Musician's guide to turning down song requests

by Jason Gross

10 August 2008


One of the many reasons that I’m glad that I’m not a professional musician is the fun job of having to field requests at shows.  I’ve seen some performers fend it off with good humor (Neil Young once dryly telling a crowd “thank you for reminding me of the names of my songs”) but it has to get tired after awhile.  I admit I’ve yelled “Free Bird” at plenty of shows when I was younger until I realized what an old, pathetic joke that’s become.

Then along came a series of posts to the MusicThoughts mailing list about the subject.  By far, the funniest and wisest response came from Laura McLean, a North Carolina indie rock fixture.  Her answer to the eternally perplexing questions ‘how do you politely turn down requests?’ is worth detailing.

“I used to put a price board up for requests I didn’t have much inclination to play anymore..
Sweet Home Alabama $500
A Pirate Looks at Forty $500
Stairway To Heaven $1000
Bobby McGee $2500
I’ve since mellowed, (lol) and will do wak rap renditions which pretty much put the kibosh on the whole request mood..if done correctly..”

For you non-Parrotheads, the third one is a Jimmy Buffet tune.  But there’s more… Laura adds a few more tricks she has up her sleeve for the problem.

1. The old Reagan trick.. cup your ear and pretend you don’t understand
2. Say you just did it before they came in (funny for those who have been there the whole time)
3. Say that song was playin when someone dear to you died, and you can’t bear to even… (let your sentence trail off and play a mournful instrumental)
4. Hell NO! works, too, if you smile mysteriously and send over a beverage..

Musicians take note though I guess you have to be careful about overusing some of these as crowds might eventually wise up to the game.

As you can already guess, McLean has some talent that’s worth attending so you should check out her MySpace page and her website.

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