Why I'm Giving Up Live Shows

Why I'm Giving Up Live Shows

By Barbara Fletcher



Because sometimes your smartphone is a thief and your slam dancing is social burglary.

By Barbara Fletcher

I may have attended my last live music show. 

I’ve been seeing concerts since I was 10 years old, including the first Lollapalooza, Radiohead on a 360-degree spinning stage and Massive Attack in an old circus tent. But after nearly 35 years, I’m ready to give it all up. Not because I’m now the middle-aged woman in the room — and definitely not because I’ve lost my love of live performance.

Discourteous behavior is essentially ‘stealing your attention and the enjoyment you paid for.’

I just can’t stand the audience. The excessive talking. The I-don’t-know-my-own-boundaries flailing. The countless cameras lifted into a constellation of screen glows. And it’s not just younger audiences — these discourtesies defy age. It’s enough to make a conflict-averse person spring into action.

Why does this behavior make people so angry? California-based advice columnist Amy Alkon calls the rudeness “a form of theft.” In her new book, Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck,  Alkon describes the increasing presence of “social thuggery ” in society. Discourteous behavior is essentially “stealing your attention and the enjoyment you paid for,” she wrote in an email. 

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the balcony, first row, at a modest-sized music hall. The band was a pop group that draws an audience closer in age to me than, let’s say Justin Bieber. From the moment the show began, the 50-something woman to my left had her camera on, framing and taking pictures one after another without stop. The bright light from the camera’s monitor as she zoomed in and out gave me a headache. Three quarters into the show, I was irritated enough to ask her to turn it off.

She was indignant. And although it took her a few more songs to shut off the effulgent glow from her device, she finally acquiesced. (But not without complaint. “I would never ask that,” she hissed loudly to her companion.) If only I had voiced my frustration sooner I could have spent that energy enjoying the show instead of bemoaning the fate of humanity. 

But are we, as humans, getting ruder? Professor Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford, has determined that people are capable of managing about 150 meaningful relationships in their heads at once. After reaching capacity, things kinda fall apart. 

People behaving badly know they’re being rude and they don’t care.

“We can behave badly when we are around strangers, and we’re around strangers almost all the time. This allows people to do stuff they would never do to a neighbor,” Alkon said in a recent interview with the Globe and Mail .

Stuff such as:

Loud talking. At live shows, we’re often with friends, so it seems natural to launch into conversation. But I have news for you: The rest of us don’t care . We paid money to listen to the band and not about what your BFF did last night. Take the chitchat to the bar or outside — away from the crowd. Note: This applies to the entire show , including the songs you don’t know personally — and the opening acts. Some of us came to see them, too.

Contact dancing. Music inspires dancing, and there’s nothing wrong with getting your shimmy on at a show. But not if your fancy dance moves involve serious person-to-person contact. In general admission shows, there’s bound to be some bumping — totally understandable — but not if your groove is knocking over the person next to you. Know the boundaries of your personal space; you have no idea how your rad slam-dance is affecting someone else. 

Camera crudeness. With smartphones, the temptation to capture a great experience can be hard to resist. Try to. Especially for those of us under 6 feet tall, we want to see the show as it was meant to be seen — and not through a sea of flickering device screens. If you must take a photo, use a camera with a viewfinder or take your smartphone snap quickly. Or why not try standing there, listening and watching it. With your eyes. (Otherwise, apply for a press pass.)

So did I do the right thing by asking the woman beside me to stop taking photos? Not according to Alkon. Even though she was being rude. One-on-one confrontation is risky. People behaving badly “know they’re being rude and they don’t care,” Alkon says. And in some cases the offender can become angry, or even violent. 

Her advice to me as a longtime concert-goer on the brink of giving it up? Turn to a professional, someone “whose job it is to stop the rude,” she says. Let the venues do the policing. Frequent places that ask people to calm down, shut up and put their devices away. Let businesses know — via phone calls or letters to management — that they will lose your patronage if they allow bad behavior to continue. 

Consider this: Attendance at live shows is better than ever, and is expected to grow . Gross ticket sales reached $4.8 billion worldwide in 2013 — an increase of 30 percent from 2012 and 9 percent over the biggest Boxscore year to-date (2009). If more and more potential concert-goers decide to stay at home, the potential financial impact is real.

So will I become one of those statistics? Amy Alkon’s advice gave me food for thought. Giving up live music — something I love — is not the answer. But neither is taking my life into my own hands by calling out social thugs.

Perhaps I should buy up multiple copies of Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck and throw them at hand them out to offenders. I think I’m going to need several.