Category Archives: Fans

Oooohs, Ohm’s, and Ohhhmmms: Concert Etiquette, Physics, and Yoga

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From the stressful thrill of purchasing tickets to inevitably sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, no other music experience can quite compare to the coveted live show.  There is the build-up, the planning, and the pregaming that  leads up to the big event, during which time fans speculate on anything and everything from the potential “gems” that may be played to the probability of getting a perfect vantage point in the GA pit section.  This type of speculation tends to linger until the lights and house music come on to indicate that the show is over–that is unless you plan to try to meet the band after the show, which brings on an entirely new level of anxiety and hypothetical scenarios.

For those who are familiar with the live show experience, it is well-known that the overall experience itself depends on several factors–the band’s energy, acoustics, security staff attitude, weather (if outdoors), lighting and stage effects, etc.  While all of those factors are important, nothing quite kills the vibe of a live show more than a rude or obnoxious person in the crowd.  Whether it’s a drunk, belligerent frat boy, an eager Instagramer, an incessant texter, a tone-deaf wannabe singer, or that person who will just not shut-up, these people will successfully and often single-handedly ruin shows for both the crowd and the band, time and time again.

The debate about concert etiquette is certainly not a new one.  However, over the past decade we have moved into new territory with the advancement of technology, where every concert goer is packing a smart phone or pocket-sized camera.  With the smart phone comes endless options for distraction during a show–Facebook updates, Instagram uploads, tweets, texts, emails, concert calls, and–the worst yet–actually having a conversation with someone while standing in a crowd of people who are trying to enjoy the show.

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These disruptive and distracting behaviors don’t only affect the crowd, but can translate all the way up to the stage.  If fans think that musicians are just going through the motions and not trading energy with the crowd, they have obviously forgotten one of the simplest laws of physics–The Law of Conservation of Energy.  Thanks to ancient philosophers, we know that energy is neither created nor destroyed.  Rather, it is converted, which in concert terms means that there is an ebb and flow of energy between a musician and the crowd.  If you think of it in terms of science, it makes perfect sense.

Anyone who pays attention can tell that musicians definitely adjust their energy depending on the crowd’s energy.  Take Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, for example, who recently told Rolling Stone Magazine (August 15, 2013 issue) what he thinks about while on stage:

I used to believe that it was up to the band to set the tone at a show, but now, having played a thousand shows or so, I think the crowd has a bigger effect.  It’s funny.  When the crowd is really bad — when they don’t give a fuck, or you’re playing some awkward festival — you work extra hard.  And of course, when the crowd’s going crazy, it brings something out of you.

In Koenig’s case, a bad crowd may motivate him to work harder, but that is certainly not the case for others musicians.  As fans, we can’t control how a musician responds on stage, but we can modify our approach to the concert experience.  The first step is to take the focus off of yourself and put it on the collective.  Let’s look at the example of the eager Instagramer.  The temptation to capture every moment of a show is real–I’ve been there, done that, and may do it again.  While snapping a few choice photos throughout the show is acceptable, watching the entire show through the tiny, bright screen of your phone is a waste of money and annoys the people behind you.  I realize that it takes a conscious effort to fight that temptation, but if you start to think outside of yourself it is possible.  When you view the concert as an experience of the whole rather than its separate parts, that temptation will fade.

An easy way to do this is to approach a live show like you would a 90-minute Bikram yoga class, where it is seriously frowned upon to disrupt the energy of the room and the experience by serving your own needs.  You suppress the desire to leave the class because it’s hot as Hades, your down-dog is pathetic, and you have to pee.  You push through for the group and the final emotional, physical, and mental experience is that much sweeter–for everyone.

While there are several articles that boast lists of proper concert etiquette, it really just comes down to the fan’s approach.  If you jump in that pit with a self-serving attitude, you are sure to piss people off and potentially get yourself escorted out.  If you approach the show from a point of view of respect for others and fellowship, you will elevate the experience to a euphoric level.  So, at your next concert if you are doubting this approach, try channeling your inner yogi, let out a quiet ohhhhmmmm, and watch as the energy spreads to the group.

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DISCLAIMER: Like my yoga practice, my concert going practice is an ongoing work in progress, so if this comes off as preachy, don’t worry, I’m preaching to myself as well!

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Box Office Adventures – First World Hipster Problems

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I arrived in downtown Richmond with 10 minutes to spare.  It was 9:50 AM, and The National’s box office was just about to open.  As I rounded the corner and approached the historic theater, a line full of single-speeds, jorts, and carefully coiffed facial hair came into view–the River City hipsters had beaten me to the box office.  What on God’s green earth could get hipsters out of bed before noon on a Friday?

Three words–Neutral Milk Hotel.

The last time I saw a line like this at The National’s box office was back in 2010 when Widespread Panic tickets were going on sale.  It was snowing, but that didn’t faze those hippies.  They sat patiently and waited for a chance to buy tickets to see their beloved jam band.  That’s what devoted fans do.  And, no matter the type of fan–hipsters, hippies, hip-hop junkies–if there is a chance that their favorite band’s show will sell out quickly, the line inevitably turns into an adult version of our favorite childhood game Telephone, where rumors run rampant and anxiety builds as the line lengthens.

