I don’t think any of my bands are ashamed to admit that. This feeling of impending doom is sure not the feeling either of those two rockers intended-and I can tell you I’ve been through many turbulent hours at Geno’s but these are the worst. I’m following the stupid rules but I sure hate it!
    Bottom-of-the-East Booking

  • William B.

    I’m sorry to hear that Sept. 25th was the last show for Bottom-Of-The-East Bookings at Genos.

    It is a shame that Sarah & the staff made it so difficult for Nancy to work there. Nancy’s shows were the best.

    Now that Nancy’s gone, I wonder who Sarah will pick on next?

  • Nancy Chalmers

    Bottom-of-the-East has moved on. I’ll be doing a show at The Bayside Bowl on
    Friday December 17th. They will have their first Tiki Freakout!!
    Thanks to those supported and enjoyed the bands I booked at Geno’s for all those years-and phooey to those who wanted Bottom-of-the-East to take the ASCAP lawsuit blame. I certainly won’t be accused of booking “cover bands” but if a band wants to cover a song they love I’m not going to be the one that says NO! That’s the job of a warden don’t you think?

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