I saw Chris Knight last Friday night and it looks like Chris is suffering from "Robert Earl Keen Syndrome". Half the crowd was there to see AND hear one of the most talented Americana artists we've got. But the other half, the vocal half, was there to shout lyrics, shout "Chris Knight", drink too much beer  and talk about how much they loved Chris during Chris Knight songs. I'm pretty sure I saw Chris send out the evil eye a few times. I found an archived concert (same club, four years earlier) with a track where Chris actually stops "Crooked Road" and tells some of the crowd  "Why don't you boys go on back to the frat party". It takes balls to tell your fans they're acting like rude *ssh*les.  I've heard Keen use sarcasm. Knight, in 2008, added more directly "I'll come over there and stomp the shit out of you".....and did that draw cheers from the other half of the crowd!

PS-And what moron cheers a line about "cooking meth" anyway?

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I just picked up Chris' latest, "Little Victories." Some of his best stuff yet and is right up there with "Enough Rope" IMHO. But I'm with you Hal - I can't stand those friendly "hecklers" who think the artist appreciates their self-infusion into the performance, as if everyone else is there to see(or hear) them. And it drives my crazy when I still hear those idiots shout out "Freebird." However, I might cheer Chris' line about Little Debbies(from the title track). So much better than cooking meth.

That stuff gets old in a hurry.  And it can happen in the unlikeliest of situations. Years ago in St. Louis I saw Kelly Willis, Bruce Robison, Richard Buckner and Freedy Johnston doing an acoustic songwriter night.  Quietest setting imaginable but a few goofs were hooting and shouting out requests before songs ended.  Finally Bruce Robison, who must be 6'7" told them if they kept it up, Freedy was gonna "open a can of whup ass" on 'em.  Freedy looked like he hadn't eaten in months and like he might have weighed 140 lbs, but he gave the guys a theatrical stern look and said "big can".  It did the trick.

Saw Ray LaMontagne a couple of years ago, when he came on stage a girl yelled "I love you Ray", and others repeated that all frigging night. Finally some guy with a deep voice yelled out the same. 

I once heard Chris Knight tell a similar crowd, "This next song's real purty and you'll be able to hear it if you'll shut the f*** up." Then, if I recall correctly, he went on to play Send a Boat.

When I started playing in honky-tonks over 40 years ago, one of the first things I learned came from an old guy who'd been playing that long when I started. He shuffled over as I was getting my guitar out of the case, leaned down and said, "Always make sure you unplug the jukebox before you get on stage."

There are rules. Every player has to learn them. I always think of the 'jukebox rule,' because there have been times a cowboy has walked up to the jukebox as I was playing, scowled at me as he wasted a couple of quarters before he realized it was 'broke, or something.'  You get challenged when you stand up in a crowd and start showing off, whether you're a simple folk singer or a comic. In every crowd there's a center-of-attention person who wants to be where you are.....it never fails.

I watched the Ramsey Lewis Trio a dozen years ago or so playing in La Vela, a big club on Panama City Beach. Three times during the first set the crowd noise rose to some pre-planned level and the trio simply stopped as though the needle had been lifted from the record. When the crowd quieted down the band started again at the same point. Three times and there was no more noise. I've never seen a classier example of crowd control.


I think the Ramsey Lewis approach is a great way to set the tone for a show . " you can not train a horse with shouts and then expect it to obey a whisper". As musicians & entertainers we want to set an example of class and humility . An audience will rally around a musician/group that sets a positive tone . I also think the venue has a responsibility to set that same tone ... The management can easily start the night with a good lead in introduction of the band and a few positive ground rules.Ultimately , we all want to have fun with the experience and support the efforts of the musicians . There will always be a few of the madding crowd members that just don't get it ... For those , management has to step up and let them know that their behavior is interrupting the positive vibe for everyone , and for that , clean up or lose the privilege of seeing a Great show .

For me there is 2 kinds of gigs and sometimes the least favorite pays the best. Often when doing weddings you end up being background music. People who may have not seen each other for years sit down and catch up You really can't blame them for not repressing their uncontrollable urge to converse with their long lost friend. Play and get paid.

Other gigs are performance gigs were you assume that the crowd has paid money to come and see you like at a concert or festival, the crowd in these situations are generally self regulating where as those rude ones are told by those around to stop ruining the experience.

Bars are generally a blend of those 2

In any of these situation how you conduct yourself is of the utmost importance even if you would never go back there again. Your forgiving attitude might be noticed by someone who will buy a CD or hire you for a more appealing gig.

Professional conduct means you are in control of your emotions. The proprietor that hired you has some idea of your product before he hired you. If someone in the audience yells "Freebird" over and over you might say what a great song it is and admit you don't know it and move on.

I found an interesting resource for "dealing with hecklers",



We see it as a 'chair' thing. If the chairs are facing the tables we'll be competing for attention. If they're facing the stage we expect them to be civil. Whether they enjoy the show or not is a completely different equation.


When I saw The Professionals in Montreal in '82(Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols with two other guys I'd never heard of before or since) they came roaring out with the first song(the whole set was medium paced loudish post-punk with Jones doing most of the singing, not a particularly distinctive singer) and a bunch of old school punks in front start gobbing the band(the disgusting punk tradition of spitting in the direction of the band which ALL the bands hate, never heard of a punk band saying "go ahead, spit on us, we love it."). The whole band stops mid-song and all four of them approach the front of the stage with fists balled up ready to take on the audience. After a number of tense seconds the band goes back to their instruments and resume playing, but there was no great love between them and the audience, they ran through about ten songs, ending with one Sex Pistols song, the Paul Cook sung "Silly Thing" then they buggered off. I liked them enough to get their one album Didn't See It Coming, but it was pretty workmanlike stuff. Some people were expecting something like The Sex Pistols, but they got two of the members who just wanted to play in a rock and roll band. 

Its a matter of momentum. If there are lapses, the crowd that is prone to do such, will fill in the blanks. What you do as a performer is keep the momentum in your favor. Run songs together, increase your energy and leave no dead air. if there are idiots, they are seen as idiots by the masses and they are to be banded together and the individual is not to be given the power to take over the action. Ignore them....boogie on....keep boogiein until there is no power left fot the heckler....funny reparte helps but don't give them a chance to respond...."somebody's havin too much fun  1--3-4....boogie. dead air is dead air on the radio, tv or your show. I find that if I realize the crowd's character, I adjust how I play....if you only have 10 songs in your songlist, get somemore, or jam um out. Take control and keep it. The odd duck will stick out....give them no power by idle time or too much attention. 99% of the people are on the right track and they deserve your show and your attention...then pay the light man to shiv um...:)


I played mostly "dirty-boot" bars for 30 years. Just go with it and enjoy the ride. Calling out any audience memebers only ends badly.

Maybe I'm getting old but the drunken frat boy stuff gets real old real fast and it is not an enjoyable ride.

I admire a performer who calls out an asshole.


The drunken frat boy was tiresome when I was playing in my teens.  When a performers reach the point where they can't handle that guy, it's time to do house concerts.


(about half house concerts now)



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.