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Expanding Radical Civility: What About Concerts?

RadicalCivility.jpgSo far during the brief life of the Radical Civility movement, I have been focused on one thing: texting during movies. My aim has been to start modestly. But pondering inappropriate behavior in one setting inevitably raises questions of inappropriate behavior in other settings. Which leads us to today's discussion. Here's a message I received from Maureen Carrington:

I may be a day late and a dollar short but, thank you so much for enlightening me I'm not alone in my frustration over cell phones/texting in theatres. Over Memorial Day Weekend my husband and I saw Little Feat at the Rams Head Live in Annapolis, MD. The people at the table in front of us (directly in view of the stage) were texting and using their cell phones during the entire concert. It was such a distraction. I was puzzled about it at the time thinking I why are these people not just enjoying a great show?

Let's face it people can get really aggressive and hostile when the feel they are being wronged and I did not want to make a scene. Next time I will speak to the house manager. Thanks for taking a stand.

Keep that in mind as you read this message from reader Nancy Premen:

On June 13, my sister and I attended the George Strait concert at Nissan Pavilion. We were very excited, as George is renowned to do a fantastic concert and we had great seats. When we arrived at the venue, we were even more thrilled. We were in Section 103, Row E--literally right behind the Orchestra section and very close.

The first entertainer, Julianne Hough, was very good and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Then the second entertainer, Blake Shelton came on stage. As soon as he started his first song, two very large ladies stood up directly in front of us by two rows. We figured that after showing their obvious enthusiasm for this singer, that they would then seat themselves for the rest of his set. Unfortunately, we were very wrong.

Directly in front of us (and thus directly behind the 'ladies'), a gentleman and his wife were obviously becoming as concerned as we were. Finally, he tapped one 'lady' on the shoulder and pointed to all of us and asked if she and her friend would sit down. She nastily said "I paid for these tickets and I'm standing." To which, she then turned around and smiling from ear-to-ear proceeded to "entertain" us with her "dancing." Obviously, we were stunned. The man then went to an usher to complain. The usher asked the women to sit down and they refused. He shrugged and walked away. The man then went to someone who was obviously a head usher or in some kind of more powerful role and we then saw the man and his wife move to other seats.

Puzzled, I went down to this same "usher." He proceeded to tell me that there was nothing that he could do--that as long as the woman was standing in front of her seat (even though it was also in front of all of ours), she could do that. He then told me that my sister and I could move to other seats , but if those people arrived, we'd have to move back.

We ended up moving four times. It was horrible. We couldn't relax through any of the concert as there was the constant "fear" that the true owners of the seats would rightfully appear. We did end up with good seats and were able to somewhat relax about half-way through George Strait's set. Meanwhile, the woman and her friend stood through-out the entire 3 1/2 hours. When it was obvious that she was tiring, she still refused to sit down--instead proceeding to sit on the top of the chair and continue to block everyone's view. I might also add that she then encouraged her other two very large friends to stand also --thus making an effective "fence" on row 3 of our section. I was stunned and appalled that anyone could be so out-right RUDE!! I might also add that a large portion of this audience consisted of older individuals who could not easily move away from obstacles to viewing such as this.

Where is the fairness here? All of us paid as much for our tickets as she did and yet our concert was ruined by her rudeness and that of her friends. I understand that at a concert, people can be excited--but to rudely stand throughout a concert is ridiculous. Standing for a song and then sitting back down so that everyone can enjoy what they paid for seems to be the right answer to me.

Your thoughts, John?

So here we have two cases involving live musical entertainment. In general I am more relaxed about things like texting at a concert (rock, pop, hip-hop, non-classical) than I am at a movie or live theatrical presentation. At a concert there is no "plot" to follow, per se. Plus, it's loud and, usually, raucous. I may think it's dumb to text during a show you've paid to see, but that just goes with the territory.

Now, I haven't been to Ram's Head but Maureen mentioned tables. The Birchmere has tables and is known as a "listening room." You're not supposed to be raucous. You're not even supposed to talk. I don't know how texting goes over there. While I would prefer people in my line of sight not to be texting and talking on a cell phone during a performance at a tabled venue, I don't know if the house manager could be expected to stop it, especially if an announcement wasn't made beforehand.

Now, to Nissan Pavilion. I've been in both situations at arena concerts. I've been behind people who want to stand more than I want to and I've been in front of people who preferred that I sit down. It's a matter of degree. Concerts--good ones, anyway--have a rhythm, an ebb and a flow. There are times when you are moved to stand up and times, during slow songs for instance, when the crowd seems to settle into its seats.

The large standing lady is guilty of ignoring that rhythm. She is guilty of being rude. She knew that people behind her didn't want to stand during the whole concert and yet she forced that upon them. Even worse, she went out of her way to be uncivil, urging her friends to stand, creating a huge fleshy wall for the express purpose of ruining other peoples' evenings.

I don't know what you can do in such a situation. The usher is probably right that she was breaking no rule. She paid for her ticket, it was a country music show in a pavilion, she's allowed to stand or sit as she sees fit. He might have approached her with, "Ma'am, can you just sit on the slow ones to give the folks behind you a chance to rest their legs?" but I bet she wouldn't have cared. He tried to help people by moving them to different seats, though that was not a perfect solution.

