“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” – Victor Hugo
“I was born in Kentucky and raised there, but now I live here.” – Older Guy Sitting Behind Me To the Left
“I’m afraid – and I don’t like to say this – but I think the NBA is fixed. At least the playoffs were.” Younger Guy Behind Me To the Right
“Free Bird!” – The My Aged Guy Sitting Next to Me
By Jack Sharkey, June 24, 2016
Disclaimer: Throughout this piece I use the pronoun ‘you’ in the second person nominative and plural case, I don’t really mean ‘you’ as you are probably reading this because you are a music lover. However, as a public service please feel free to share this piece with someone who may need to read it.
I have some bad news for music appreciators: Your ranks are disappearing at an alarming rate. I’ve had my suspicions about this for a while now but they have been confirmed: Live music may be over. The dynamic between artist and audience has morphed into some terrible post-millennial free-for-all where audiences now think their input to a show is as important as that of the artist.
This is just not just another rant about cheap earbuds, mp3s and the ubiquity of music to the point we are desensitized to it. No, I’m afraid it’s much worse than that. That bastion of the music lover – the live concert – is now pretty much a waste of time, unless of course you are among the majority of people who don’t view the live musical performance as anything other than an opportunity to insert yourself.
The Set-Up: People Have Always Been Horrible
I don’t know about people back in the powdered wig days but in my chunk of history people have always been somewhat horrible. In 1976 I attended an Aerosmith concert at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and a horrible person threw a cherry bomb on stage which exploded right next to Steven Tyler’s head. Lights up. Concert over.
At a Van Halen concert at Convention Hall in Asbury Park in 1979, a charming young lady standing on her chair in front of me turned around and threw up all over me. That was truly horrible.
Over the years, I’ve seen more fights than Freddie Roach, with the best (and latest) being the two seventy-year-old guys who threw haymakers at each other (with me, my wife and daughter in the middle of them) at a Rascals concert in Atlantic City. Thank goodness for osteoporosis or someone may have gotten hurt. At least I got a free night’s stay at the Borgata for my trouble. Been to a Kenny Chesney concert lately? Made it out without getting arrested or punched, or both?
We’ve all had our share of bad experiences at shows over the years, but you cannot deny it is getting worse. The fact is, we have removed the sale of recorded music from musicians’ income streams and before too long concerts will become such unenjoyable experiences that the income stream from live music will go away as well. This will leave us with a world of buskers playing for tips on street corners – and that’s not a good thing for any of us.
Myth #1: First You Must Get As Drunk As Possible to Enjoy Live Music
Alcohol removes your inhibitions and diminishes your ability to be introspective. You’ve spent a ton of money to go to a show. Is it completely necessary to drink five $8.00 cups of Budweiser in 20 minutes in order to connect to what you paid to come connect to? At a Ringo Starr show at the Ryman Theater last Saturday, the 60 year-old librarian looking lady in front of us got herself drunker than a frat boy, dancing with abandon until she blacked out and her mortified husband had to keep her from banging her head on her seat. Tickets for that show were around $84. She did not get her money’s worth from the fabulous band on stage that night. Either did the people around her.
Helpful Hint: Beer is expensive. Tickets are expensive. Don’ throw up on me. And when you are dancing drunkenly (I’m talking to you paunchy Gen-X men) don’t high-five me with that alcohol-grin on your face. I don’t know where your hands have been.
Myth #2: The Rest of Us Spent $100 On A Ticket To Hear You Get Your 30 Seconds of Fame
Musicians spend their entire lives practicing, perfecting their craft, being told they aren’t good enough and then trying again. It’s hard work to be a musician. You on the other hand just had the thought that yelling “Don’t let us down, Taylor!” every time the music stopped at a Taylor Hicks concert I recently attended at an intimate little theater in Franklin, TN, was a brilliant way to draw attention to yourself. The first time this drunken AARP subscriber shouted it the audience laughed. Big mistake because that just encouraged her to shout it every single solitary chance she got. Hicks finally responded, “I’m trying but you gotta let me work here,” and some people applauded which seemed to quiet her down somewhat. That or she passed out, I’m not sure.
Helpful Hint: Don’t Encourage Them! Don’t laugh or go “woooohoooo” when someone tells the performing artist they love them or shouts out some personal anecdote. Ignore them so they will feel shame and stay quiet. Trust me, it’s a good idea.
Myth #3: Shouting ‘Free Bird!’ Is Important and Necessary Even When Not At A Lynyrd Skynyrd Show
I have a dear friend who has been a journeyman musician (high praise) for many, many years. He does a wonderful acoustic duo with an extremely talented young lady in New Jersey. People shout “Free Bird!” at them when they are between songs. I attended a Gregg Allman show at the Fontanel Amphitheater in Whites Creek, TN, Saturday night with the magnificent duo Shovels and Rope opening. I counted eleven shouts of ‘Free Bird!’ during their set. This is not only extremely insulting to the musician who is performing for you, it also kind of proves that you may be too dumb to go out in public. Please don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t mean to insult anyone, but if you are a ‘Free Bird!’ shouter, please stop.
