I have been attending rock concerts for about a decade now and therefore feel as though I am seasoned enough to have a valid opinion about concerts and the scene. I remember thinking that the rock show was pure anarchy at the first few rock shows I went to. But as I continued to attend live shows, I quickly learned that it isn’t mass chaos and I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere of live shows and what they could provide. I have even found myself doing some crowd control at recent shows. I really thought about the etiquette of concerts and thinking about concerts systematically after I attended the Dead Throne tour a month ago. It was one of the worst crowds I have rocked out with in quite some time and it really made me think about why that crowd was so bad. There is no textbook for concert etiquette and so young concert goers only learn from experience. However, not everyone’s observation skills are created equally, and so some concert goers always manage to make it difficult for other fans. I want to use this blog to take a humorous and light yet systematic approach to concert etiquette.
I have never been to a rap or pop concert, so this blog does not pertain to those types of concerts. I mostly listen to the spectrum of rock music. I have been in friendly ska circle pits, I have been to atmospheric concerts where people stand in place in awe of the music, I have been to general alternative concerts where it’s just about having a good time, and I have been to metal concerts where it seems I never go back home without sharing some blood with the venue. There isn’t too much going on at concerts like Copeland and Lydia where people can stand around and just enjoy the music. The ska crowd is just too nice, simple minded, careless, or all of the above for this blog to pertain to them. It’s the general alternative, metal, hardcore, and screamo shows that sometimes need a review of etiquette. This includes everything from Thrice and Taking Back Sunday to bands like As I Lay Dying and Cradle of Filth.
When you come to one of these shows the venue will most likely be pretty spaced out. Not everyone comes for the opening acts. People will most likely be standing in circles with their friends or with their arms crossed looking at the stage that has nothing but equipment on it. You also have the fan that has come to the show only to play with their cell phone. These fans I have never understood because you can play with your cell phone at home without paying the price of admission. Before sound check starts, most people will stand near the stage with a good 4 to 6 inches of space between each person. There is no need to stand shoulder to shoulder, chest to back at this point of the concert. However, you will often have a young fan arrive to the venue late and disrupt the harmony that was carefully carved out by more prompt concert goers. To add salt to the wound, this fan will often gleefully wave his friends over destroying any shred of harmony left and testing your patience even further. Why fans choose to bully their way through and make everyone around them uncomfortable is beyond me. Sure, now you’re a little closer to the stage and your vantage point might be slightly better, but what about the people around you? Plus, I am willing to bet a good lump of money that you will not end up in that exact spot when the show or set ends. There will be music in the room; you will be able to hear it regardless of where you are. When sound check ends and the fans can sense the start of the first band, an act occurs that I like to call “the rush”. The rush is a compression of everyone in the room and migration toward the stage. It’s a phenomenon that occurs at all concerts and puts a smile on my face every time.
Now let’s take a moment to look at the crowd from a bird’s eye view. The common rock concert crowd can be sliced into three primary sections. I will analyze the three sections starting with the section closest to the stage and move toward the back of the venue. The first section can be called “claustrophobia unfriendly”. This section probably doesn’t take up as much room only because the fans are so concentrated. This is where you will typically find younger fans who mistakenly believe that being closer to the stage will enable them to be more involved with the music. There are fans in this section that could care less about the music and more about being physically closer to the musicians because it gives them a sense of being involved with the scene. To be fair, there are plenty of good fans in this section too that just have the misfortune of sharing this area with poor fans. When I was a young concert attendee, I thought this was the place to be, but that perspective quickly changed as I gained more knowledge. Most of the fans here will be grumpy as they have absolutely zero wiggle room and sometimes will find it difficult to breath because of the of the amount of pressure created by bodies being pressed against each other. In this section, you sometimes have to think twice about putting your hands in the air at the band’s request because you might not be able to put your arms back down. One of the most annoying acts in this section is something I like to call “the-ring-of-protection”. You will see this immensely annoying violation by young couples. Often a boyfriend will try to create breathing space for their girlfriends by creating an imaginary hula-hoop around them with their arms making it uncomfortable for everyone around them. These violators need to either quit this act, or they have to take their romance to the back of the venue. You cannot go to a concert and commit this heinous act in section one without being a thorn to everyone around you. If your girlfriend is that petite, you have to know better and stay home or respect the people around you. This is a rock concert, you know what to expect.
