time to change the way we view music and the arts

Chaos and concert etiquette 3.0: The Freedom Edition

Concert etiquette meme poster

Or how about you don’t do this?
“Annoying Concert-Girl”, Online Image, 27 June 2014
Proper Concert Etiquette- The “Do’s” and “Don’ts”
< http://msangelicarossi.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/annoying-concert-girl.png >

What’s the definition of freedom in regards to concert behavior? Is there any semblance of reliable lists of expectation or, short of stopping before total anarchy, is it an evaporated construct entirely?

When we think of live music, or music in general, often the open ended idea of “limitless expression” comes to mind. No one can tell another person what to like, what not to like, how to express said favor or displeasure. None of it can be judged because something subjective like music lives in a realm heralded by the motto, “to each his/her own.”

Running to that end, it would then make a lot of sense for attending a showing of different types of live music to lend audience members the same kind of flexibility but as I have addressed abundantly in the past, this is most definitely not the case. Nonetheless, despite the obviously pre-existent life of this subject, recent events both in and outside of firsthand experience have led to another door in the house of etiquette going ajar.

The thing is, with many of these previous discussions, at least some of the talk was devoted to pointing out that etiquette for various concerts was not something one could expect to learn just once as a flexible and universal set of practices, as a result of ingrained expectations for audience behavior, dependent upon the primary genre being performed at any given time. The central point left over from this reality is that concert etiquette would vary and require more attention. However, so long as one has a grasp on the type of music they are going to hear and watch, they only need to pull out the proper behavior card from the index of their memory banks and everything should be good and Kosher.
Except, what if the presumed and preconditioned rules and or mannerisms within even a single genre were suddenly questionable or regarded with a new found, possibly lower, ceiling of tolerance? Then how much freedom and expressiveness, for any kind of music, is actually available to fans?

Perhaps freedom (where concert behavior is concerned) should henceforth be deemed an acronym and its deeper definition explained as such:


If it sounds like the idea is just some bad conflicting humor, that is partially correct but, also only the surface value. We think, especially with the perpetuated reliance on sub-culture and style based standards, that fans just have to learn and then they can do “whatever they want” to project their joy to the rest of the world. They get to be free within their chosen camps. You want to sort of push the envelope by painting album colors across your face to the next concert, much like fans at sports games? It’s extreme and noticeable but go ahead, do your thing. That’s freedom to express your excitement at a show right? Everyone is mindful of basic respect and that’s that.

Ah, but there is the rub: mindful of basic respect.

How can any audience have the freedom to express is whatever way they want, to champion they individual love-bordering-on-obsession if in the back of everyone else’s minds, is some unspoken but understood bubble of respect and boundary that must not be broken? Respecting openness and respecting limits stand so uncomfortably close to one another they might as well be Siamese twins.
The world of real examples on makes this duality around etiquette even more evident, thanks to two recent sets of events that pretty much stand right on said line between being free to do whatever and being unwittingly shut down, even if you are (supposedly) within a given set of parameters:

The Independent published a story that can only, just barely, be taken seriously because the entire debacle sounds like something that was custom made for publication in The Onion. Yet, here is the story of ‘the scientist thrown out of a classical concert specifically aiming for wider audience accessibility,’ because the man was trying to express his excitement about the classic work via some crowd surfing following a prompt from the concerts director for clapping and cheering. The only “negative” rule disclosed before starting the performance, was a “no shushing others” rule, which rather than seeming like a restriction, was more intended as a nod to moving away from the common practice of hushing others as performances of classical repertoire –another product of pre-established genre airs that affect attendance at that type of show. Other than that, the idea is that people would not feel confined in how they processed and reacted to a conservatively presented art form and therefore the show was positioned as its own small act of progression against expected etiquette.
Still, knowing that the man was forcibly removed by his concert attending peers and that henceforth, there will obviously be a clearly stated no tolerance policy for crowd surfing in particular, means that Dr. Glowacki, the ejected fan/scientist, is at least partially accurate with this statement he gave to the Independent:


You’re free to behave as you like, and it’s comforting to think that you have that freedom, but it’s only available to you so long as you behave correctly.


