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The Farm is no place for covers

All-ages venue bans cover songs in keeping with copyright law

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Left for the Unknown at a Nov. 27 performance at The Farm. The all-ages venue is cracking down on bands that play cover tunes.
Photo: April Corbin

When a last-minute cancellation opened up a time slot at The Farm on Nov. 24, local band Where the Hell is Stacie Jones jumped at the opportunity — not knowing that the management would stop the fledgling group before they ever got the chance to play.

According to drummer Nick Gamboa, the two-month-old band already had set up all its equipment when the group was asked about its set list. When Farm owner Tracy Rader realized the list included only cover songs, the band was forced to tear down the equipment without playing a single note. Bands slated for later in the evening were also told they couldn't perform any covers.

Over the course of the year, according to Rader, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers has been cracking down on the all-ages venue for not having a license. Copyright law states that, if a venue is charging for entry, copyrighted songs cannot be performed by anyone except the original artist, unless the venue or the artist performing the cover has a license.

Those licenses cost money. Rader says ASCAP is asking him for $4,000, annually.

ASCAP has hundreds of different types of licenses. For a venue like The Farm, ASCAP Senior Vice President of Licensing Vincent Candilora says a blanket license would apply. The cost depends on the number of tickets sold, the seating capacity of the venue and the price of the ticket.

Rader refuses to pay, which isn't uncommon of venues. Candilora says very few venues seek out a license when first opening. Instead, ASCAP regional teams seek out restaurants and music venues by looking at advertisements in local magazines and following liquor-license requests.

"If there's alcohol served, music usually follows," Candilora says.

He adds that his organization constantly has to defend itself and explain why purchasing a CD and playing it in your restaurant requires an ASCAP license. He uses alcohol to explain.

"I can buy a bottle of vodka," Candilora says. "I can pour drink after drink at home, but if I want to serve it in public, I need a license to do so. Music is the same deal."

Though he understands the rules, Rader doesn't want to pay. Therefore, The Farm must be in full compliance with copyright law. This means turning away bands like Stacie Jones and muting the sound if a band breaks into a cover, something Rader says has been done. The venue's contract also is being revamped to state that covers are not allowed unless proof of a license is shown.

Gamboa says he understands that rules are rules but is upset because he knows bands have played plenty of cover songs at the venue. In fact, many Farm patrons agree you'd be hard-pressed to find a show where at least one cover wasn't performed.

Four days after Stacie Jones' almost-performance, on a happening Friday night at the Farm, opening band Left for the Unknown covers rapper T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" within the first 10 minutes of their set. Later, they play "Such Great Heights" by The Postal Service. During both songs, the audio feed remains untouched. No warning is given.

The four members of the hardcore band all say they weren't informed about The Farm's no-cover policy prior to the show. Additionally, they say that while they can understand the venue shutting the door on acts that only play covers, stopping bands from playing just one or two would hurt local acts.

Guitarist Andy Tran calls The Farm a second home and says that, as a fan, he'd be disappointed to see the policy enforced completely. Covers help new artists connect with crowds who are often disinterested at first.

With hundreds of bands, many of which may be used to including covers in their set lists, scheduled to play upcoming shows, it may be difficult for Rader to enforce this policy. Still, he's determined to set a standard and keep his venue legit without paying the licensing fee.

"I didn't open my venue to put money into (ASCAP's) hands," he says.

As for Who the Hell is Stacie Jones, Gamboa says the band harbors no harsh feelings toward The Farm. In fact, they hope to play the all-ages venue early next year — this time with originals.

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