The second section is probably the largest in terms of square feet and not necessarily bodies. I believe you will find more veteran concert goers in this section and I am certain you will find the more rowdy concert goers here. Most of these fans are indeed there for the music, but to be fair, some are only there to thrash and can sometimes ruin it for the other people. The fans in this section have grown tired of the first section and have learned that the party is actually in this region. There is also another kind of fan that make of the periphery of the second section. These fans are also tired of the first section, but don’t plan to partake in the circle pit. These fans can fully enjoy the music and appreciate the crowd as well. They also play the vital role of maintaining the frame of the circle pit. The circle pit is a chaotic and amazing space. The circle pit might look like complete anarchy, but to a seasoned vet, there are unwritten rules in place, rules that a newcomer will not know. There are two types of fans in the circle pit. One who is there for the love of music and to take advantage of the atmosphere and everything a live show has to offer while connecting with the similar fans. Then as mentioned above, there are some fans in the circle pit just to release some aggression. I personally can’t get involved in a circle pit unless I can “feel” the music. Now here is an unwritten rule that was often ignored at the Dead Throne concert I attended: when a fan falls, it is the duty of everyone else in the circle pit to help that individual up. If that person is not helped up, they will get stepped on, possibly injured, and they will have a hell of a time attempting to get up as the swarm of people above them continue to step on them as the madness continues. Another element newcomers to the circle pit don’t seem to understand is that the objective of a circle pit is not to run into each other in an attempt to destroy each other. For example, at the Dead Throne show, there was a not so gentle man whose main intent was to knock everyone in the circle pit over before they knocked him over. It was as if he were playing a very violent and deranged version of tag. Of course after a few minutes he was the least liked guy in the pit and he found himself on the receiving end of a couple of choke holds. To help you better picture this ass of an individual, just know he had his Ed Hardy polo on and his collar popped. When people told him to quit intentionally knocking people over, he replied that it was a concert and this is what was suppose to occur. To the untrained eye, this is what it might look like. This is, however, not what is actually going on. No one is in the pit performing their best Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher impersonation. It just so happens that sometimes during the chaos people run each other over. There is not, or at least shouldn’t be, any intent to injure someone in a circle pit. People just understand that a certain level of violence comes with the territory. There is another fan that I like to call “the flailer” that shares the space inside a circle pit. The flailer doesn’t move around much within the pit, but does demand a good amount of space as they flail their extremities in an unhealthy fashion. It may look as if the flailer is mindlessly attempting to unhinge his forearm off his elbow, but a good flailer is very aware of the length of their limbs, the people around them, and the amount of space they have. The flailers at The Devil Wears Prada show failed to consider the three elements of flailing just mentioned. Flailers already look dumb (I know, I flail sometimes), let’s not hurt people in the process by elbowing, kicking, and/or slapping them. The last rule I want to throw in here quickly for the people of the second section is not to throw stuff into the stage. It puts the bands in danger and it doesn’t make you cool. The bands are working hard night in and night out and the last thing they need is for a shoe to hit them in the face.
The third section mostly makes up the back of the venue, but depending on the venue can take up space on the peripheries and can also manifest on multiple floors. There are two types of fans in the third section. The first one being the fans who don’t give a shit about the bands that are playing and are there more to be hip and because alcohol is served. The other type of fan is one that still loves music, but has grown out of the other two sections and could care less about partaking in those concert activities. They are there strictly there for the music. The third section really doesn’t need a lot of rules because most of the older fans are here. Plus, this is the section I have the least experience with although I find myself here more and more lately.
It would be convenient to have a book to teach us how to properly rock the fuck out, but alas things just aren’t that convenient for this scene that isn’t highly exposed. The scene is still a beautiful and thriving one, and so my hope is to hand it over to the next generation of young fans as beautiful and intact. Music has done so much for me and I’m sure for many people and it still has the capacity to do so much if we let it. It is truly one of the most beautiful and amazing mediums we have as proven by how eternal it is. I want to do my best to protect it and as I slowly fade into the third section, I hope music does for new fans what it has done for me.