Helpful Hint: Don’t Encourage Them! If you attend a non-Lynyrd Skynyrd concert and the person you are with shouts ‘Free Bird!’ give them the stink-eye and shake your head disapprovingly. If that doesn’t work, call Uber and go home. Also, every concert is a non-Lynyrd Skynyrd concert because Lynyrd Skynyrd actually no longer exists.
Myth #4: New Music Sucks So Why Listen To It?
Some of it does, but in roughly the same proportion as at any other time in history. The problem is most people today are not interested in unfamiliar music. This results in doing things like talking during a set by, let’s say, Shovels and Rope at the Laid Back Festival last Saturday night. Or shouting ‘Free Bird!’ Or any number of other boorish behaviors that run counter to the fact you just paid $100 to see a band play live and you are ignoring them because they are unfamiliar to you.
Helpful Hint: Try Something New It Might Help With the Ennui. If an earnest, hard-working musician is giving it their all on stage but you are unfamiliar with them, give them a listen. Who knows? You might find something you like. If not, you could always go and get another $8 beer and let other people enjoy the show without your non-sequiturs.
Myth #5: The Band Is In A Competition With Your Conversation
Back when she was in high school, my daughter played in concert band, marching band and jazz band. My wife would make me go to her concerts. I like my daughter and I really enjoy her talent, but I hated going to these shows. Why? Because during high school recitals, when their kid isn’t playing most people assume it’s a good time to talk loudly over the music so people can hear their thoughts on the can-can sale at Shop-Rite. And we wonder why kids hate stuff. Imagine practicing for six months only to hear some lady talking about canned green beans over your tuba solo? I thought this was limited to horrible suburban parents but sadly, I was mistaken. On Saturday night, while in the fourth row, with the subwoofers 12 feet in front of us and putting out 107dB of sound, in my left ear I distinctly heard a pretty old (and inebriated) guy explain in exhausting detail his entire life journey from Kentucky to Nashville, while simultaneously in my right ear I heard two millennial-types pontificating on NBA officiating. During the music!!!!
Helpful Hint: The Band Is Playing Loud So You Can Hear Them. Shhhh. Listen to the music. Talk to your seatmates on the ride home. Or on another night. Or at an appropriate time for a conversation. Or via text. You may not realize this because your universe is so tiny but other people can hear you.
Myth #6: It Is More Important to Record the Concert For Posterity Than To Attend It
You are not Ken Burns. Unless you actually are Ken Burns and in that case I love your work. Look, I grab snapshots and occasionally take video from my phone to share with my friends on Facebook when I go to a show. It’s fabulous to be able to do that but I realize my videography skills and equipment are limited, so I grab a shot and then get back to the show. I trust my brain to record the moment when my favorite songs get played rather than losing the moment to some crappy smartphone video I’ll probably never watch anyway.
Helpful Hint: Take A Picture or Quick Video Then Turn Your Phone Off. We all do it but maybe if you put yourself in the moment the whole experience would have more intrinsic value and you wouldn’t feel compelled to shout ‘Free Bird!’ every time it gets quiet.
Myth #7: American Idol and the Voice Are What Music Is All About
Spontaneous applause or the visceral “yeah” or “woohoo” when something great happens is a wonderful way to give feedback to the musicians on stage, but shouting in acceptance of every little thing is bad form. Allman introduced a song thusly: “I wrote this song in 1972.” With that a large smattering of the audience began to vigorously cheer and applaud. I guess they know more about 1972 than I do (I was 12, so it’s possible), because the song was completely obscure to this loyal Allman Brothers fan of 43 years.
Helpful Hint: America Idol and The Voice Are Major Contributors To the Devaluation of Music. Those two shows did more to destroy the musical experience than any other two things in history. Stop doing what audiences were coerced to do on those horrible shows and get back to digging on the music. We’re not on TV. We do not have to shout at every single thing.
Another Reason We Devalue Music
I truly believe audiences are subconsciously insulted by pre-packaged mega-pop stars who dance and lip synch to all of those horrible songs television tells us are good. Lip-synching by under-talented stars is not valuable so we treat it as such. The problem is, that mind-set has trickled into every other musical performance. The lip-synchers at the top have ruined the audience experience for the hard-working talents on the rest of the ladder.
Musicians work really hard to bring you something that is truly essential to the full enjoyment of life. The communal sharing of this joyful thing we call music is an important part of the human experience. Shouting ‘Free Bird!’ or doing the hippie-chick dance and high-fiving strangers (I’m talking to you paunchy Gen-X men) or talking about the horrible state of NBA officiating during a show are not helping fill your soul with the joy of music. Likewise, checking your status to see how many likes your witty post about the paunchy high-fiving hippie-chick-dancing-guy in the tie-dyed shirt is getting also detracts from the value of the experience you paid a lot of money to have.
It’s not just about manners (but that on its own wouldn’t be a bad reason for this rant) it’s about the importance of music (and musicians) in our lives.
Save an art form, be a genuine audience member who is there to enrich your own life and not devalue the experience for yourself and others.
Additional Disclaimer: The opinions in this piece, however spot on, are the sole opinions of the writer and are not necessarily the opinions of anyone else.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and not necessairily those of KEF or its employees.