Don’t be a Phoney: Cells at Shows



So, that band that has been writing songs just for you all these emotional years is playing at your local venue. You have your tickets in hand, found a good place in line and can feel you’re heart racing as the band’s sound check flows out the sides of the building.

Flash forward two hours later and the headliner has just stepped on stage. Before you see them wave to the crowd, you are blinded by rapid-fire flashes of light. There, blocking your view, are the small screens of cell phones that are taking video, tweeting and liking right in the way of the intimate music experience that should have been yours.

Back in the day, when you went to see live music you were fully engaged, perhaps inebriated to a degree, but you were there for the experience. Today, everyone has a high quality camera in their pocket and the ability, the need, to share it quickly. But the little bright screens, blockages to vision and selfie sticks, which have actually caused injury to concert-goers, ruin the show for everyone.

The hidden nuances of live concerts can be hard to understand from the attendee’s point of view. From the eyes of the people who work within the industry, patterns in behavior in the music-induced crowd construct their ideal sets of concert etiquette.

Having worked at a music venue myself for a short time, I noticed that people on all sides of a concert take issue with prolonged use of cell phones at shows.

Deo Wright works security at the Rialto Theatre and has been in the industry for years. He says that when he is attending a concert, a cell phone takes away from the main attraction, the band.

“Phones, video cameras with bright screens, or flash photography in my line of vision for the entire show,” he says. “Unless you’re a pro photographer doing a gig that usually isn’t going to be more than a few songs I don’t want to have to include you as part of the show.”

Along with phone offenders, Wright lists violations of common courtesies as show killers. Pushiness, rudeness, singing along the whole show, yellers and drunks aren’t tolerable.

“Nobody wants to deal with you, your belligerence or your puke.”

Box office employee Stephanie Engs always just enjoys, “going with the flow, choosing a good spot and finding my bliss.”

One of her few pet peeves are people videoing concerts on their cell phones during the majority of the show.

“I’m like, really? You’re not going to look back at the video. People should just enjoy the moment.”

Engs described a learning process that occurs the more you go to shows, which develops your own method of enjoyment.

“I think of the crowd like one organism, always changing and moving. Once I realized that, I was able to enjoy shows so much more.”

Alyssa Christina has worked in the concert industry for close to a decade, and also works in the box office. She has learned she really enjoys going to shows alone now and that coordinating with a group of friends at a concert is the root of most of her show grievances.

While she gives some lenience to the crowd at a show, she is most annoyed by people who are rude.

“People can be super pushy and rude,” she says. “I’ve caught people trying to step on my feet or digging an elbow in to try and get some space. Otherwise, it’s a concert and I tend to be very forgiving of people’s behaviors. I think most people want to get along.”

Crowd manners often set the scene and atmosphere of a show. For many, cell phones contribute to rudeness and a lack of consideration for concert-goers.

Gretchen Kappel, head of security at Rialto Theatre, has witnessed all manner of lewd, privileged behavior from guests sometimes kicking and screaming as they are escorted out.

“It’s a general lack of respect,” she says. “Where a person’s personal, immediate pleasure and gratification becomes more important than the experience of the rest of the occupancy.”

When it comes to cell phones at a venue, she says you are often putting yourself at risk of losing your personal property, something that in the midst of show production cannot be taken care of by busy staff.

“Is there a high likelihood that you might leave without your mobile?  This is happening at Koko, gangs of Eastern Europeans come in, and by the end of the night, 40 plus phones are missing.”

The prevalence of issues with cell phone use at music concerts is a common and universal talking point for industry folks.

San Francisco based service Yondr, has created a new invention to help ensure concert-goers are present for their experience.

With Yondr, cases are put around people’s cells phones once they enter a venue. The case locks when it reaches the venue’s designated “phone free zone,” and remains locked. If a patron must use their phone, they have to exit the area before they can unlock their distracting device.

Founder Graham Dugoni saw patterns in antisocial behavior growing in the music scene as a result of our obsession with smartphones.

In an interview with Music.Mic, he stated that, “Live shows are about being swept up into a shared mood. That shared mood can’t really be captured or broadcasted as it is being lived. When people try to, it pulls them out of the moment (however briefly) and fundamentally alters everyone’s basic experience of the thing they are trying to capture in the first place.”

Other then being a hindrance to the general experience of a concert, selfie sticks have actually caused physical harm to people.

This year’s Coachella Music and Arts Festival banned selfie sticks and GoPro attachments.

Their website stated, “No selfie sticks/Narsisstics are permitted to dampen the cool of the moment.”

Having worked in the box office myself, seeing the excitement in people’s eyes, I know firsthand the exhilaration of being that close to a musician who has touched your heart. Those who make a concert happen do it because they love music and they want you to have an unforgettable time.

Put down your iPhone and stop playing Farmville for a minute. Watch that band you love, groove with a stranger and actually make memories. It is possible to share your experiences without video, filtered photos or texts.

I could probably write a book on the psychology of a concert and what the proper etiquette is, but this should be a simple tip to pass on. Cell phones, blaring in my face and yours, disrupt the beautiful ecosystem that is a concert.

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