That Friday morning was no different.  Though hipsters may want you to believe that they are trailblazers–leading the way with their thrift store style and non-conformist attitudes–they too succumb to the box office woes that plague the rest of us not-so-hip-sters.

I got into line behind about 2 dozen hipsters, and was quickly handed an info card to fill out–name, address, credit card information, number of tickets to be purchased, etc.  This was intense and quite honestly, a lot to ask of these young, sleep-deprived 20-somethings.  Grumbles rippled through the line.

“What is this for?” asked a girl behind me.  “Do we actually get tickets when we get up there?”

I assumed the answer was yes, but the tall lanky guy behind her had a different take on the situation.

“Um, like, I’m pretty sure it’s just like a lottery, and like all we are doing is waiting in line to be put into the lottery to see if we can maybe get tickets.”

Well that’s complete horse shit.  I didn’t drive 3 hours to get put into a damn lottery.  Others shot him looks of anxious skepticism with this new information.  Immediately, everyone within an ear shot whipped out their iPhones and searched frantically for anything that could confirm or deny Mr. Lanky’s revelation.

NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL TICKETS ON SALE AT 10:00 AM EST

Phew.  Thank goodness!  What did Mr. Lanky know anyway?  A sigh of relief echoed down Broad Street.  Wait, hold up…what does that sign say over there?

LOTTERY PROCEEDINGS FOR NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL

(WHAT!? Heart rate increasing–panic setting in…)

-Lottery tickets and info cards will be handed out at 9AM sharp

(Lottery!?  Wait, it’s 9:55 and I didn’t get a lottery ticket.  WTF!?)

-Everyone in line at that time will receive a lottery ticket

(WHERE IS MY LOTTERY TICKET!?  ALL I HAVE IS THIS STUPID INFO CARD!)

-A number will be drawn and the corresponding lottery ticket holder will become first in line

(Seriously!?  There’s no way the guy with the handlebar mustache and mesh tank top who just rolled up is going to get dibs before me)

-The line will form numerically thereafter.  Make sure you have your ticket in hand when reaching the window

(Who is in charge here!?  I DON’T HAVE A TICKET!!!!)

-Tickets go on sale at 10AM

(Ohhhh…Duh…I knew Mr. Lanky was full of it–heart rate returning to normal)

Okay, now we knew that the lottery theory applied only to people who got in line super early, which was NO ONE (hipsters aren’t THAT motivated).  It was now 10:10 AM, and while the box office was open, they were moving at a sloth’s pace.  The first guy to get a ticket walked back to chat with the fashionably disheveled guy directly behind me.

“Dude, did you get an actual ticket?!”  he asked.

“Um, well all of the tickets are will call, but yeah, of course I bought a ticket.  Isn’t that why you are here?” Mr. First-in-line replied.

“Yeh, but some jockstrap back there said something about a lottery, and we all just about lost it.  I am thinking about just buying them online.  I’m looking it up right now.  This line is moving too slow.  I seriously need to go back to bed ’til about 3:00,” he mumbled.

“Well, you should get to the front in about 15 minutes.  Is that worth $10 in extra processing fees?”

While the evil Ticketmaster processing fee debate transpired, a threesome in front of me caught my attention.  Two girls and a guy, all dressed up nicely for graduation day at VCU.  The girl in the blue sequins dress and thick rimmed spectacles beamed with excitement–not because she was about to celebrate the culmination of all of her hard work over the past 4 years, but because she was getting closer to solidifying her chance of seeing Jeff Mangum up close and personal.  Priorities people–get with it.

Her girl friend was obviously just there for moral support, although she did look the part with her layered lace dress, flats, and unkempt pulled-back hairdo.

“I don’t even like Neutral Milk Hotel,” she admitted louder than her friends would have liked.

“SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Don’t say that here!” they pleaded in unison, as they looked around to see if anyone heard her.

That was like the hipster kiss of death–well perhaps yelling “I hate Radiohead” in a Brooklyn dive bar is a greater offense, but that’s a whole different story.  Statements of that nature could seriously damage a hipster’s street cred.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the entire scene, and since I was dressed like a 34-year old Maxxinista, they knew I had no pull in the hipster community.  Their secret was safe with me–another catastrophe eschewed.

“Boom! I just got two tickets.  I’m outta here,” said Mr. Ineedanap behind me.  He must have had Verizon because I couldn’t get a flippin’ signal if I was covered head to toe in tin foil.  Damn you Sprint!  I, too, had contemplated just taking a hit on the processing fees, because–God forbid–I get to the window and they are sold out.  My husband would be crushed.

A few yards back came an outburst, “They just sold out online!”

And three…two…one…PANIC!  It was only 10:20 AM, we had moved maybe a foot and a half closer to the box office window and there was no telling how many tickets they had set aside for the locals.  This was becoming more stressful than an Avett Brothers’ presale.  I found myself completely relating to the hipster’s dilemma, and I was right there with them, speculating, postulating, and praying to the music gods that it would all work out.