Sounds like a ship of hypocrisy beyond saving, doesn’t it? That was an extreme(ly odd) exception though, was it not? The combination of a progressively thinking performance out of a conservative genre and an a behavior on the extreme outlier…who else is going to throw those two distant cousins together? Nothing else would be that obvious of a contradiction two flexible concert expression. Wrong.

I got a front row seat to the concert of “The Girl on My Left.”

There is no hyperlink to click on this ridiculous sounding sub-headline because it is not in the news. It is a recent occurrence of personal experience from one of the tour stops for Paramore and Fall Out Boy on their freshly launched Monumentour.
A friend and myself, who were not anywhere near the pit or lower levels of seats, were still in for a fun night of rocking out and applauding, despite being on the upper mezzanine level. Not to mention, considering we had presumed a chance of rain, the overhang above us would have been an added bonus is needed. Anyway, so even while acknowledging that Paramore and Fall Out Boy are both bands that kick up a lot of noise, energy and hyperactive listening habits, would it sound utterly nonsensical if I said I now believe there is a such a thing as being too vested in the music?

As I said above, much of the time, behavior in the eyes of “concert etiquette right or wrongness” is evaluated within the scope of a particular genre’s individual “norms.” Pop/punk/rock is certainly liable to generate and encourage action anywhere along the lines of: standing, arm waving, dancing along, shouting choruses and maybe even mild level headbanging and, for the most part, this will probably be no more outrageous than any of the high flying fervor offered by the bands themselves.


Wut is gravity “@SWEparamore: Hayley, you don’t give a damn about gravity, do you ? pic.twitter.com/TbFGM1GAvk
— hayley from Paramore (@yelyahwilliams) June 22, 2014

Hayley Williams is no conservative lead singer…


The thing is, although plenty of other people were more intensely dressed and intensely reacting to the songs played, none of those extremities interfered with any other specific person’s experience. If your arm waving imitating doing the robot, hey, no one should judge you for that. However, if your arm waving causes you to repeatedly whack the person next to you in the face, you are going to have to tone it down or at least keep your arms within the air space of your individual seat.
That kind of moderation and free-ranging limitation is what I’m referring to for myself, though it was not about arm swinging but rather, the most common practice of singing along with the band. The girl to my left might as well have been the opening band over Paramore because for a good 75% of their set, my friend and myself were forced to listen not to Williams but instead to this person who insistently and rather obliviously sang along to every word of every song in Paramore’s set but sang (read: shouted) so loudly that I had to work to hear anything else over her voice.
This isn’t about judging if the girl to my left sang well or out of tune. Nor is it about saying singing along, even entire songs, is pushing some outrageous boundary. However, much like the arm swinging hypothetical, if you paid the same money as the person next to you, to hear a band sing and perform, would you not consider it a pushing of the etiquette envelope to belt and drown out that very group?

Going back to thoughts following Dr. Glowacki’s removal from the Handel’s Messiah performance, there was an additional conclusion drawn by the director, Tom Morris, which I feel neatly applies to both these situations and even to the idea of working to further relax concert etiquette stereotypes as a whole:

…by allowing an audience to respond in whatever way they want, you also allow an audience to self-regulate, as we discovered.”

Morris’s thought process leads one to question whether ever establishing more or less official rules of live music really matters. Less proclaimed rules or less perceived social norms attached to a type of live music means more freedom but, even if freedom of expression reigns at a venue, much like the self-regulation seen by Morris’s audience, albeit on a much, much smaller scale, the sociologically-applied vantage points to base chaos theory would have us see that even absent established structures, people eventually reach the point in a non-linear period of extreme behavior where actions change to reestablish social equilibrium. (Provided the imbalance is not conflict and hierarchy driven.) It is the point of that equilibrium translated into action that is probably most affected by ingrained genre norms, though it would be fascinating to see a group of people previously non-exposed to a type of music, find and established that point of non versus linear limitations.

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