Sermon: Rev. Ribs on the False promise and low wages of Hippie Corporate culture or There ain't no Santy Claus at The Higher Ground
By Kevin Russell
October 4, 2011
Burlington was on the calendar. But the venue, The Higher Ground prefers to suggest they are in Woonoski,VT. Either way I think most would consider this to be one of a handful of hippie HQ's around the country; Berkeley, Taos, Austin, Boulder, Asheville, Woodstock, etc. One thing that struck me about this Higher Ground, founded by Phish members, was the number of employees it had and the number of rules as well. I won't go into the specifics, but let's just say it's built on the model of "corporate hippie" ala Whole Foods, REI, Ben And Jerry's and Starbucks maybe.
That term is an oxymoron of course. It feels ugly because it represents pretty well the hypocrisy inherent in those companies. I would have to use Whole Foods as the Wal-Mart example of the Corporate Hippie revolution. That store was founded by real, down to earth, idealistic, pot smoking, barefoot, granola eatin'hippies. But, people change. Ideals are no match for good ol' human greed. The buzz from wheat grass and weed is nothing compared to the buzz of wealth and power. It wasn't long before lots of money flowed into their take over of the natural foods retail market. An aggressive strategy of dominance became the driving force behind their success. And frankly their customers didn't give a rats ass. They have gradually become less and less about their personal ideals and more and more about their personal wealth and power. So what if they vote democrat and recycle? They are no different than the friends of Dick Cheney who operate upon the same aggressive winner take all, survival of the fittest model.
I suspect The Higher Ground began as an honest attempt at creating a community and cultural center based on the personal experience of it's founders. But running a business for profit is quickly the reality that sets in after the money has been spent to open the doors. It gets very real when one's own name is on the mortgage, when one's reputation and responsibility are on the chopping block. Suddenly all those dreadlocked, patchouli scented, terminally opti-mystic trippers (band name) are nothing more than potential liabilities and disgruntled customers looking to syphon a little bit of yer dream for their insatiable appetite.
So, yeah we understand they have a business to run. But so do we. It is one of the philosophies of our business model to extend a mutual respect, trust and general benefit of the doubt to our many partners. We expect the same. When we feel the other has not acted in good faith, then we get a little riled up. Too many rules, too much overhead and too high a percentage split of the door receipts makes us feel unwelcome.
The audience on the other hand was a magnificent group of folks who knew our music front and back. They appreciated the new and dug the old. They were generous as well, which is not a common attribute in the Northeast apparently. Traveling musicians appreciate greatly the sharing of comforts. We are like public radio, anything helps. Unfortunately they had to submit to bag searches at the door. I would guess this place doesn't sell a lot of alcohol so they don't allow drugs. I doubt it was to protect our intellectual property from being pirated.
A couple of the employees had actual personalities and were friendly. Most acted like they were just working a job and had the look of someone who is trying to remember the rules and make it to the clock out. I never actually met the upper echelon of the control mechanism. But there was an office where all the money disappeared and got divided, somewhat unfairly I would like to add. Though we agreed to this shitty deal, we felt we would do better. In the end it was not worth it financially. And that is what I mean by "corporate." It's a big operation that tries to extend niceties and comforts to everyone. But, it is so large that the simple welcoming by a human is lost in their quest for excellence in hospitality and production. Money is sucked up by the massive overhead. The governing of this system becomes more important than the actual human experience of the place and the moment. We may as well have been playing at a House Of Blues or Hard Rock Cafe or Stubbs.
This is what happens when the system is served instead of the soul. It happens in the private sector just as it happens in the public. There must be an emotional and moral tending to the system to keep it serving the spiritual needs of the humans involved. And that is done through relationships, love and respect. It is not easy. But it is highly effective as a motivator for employees and clients alike. This is especially true where money is not available to compensate everyone to their satisfaction because of an inefficient use of resources. If one can balance these things then I would call that success.
Spare me yer "real world" lectures and calls of naiveté. I am a growed up man with a pretty good sense about these matters. "That's just the way it is" is never something I can accept as an excuse or justification for ineptitude or selfishness. In matters of the natural world, yes, of course. But in matters of human interaction and commerce, no. We all have a sense of right and wrong. When someone feels wronged there is usually, not always, good reason for it. We all know when we are doing wrong to others. We should strive to not act like that. We should strive to be fair and just.
Where else is there to play in Burlington,VT? Is there any kind of mom and pop joint we could cozy up to? Keep those cards and letters humming.
Note: Audio, video, and set list from this show can be found here.