The young man directly behind me, now that Mr. Ineedanap was gone, was also graduating that afternoon.  He was in a state of quiet panic, and hid it well as he buried his face in a paperback while he waited–apparently real books are cool to read again.  Thank you hipsters!  After getting bored with the book, he fumbled through his tattered canvas delivery bag, trying to bide some time as we inched closer and closer to the box office window.

“I have to get these tickets.  I mean, I’m graduating today.  I deserve it, right?!”  He was one of those hipsters you just want to fold up, put in your pocket, and take home with you–sweet and friendly, with the perfect amount of piercings and tattoos, who made an army green t-shirt and cut-offs look like they belong on the runway in Milan.

“Yes, of course you deserve tickets,” I assured him.  He was like a puppy who had lost his way–endearingly pathetic.  My mind raced and I thought, “What if I get to the window and I am the last person who can get tickets?!  Should I give them to this kid?  I mean, it is his graduation day. Ugh, damn you Haley Joel Osment and your whole pay it forward campaign!”

I was next in line.  Breathe. Speculate. Breathe. Speculate. The blue sequined dress girl chirped with joy as she was handed a receipt.  It was my turn, and by all accounts it appeared that there were still tickets left.  Phew.  However, I still could have been buying the last two.  So I did what I do best–got nosy.

“Soooo…did you guys like put aside a specific amount of tickets for locals?” I asked.

“Yes.  I’m hoping that we have enough to help everyone here today, but I am not totally sure,”  the girl behind the glass responded.

That was enough of a confirmation that my nervous neighbor in line would be getting his graduation present today, and I wouldn’t have to disappoint the husband with my “pay it forward to a hipster” story–yet another disaster avoided.

I received my receipt, congratulated the graduate, and went on my way, thankful that I had secured two tickets to see an amazing band that hasn’t toured together in 15 years.  It’s pretty interesting to think about the fact that 90% of the people in that line weren’t even born when Neutral Milk Hotel released their first EP.  It just goes to show you that great music is powerful enough to infiltrate one of the most discerning of communities out there–the mighty hipsters.

The show sold out quickly thereafter.  You better believe that I will be looking for my line mates come October 12th.  If by chance I see them, I will be sure to buy them each a tallboy PBR to celebrate our recent box office adventures.  That is…if tallboy PBRs are still hip in 5 months.

Author’s note:  I caught Jeff Mangum’s solo performance this year in Wilmington, and it blew my mind.  What I found extremely telling was that it was the hipsters who were polite and attentive in the audience, while the drunk 30-40 somethings needed to be told to pipe down or leave.  Perhaps this new generation can teach the older generations a thing or two about concert etiquette.  Tighten up Generation X!

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Spring Music Festival Spotlight – MerleFest 2013

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MerleFest, April 25-28, 2013 @ Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro NC

MerleFest is a family friendly music festival that was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson — son of American music legend Doc Watson.  For over 25 years, the festival has maintained its original purpose–to raise funds for Wilkes Community College while celebrating “traditional plus” music. Today, MerleFest is considered one of the top music festivals in the country, drawing more than 75,000 festival goers and some of the biggest names in traditional bluegrass, country, Americana, folk, rock and more.  This year’s festival will feature over 90 musicians on 14 stages over the course of four days, so festival goers are encouraged to download the MerleFest app before they arrive to ensure the ultimate festival experience!

In true MerleFest fashion, festival organizers have gone above and beyond to congregate the best of the best at WCC.  This year’s lineup features rising musicians like The Black Lillies, Pokey LaFarge, and Delta Rae alongside industry vets like Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, and headliners The Charlie Daniels Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Warren Haynes & Gov’t Mule. Additionally, local favorites, The Avett Brothers, have signed-on to closeout the festival on Sunday afternoon, but not before their talented father, Jim Avett, takes the Creekside Stage to perform a special family gospel set.  In addition to this year’s stacked lineup, Sam Bush will host an all-star tribute jam on Saturday night to honor the life and music of the festival’s founding father Doc Watson, who sadly passed away last year.

While it is true that MerleFest mainly involves relaxing and enjoying the company of old and new friends while taking in amazing live performances, there are also several opportunities for fans to get involved and play some music themselves.  Musically inclined fans can join others to pick, sing, and learn at Jam Camp, Pickin’ Place, and The Songwriters’ Coffeehouse.  Young festival goers may enjoy spending some time in the Little Pickers Family Area, while fans of all ages can venture out into the WCC campus woods for a Nature Walk.  MerleFest also features a series of contests for musicians and songwriters, including The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship, The Doc Watson Guitar Championship, and The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.  The twelve finalists for the CASC will perform on the Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 PM, and will be judged by a panel of music industry professionals, including Jim Lauderdale.  The first place winner will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage that evening.  All proceeds from the CASC benefit the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship.  And, last but certainly not least is the Saturday night Midnight Jam — a fun and often rowdy festival tradition!

If you are looking for a music festival to kick off the spring season, MerleFest is for you!  Load up your car, head out to Wilkesboro, set up a tent at one of the many surrounding campsites, and be prepared to have your mind blown by some of the music industry’s best.  Multi- and single-day tickets are still available. For more information about MerleFest, musicians, and festival events, please visit  www.merlefest.org.

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