Although concerts can be transcendental experiences that inspire collectivism unlike anything else on this earth, anyone who’s been to a show has at least one story about another audience member tainting the experience with some form of disruptive behaviour.
Illustration: Sam Woolley (GMG)
Whether they’re new to the concert setting, think metal show customs also apply at folk gigs, or are just acting like an entitled jerk, there are a litany of ways that people — unintentionally or not — can ruin the night for everyone else.
So if you’re a concert novice who wants to appear like a pro for festival season, or if you’re a regular who frequently finds yourself on the receiving end of dirty looks (or worse), here are some basic guidelines for being a respectful show-goer to both the performer and your fellow audience members.
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Don’t yell requests
Trust me, I know what it’s like to get caught up in the glorious moment of seeing your musical heroes and develop an unquenchable thirst for your favourite song of theirs. But please, if you have even an inkling of respect for your musical idol(s) standing before you, do not yell out the song you want to hear.
Unless they specifically ask for fan requests, which is rare, hold it in.
The reason for this is twofold. Firstly: A plea from some overzealous anon to bang out that deep cut from 10 years ago that they have never played live will not convince them to spontaneously abandon their setlist and deliver it just for you. Secondly: It’s obnoxious and distracting and it usually sets off a chain reaction of people — in my vast experience at shows, mostly males — flagrantly trying to one-up each other’s fandom.
It’s not a good look. Please don’t do it. Also, every last drop of irony in yelling “Freebird!” dried up eons ago. So cut that one out, too.
Don’t heckle the performer, either
Yelling requests is bothersome, but shouting things like “You’re hot!” or “Marry me!” is, in most circumstances, unbelievably irritating to the musician. It’s perfectly OK to think those things (who wouldn’t want to marry Frank Ocean?), but vocalising them usually results in uncomfortable smirks or an awkward “thank you.”
What’s even worse, though, is interrupting their between-song banter to try to start some sort of back-and-forth between the performer — the person everyone in the room is there to see — and you, rando crowd member #534. Simply put, people didn’t pay to hear your cringey one-liners, and the artist isn’t up there to make new friends. Meet ’em at the merch booth afterward; mid-set just isn’t the time.
Sorry tall people, ya gotta stand back
If you’re generally regarded as a “tall person,” you’re probably used to being in other people’s way. It’s an unfortunate reality, but until someone invents a shapeshifting venue that molds to accommodate perfect vantage points for attendees of all heights, tall folks gotta stand back.
Super short people are probably going to have a tough time seeing anyway, but just try to be conscious of who you’re looming over.
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Mosh only when it’s appropriate
Unless you’re at a metal or punk show, where some form of moshing is generally expected, you probably shouldn’t mosh. If no one else is moshing, you probably shouldn’t mosh. If it’s a slow, soft song, you definitely shouldn’t mosh. If people are exclusively push-moshing (bumping and shoving into one another), you probably shouldn’t start hardcore dancing (swinging and kicking aggressively to the rhythm of the music).
And if you’re a pit-monkey who sees an oblivious noob about to get obliterated, be the one who pulls them aside and gives them a heads-up so they don’t walk away with their head down.
Don’t talk during the set
Sing along, scream along (if it’s a scream-worthy song, not during the hushed acoustic ballad), cry along, laugh along, or croak uncontrollably from the overwhelming sensation of pure, sonic bliss. Even quickly blurt into your friend’s or partner’s ear that you love them during the song that brought you two together.
Just please — seriously, we’re all begging you — do not carry out a conversation during the set. In order for anyone to hear what you’re saying, you’re going to have to yell above the music, which has essentially the same effect as whispering in a movie theatre. You aren’t being as subtle as you think.
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If you move through the crowd, do it politely
If you’re in the back and want to get closer to the front, move swiftly yet patiently. Look for openings in the crowd and slither through each one like checkpoints in a video game. But try not to linger in the aisles for too long, as you’re most likely either blocking someone or pressing up against them.
It’s always smart to move in groups of three or four so you and your buds aren’t nudging past the same people one by one, forcing them to keep shifting. If you’re with a big crew and the front seems packed out, you should just settle for where you are.
An optimal cheat is to occupy the walkways created by people moving away from the stage, so you can sneak through while the seas are parted. But if you get to a point where the next move seems unattainable, you’ve gotta camp out there. Shoving a mass of people apart to satisfy your personal viewing desires is, as we say in the industry, a huge dick move.
Crowdsurf, but don’t kick anyone
Similar to the moshing code of conduct, if no one else is crowdsurfing, you probably shouldn’t try. But if the set is really hype and everyone seems to be dancing intensely, you could signal that surf’s up by gesturing to an able-bodied person or two around you to toss you up onto the crowd.
Again, unless it’s a hardcore show where many of these norms go out the window, don’t just leap unannounced onto someone’s back and expect them to generously lift you up. And while you’re up there, lie either flat on your back or flat on your stomach. Don’t flail your legs around or try kneeling on people, and always be prepared to get dropped. If you agree to travel hundreds of yards atop a mass of total strangers, you have to accept the possibility of a hard fall.
Know when it’s OK to take photos or videos
Capturing the moment with a photo here and there is understandable, but sticking your phone up to record entire songs (or sets) is typically obstructive to those behind you. Plus, are you really going to go back and rewatch that video more than once?
If you’re at a festival, chances are a videographer is already filming it in higher quality and from better angles than you’ll ever get from the floor, and nearly every show, even tiny local ones, has someone there shooting photos on a DSLR.
Lastly, do you really want to be that person with the 20-part Insta story of dark, shaky, lo-fi concert footage? No one wants that type of content on their feeds, folks. Also, flash photography is super distracting to performers, so if you’re going to snap a few, ask the venue staff if the band is cool with flash.
Keep your hands to yourself
No matter the type of show, no one should ever feel uncomfortable at a concert. If you’re there to grope crowdsurfers, unnecessarily latch onto others while moving through the audience, or to try to hug (or worse) artists while they’re playing, stay home and reevaluate your urges. Shit is abhorrent and has no place in a musical (or any other type of) setting.
Eli Enis is a music journalist from Western, New York who currently lives in Pittsburgh. He has bylines at Billboard, Noisey, Uproxx, Bandcamp, etc. and is always drinking a soda water.