All we may hope for is that karma will get this woman, that she will break both legs in an accident and be confined for some period of time to a wheelchair, forced to look at peoples' behinds at the next concert she goes to.

Your thoughts?

By John Kelly  |  July 1, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Radical Civility  
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Next: More Common Sense From the Midwest


I'm going to have to say it. Movies, I have been guilty as charged for texting. The campaign, not someone touching me, but reading this, has me rethinking it, and being aware of it.

But concerts? Whole different beast. It's music. Not visual. The concert story, she should be allowed to stand, and sing, and do whatever she wants. My guess is everyone is going to stand for the headline act. That's what concerts are about: standing and singing along. Frankly, the market takes care of this. If it's important enough for you to be able to sit all during the show, buy the seats in the first row. If it's not worth that to you, then you can't go demanding more than what you paid for.

Same thing at sporting events. If it's a dead moment and you're just standing to be inconsiderate, I'll call "A down in front." But if it's one out, two strikes in the top of the ninth with the closer on, I'm up and clapping. And yes, this is the rhythm part.

But I think you've gone too far with this campaign in where people think they can get what they want. Yes, politeness takes place in movie theaters and quiet areas. But in places where it's a concert, that's about standing and being involved, it seems to me like the woman wanting to have a clear view is the one who's expectations were off. Same with Birchmere or Classical music. It's music. Close the eyes and listen.

One last question. What would people participating in this have thought of Shakespeare's plays at the Globe? I mean, there was active booing, insults and taunts thrown to the characters on stage, all throughout those plays, and up until the 18th century. If a performance is bad, why can't we boo? Why can't we voice our displeasure? And how would concertgoers deal with that?

Posted by: DCCenturion | July 1, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Good points. And I like your question about the Globe. Here's what I think about that: It all has to do with the setting and the relationship between the audience and the performers. At the Globe Theatre it was clear that the audience was meant to be part of the show. Being part of the show meant being loud, interacting. But texters aren't interacting with the performance. They're interacting with someone outside the theater. A Globe theatergoer would probably be just as annoyed at a texter--despite the controlled chaos going on around them--as someone at the Kennedy Center is: "Why aren't you hooting at Sir Toby Belch, sirrah? Why dost your fingers play about that shiny slab?"

Concerts are a different case. But if the performer has reached the point in the set where he's playing a slow, quiet, sensitive song and someone in front of me is shouting "Yeehaw! Whoo-hoo! 'Freebird'!" I'm going to be annoyed. I'm also going to be annoyed if she's carrying on a conversation with her friend at a loud level.

I think what we're seeing is multitasking run amok. We are losing the ability to concentrate on one thing. Some of us can't enjoy a performance UNLESS we can text. I think that's kind of sad.

But I appreciate that this humble campaign has perhaps opened your eyes a bit about the movie-texting stuff.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | July 1, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I would just like to point out that wishing physical injury on the concert-goer, whether rude or not, is certainly not civilized behavior. Ironic, no?

Posted by: VaLGaL | July 1, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Interesting. I've always assumed it was rude to sit through a concert, for rock concerts anyway; to me, standing, dancing, and singing along shows the band just how much you know and love their music. Deliberately staying in your seat and being crotchety to other fans for having a good time seems just as irritating and disrespectful to the band as texting through their show. As a band member myself, I always love to see people dancing and singing along. Why not join in the fun?

Posted by: cameragirl | July 1, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Concerts are complex because there are so many variables. Last week I went to the Crasdant evening concert at the Folklife Festival. I recognize that this is very informal, so I expect people to arrive or leave throughout the concert. However it is also a learning experience, and as such it is very frustrating when people talk so loudly that you can't hear what the performers are explaining. I was standing right outside the tent, waiting for friends. A group of guys a little older than I am (late 20s, early 30s?) was standing in front of me chatting the whole time. In fact, they weren't even facing the stage. I leaned in and said "excuse me, it's a little hard to hear what they're saying." I was hoping that would be civil and non threatening enough, but they just said "maybe you should go in the tent." Of course I'm standing all of two feet outside the tent. Fortunately they left after a few minutes. Of course then my friends showed up and we found seats together in the bleachers in the back- right behind a group of participants who talked in Welsh for the rest of the concert. What can you do?

Posted by: dragnchic9 | July 1, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

There's a difference between standing occasionally, dancing, and/or singing along while still being considerate to the people seated or standing around, and doing what's far more common at shows around here, which is carrying on a conversation at full volume about where you're planning on going after the show while the artist you supposedly came to see is on stage. Texting/phoning is far less of an issue - it's the yakking during songs that needs to stop.

Posted by: hannnah | July 1, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Call me old fashioned, but I think that a concert is a visual and an audial experience. The wall of flesh in Row 3 might not have realized that someone further back was not able to stand (for reasons of age, disability, or the mere pleasure of sitting and enjoying a show they paid to see and hear). Furthermore, when it was brought to their attention, instead of making a big joke about it and then encouraging others to join in on this blocking of view from Row 3, seems a rather rude, callous, and selfish. If you want to stand, and dance, dance in the aisles or dance in the back and let others enjot the view. They paid to see the muscisian not the belly dancing.

Posted by: rzecca201 | July 1, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

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