How to Avoid Being a Jerk at a Concert, According to Industry Professionals

It's been over a year since you've been to a show. Do you remember the etiquette?

May 6, 2021 8:53 am
Concert crowd
It's been over a year since you've seen a concert, which means you could probably use a reminder on how not to be a jerk.
Jena Ardell

At some point this year — probably June or July, according to most state legislators — coronavirus restrictions will ease and we will all re-emerge, like bears from their slumber, into polite society. To help you readjust, we’ll be sharing some advice on grooming, fitness, getting dressed in something besides sweatpants (but also sweatpants), how to manage your stress and mental health, dating, concert and bar etiquette, and more.

After over a year in isolation, most of us can barely remember how to hold a normal conversation with another human being, let alone how to behave in public. We’ve all gone more than a year without live music at this point, so perhaps we’re overdue for a reminder of the do’s and don’ts of attending a concert.

Beyond the usual unwritten rules of concertgoing that were hammered into us pre-pandemic, like “Wearing a t-shirt of the band you’re seeing at the show is lame” and “No flash photography,” COVID-19 has also left us with plenty of new rules and regulations to be mindful of as live music makes its return. Morgan Deane, chair of the New York Independent Venue Association (NYIVA)’s Reopening Task Force and owner of Lasher Louis Productions, recently launched a new set of guidelines dubbed “The Guide in an effort to assist venues looking to reopen with protocols in place and with the safety of customers and staff top-of-mind. 

“If you had asked me six weeks ago, I would have said ‘No, things are never going back to normal,’” Deane tells InsideHook. “But, now I do think that within the next few years we will see live events return to something that resembles the before times. I think it’s really important that we all remember to be kind to each other as we navigate these next steps … I think fans should know we missed them as much as they missed us. Artists, promoters and operators have worked so hard to get live events back. Please just follow whatever rules we communicate to you.”

As DJ and producer Dimitry Mak, who recently posted what he called “The 10 Venue Commandments” to his Facebook page, points out, how quickly we’re able to get back to a pre-pandemic “normal” depends on how willing fans are to adhere to the rules. “As a musician and a DJ, I travel a lot,” he says. “I perform live, I love to attend live performances. With things potentially getting back to normal soon, I think it’s really important that we support artists and the nightlife industry the right way. It’s going to be so much fun when it all comes back, but it’s also going to be crucial that it’s done in a way that respects the venue, the staff and the performers.”

With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of some guidelines from Deane and Mak (as well as some of our own) to keep in mind as you return to a world with live music in it.

Pack lightly

Especially if you happen to be headed to a festival, you may be tempted to bring along extra food and supplies, but it’s important to double-check what you’re allowed to bring. Do water bottles need to be factory-sealed? Is the type of sunscreen that comes in an aerosol can prohibited? “Read the rules about what you’re allowed to bring with you,” Deane says. “There’s nothing worse than somebody having a meltdown at the entrance because they’re having their totem confiscated. It slows down entry and drives event organizers nuts.”

Be respectful of the venue’s mask policy

Mask guidelines vary from state to state or whether you happen to be indoors or outdoors, so it can be tough to keep up with when you’re expected to wear one and when you’re free to go maskless. But if masks are required at the show, you have to comply and wear one. “Wear a mask if that’s the rule,” Deane says. “Just do it. It may be annoying and inconvenient, but if an organizer has a mask rule in place, it’s probably a function of their permission to operate. If patrons don’t comply with a rule like that, events will get shut down or organizers may have their ability to produce events in the future jeopardized. Don’t be that dude.”

Don’t ask for a spot on the guestlist

If you happen to be friends with someone in the band (or you’re a journalist who knows which publicist to hit up for a spot on the list), you may be tempted to ask to get in for free, but in this post-COVID era, every dollar that can possibly go to the musicians should, and you should probably just fork over the price of admission. “I’m pretty anti-guestlist in general and personally try to buy tickets for my friends’ shows as much as possible,” Deane says. “Guestlist requests were lame before the pandemic, and they’re absolutely unacceptable now. People have been out of work for more than a year. Buy the damn ticket.”

But if, for whatever reason, you absolutely must ask for a spot on the guestlist, be sure you actually plan on using it. “My biggest pet peeve is when someone asks for guest list and just doesn’t show up without any warning,” Mak says. “Because that spot could’ve gone to someone else who wanted to be there.”

Tip your bartender — and tip well

Musicians and venue owners aren’t the only ones who have been out of work for over a year. There’s a good chance the bartenders working the show you’re at are still coping with the financial devastation of the pandemic, so be sure to tip them generously. Mak recommends tipping 25% or higher. (“20% is okay,” he says. “25% is better. More than 25% is best. Anything under 20% is a non-starter.”) Ultimately, he says, it’s about respecting the hard work they’re putting in on a nightly basis. “I think people need to understand that, yes, you want your drink fast and you want to get to the bathroom fast, but the staff is dealing with hundreds of patrons a night — people who might be intoxicated and obnoxious — so just have patience with them,” he says.

Buy some merch if you can

“Artists have been off the road for a year straight and that going the extra mile — like showing up early to see the opener or buying a shirt from the merch stand — might go a longer way than you think,” Mak says. “And if you truly love the band you’re showing up to see, supporting them now means more than it ever has. This makes me think of when people ask, ‘Oh, why did so-and-so break up?’ It’s because it’s expensive to be in a band. It’s expensive to be an artist and pay your rent while you make your art. When you don’t show up and support them and buy their merch or share their work, they can’t keep going.”

