Heaven Knows: Concert Etiquette 101

My first concert, the Kinks at the Spectrum, was in 1983; my last, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Wells Fargo Center, was this past Friday. In between, I’ve seen more shows than I can count. Yet, I’ve only witnessed two headliners deliver truly wretched sets – the Singer-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, who was drunk off her ass, and a flu-ridden Kasey Chambers, who should have postponed the concert.

Mind you, I’ve seen a number of so-so shows. (The memories of most of those have been buried in the crawlspace of my brain, never to be dug up unless and until served with a warrant.) It’s understandable to an extent – the grind of touring, not to mention life, takes a toll. Living out of a suitcase gets old fast, in other words, especially if you’re staring out at a sea of empty seats.

As a result, Diane and I generally head out to concerts with our fingers crossed – as all fans do, I’m sure. In recent years, however, we’re hoping not just that the artist delivers the goods, but that the other attendees won’t impinge on our enjoyment. Not that those concerns weren’t with us, say, 20 years ago, but it seems that, more and more often (and especially at larger shows) some folks just don’t know what is and isn’t rude. So, here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you venture out to a concert…

First, though: Concerts are not live playlists packed with just your favorite songs. There are exceptions, of course, but performers generally map out their sets with several things in mind. They think of pacing, transitions and thematic or sonic similarities; and, too, if they have more than a few albums in their catalogs, they aim to balance audience favorites with songs from their latest release as well as, on occasion, a few “obscurities.” Sometimes the new or lesser-known material is gold. Sometimes it’s pyrite. Often, the difference between the two depends on just how receptive you are to it.

In other words, unless you’re a diehard fan, odds are you’ll hear a few songs that you’re not familiar with. Which leads to my first, and most important, point of order:

1) Conversations with friends during songs aren’t cool. Period. Maybe you’re not familiar with whatever’s being played, but – trust me – someone around you is or wants to be; and we do not want to hear you and your pal(s) talking about whatever petty thing is on your mind. That’s not to say you can’t speak or scream or shout. “Wow,” “amazing” or any number of superlatives are appropriate after a killer guitar solo, for example, just as clapping mid-song in appreciation of said guitar solo isn’t just acceptable, but encouraged.

You’d think that would be common sense. Likewise…

2) Up-and-down, up-and-down. Beer runs and bathroom breaks are commonplace. Hey, thirst and nature calls – it’s understandable. But, please, pick the proper moment to disrupt those around you. If you’re in the middle of a row at an arena or concert hall, mid-song is not a good time to leave your seat. Wait for a between-song moment; and do the same when you return. The same holds true, more or less, if you’re in a standing-only venue (or section of the arena). Be respectful of those around you.

Above, I explained the difference between a concert and a playlist. In a similar vein, a concert venue is not your car. That is to say…

3) Singing. Hey, everyone sings along to certain songs – it’s one of the cool things about concerts, when hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of voices join together as one. But. Not. Every. Song. Is. A. Sing-along. Those around you didn’t pay to hear you, but the artist on stage.

This next point, like the first three, really comes down to one word: Respect.

4) Standing vs. sitting. Some songs and entire shows are designed for folks to be dancing in or on their seats; others are a tad more laid back. Common sense dictates that if everyone else is on their feet, by all means, you should be on yours, too. (Feel free to stay seated, however, if you so choose.) But if you’re the lone person or persons standing in your section, the only thing you’re doing is pissing off the people behind you. If you’re cool getting dowsed with beer (and I’ve seen that happen), hey, by all means…

And that’s it.

Some folks, I’m sure, are wondering about cellphone usage. The most important thing is: Set your phone to silent. We’ve been at too many (smaller) shows where, during an intimate song, someone’s ringtone blares through the room, killing the mood.

Beyond that – is it cool to record a song or three? Some folks are actually adamantly opposed to the practice, but – as evidenced by my YouTube channel – I have no problem with it. (But make sure to turn off the flash and dim the LED screen.) In fact, here’s one of my favorite said videos, from a First Aid Kit concert in 2014:

I smile wide every time they get to the “straight to hell” line; it takes me back to that particular moment in time. I love it, just love it. (And when I recorded that clip – as is often the case – my eyes weren’t on the LED screen, but Klara and Johanna. I rarely look at the phone when filming, just hold it up and hope for the best.)

As far as texting or checking one’s Facebook or Twitter feeds – we live in an ADHD/multitasking world, and many folks are simply incapable of focusing for any length of time. Many, including me, may look askew at you for doing so. But. It. Doesn’t. Impinge. On. My. Enjoyment. Nor on anyone else’s. So, if you feel the need, by all means… (And, to be fair, sometimes there’s a good reason for such stuff – checking in with the babysitter or kids, etc.)

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