Keep the conversation to a minimum

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t seem to have a handle on it. You paid money to hear music! Don’t you want to … actually hear it? You’re of course well within your rights to lean over and whisper or shout (depending on whether you’re at an intimate acoustic performance or a loud arena gig) a quick comment into your buddy’s ear, but anything more than a sentence or two should be saved for after the show. Carrying on an entire conversation in the middle of a performance is rude; it ruins the experience for the people around you, and it’s distracting and disrespectful to the artist onstage.

Be aware of your body and how much space it’s occupying

So many of the unwritten rules at a concert can be boiled down to “have some self-awareness and make sure you’re not getting in anyone’s way or invading their personal space.” If you’re tall, don’t stand in the front row. If you’re dancing, make sure you’ve got enough space to do so without accidentally smacking someone in the face. If the show’s packed and you’ve got a backpack with you, take it off and stow it by your feet to make more room for the people behind you just like you would on a crowded subway. Some accidental touching is bound to happen in a crowd, but do your best to keep it to a minimum and be respectful. If you need to squeeze by someone, give some sort of verbal acknowledgement like “sorry, behind you” or “excuse me” to warn them instead of unexpectedly grabbing them, and — especially if the person you’re trying to slide past is a woman — if you have to touch them to move them out of the way or get their attention, go for an arm or shoulder instead of the small of their back.

In the event of inclement weather, opt for a poncho or raincoat instead of an umbrella

One of the major downsides to outdoor concerts is that many of them go on rain or shine, and if a downpour happens to break out, there’s inevitably someone who busts out an enormous umbrella that blocks the view of everyone around them. If you’ve ever had to navigate a city sidewalk on a rainy day, you know how awkward and unwieldy umbrellas can be in tight spaces. Why, then, would you think it’s okay to use one while you’re standing in a massive crowd, inches away from the people around you? Besides obstructing views, there’s a good chance you’re gonna accidentally poke someone. Just suck it up and wear a poncho or a raincoat instead.

Please, for the love of god, don’t yell “Free Bird”

Yelling out unsolicited requests during a show is pretty corny to begin with, but yelling out the lamest joke request of all time is completely played out. We should be respectful of and grateful for whatever setlist the artist has decided to go with — especially as they’re coming back from over a year away from the stage. Presumably, they’ve spent countless hours in quarantine deciding which songs they missed performing live the most and putting together a setlist that reflects that. Unless they specifically ask for requests, keep your mouth shut and be thankful for whatever you get.

Once you get one good photo for the ‘gram, put your phone away

We get it. You want to document the show you happen to be at so you can brag about it on social media to all your friends. That’s reasonable, but it doesn’t mean you need to go full paparazzi. Holding your phone up for an entire set while you snap hundreds of photos or record a bunch of videos you’ll never actually go back and rewatch is excessive. It’s distracting to those around you (especially if you’re one of those people who forget to turn off their flash), and it can block the views of those standing behind you. Snap a few pics early on during the first song to get it out of the way, and once you’ve got one you’re pleased with, put your phone away for the rest of the performance.

Only sing along when the situation calls for it

People paid money to hear their favorite artist sing, not you. There are, of course, plenty of situations when it’s perfectly acceptable to sing along at a show — like when a singer specifically asks the crowd to join in and help them out, or when you’re at a loud, high-energy show where the entire crowd is already singing along at the top of their lungs. But if you’re at a laidback acoustic set or the performer is in the middle of some sparse, gorgeous ballad that has the crowd silently hanging on their every word, leave it to the professionals. Your voice will carry more than you’d expect it to, and no one wants to hear an unexpected duet.

Support your local scene

“Before you buy that high priced ticket to see that big name artist at that big corporate venue, consider putting that money back into your own community,” Mak says. “This is the best way to ensure that a thriving arts and culture scene will return to cities across America.” And if you don’t have enough disposable income to attend every show you’d like to, there are plenty of other ways to show your support. “Can’t make the show? No problem,” he adds. “It costs zero dollars to support us in other ways. Share the posts. Listen to the music. Invite your friends to the event page. In order for this to work, we need all hands on deck.”

“People are always going to see the big acts, and I love to see them as well,” he continues. “But local bands and artists are the pulse of the city they’re in. They’re the heartbeat, they keep the city alive. It’s really important to support them because while the big acts roll through town once a year, local bands are our friends and family members and people we see every day. They’re just like me and you. And they’re out the every night working. Plus those local bands become the big acts. How cool would it be to say you saw them at a small venue with like 20 other people?”

Be patient

Remember that venues are struggling to adapt to our new post-pandemic existence just like we all are, and bear with them as they do their best to figure it out. “It’s been a while,” Mak explains. “We’re gonna be a little rusty. Plus, so much of what needs to happen in order to bring back live music safely is new for all of us — fans, venues, promoters and artists alike. There will be hiccups. There will be lines. There will be unforeseen circumstances. Be nice anyway.”

It’s been a weird, rough year or so for everyone, so it’s important to remember that those who work in the music industry share the same goals you do — they want you to have a good time too. “Live music venues, festivals and clubs are valid and vital culture,” Deane says. “These spaces, particularly independent ones, are the social, artistic and economic lifeblood of our communities. We must continue to protect and advocate vigorously for the culture. After more than a year closed, we can’t wait to welcome audiences back safely and get back to doing what we do best.”

Eventually, things will get back to normal, but until they do, it’s important to be patient and express gratitude for those making it happen.

 “I’d like to say thanks to everyone who supports live music, artists, and creators,” Mak says. “Because not only are you supporting them, but you’re supporting everyone in the industry that makes their work possible. The sound and lighting people, the bar managers, bar staff, security … the list goes on. Some of the best moments in my life have happened because of live music. It truly takes a village to make those magical moments happen.”

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