Venue Etiquette: When an audience breaks my heart who is right?
A few months back I posted about a show I attended at a large venue here in Boston where the entire experience was impacted negatively by those in attendance and the venue’s lack of attentiveness to what was going on. Talking, cell phone use, lights on during the opening act, and the wonderful persistent “shhh-ing” by audience members in a reaction to people carrying on full conversations (its a vicious cycle people causing noise pollution to alleviate the noise pollution that is bothering you…). You can agree or disagree and head on over and read that HERE if you so feel inclined.
A couple weeks back I had a somewhat similar experience at a venue here in town that I admittedly, absolutely adore. The booking agent at this bar is an absolute force of nature and one of the hardest working folks in the business, capturing some of the most talented touring bands and giving local acts their time to shine as well. This bar also may have the most genius set up for hosting shows of any venue I have ever been to. It caters perfectly to all types. If you want to just go a grab a bite to eat but don’t really care about the music, sit in the front part of the bar by the windows. Want to kind of be “a part” of the show, but still not feel bad about having a quiet conversation occasionally? Sit at the bar in the middle of the room. Want to be fully immersed in the music and hang on each word and every note? Sit right up front and soak it all in. There is a brilliant set up to this venue that truly allows for a mix of personality types to be out and enjoy the fact that there is music going on, but also not detract from the art that is unfolding on stage. The problem lies in when those “should be sitting in the front by the window” folks wind up sitting directly in front of the stage. Which, when someone who is incredibly talented and poignant and writes breathtakingly beautiful music is playing through, it absolutely breaks my heart.
But I guess that is the question that I have. As artists who are being paid to come to a venue or club or listening room or theatre, is it a part of our job to simply play through the pain and hope that our message makes it across to a few attentive listeners? Regardless of how the audience is reacting or talking over our songs or listening in and absorbing everything we say, we put on the very best show that we possibly can? I suppose that is what defines the difference between a true artist and maybe someone a bit more self important than they deserve to be? Some people are able to do this much better than others. But, I don’t know where we strike a balance.
(Despite the crowd noise, Haunt the House puts on an absolutely beautiful performance of his song “Byrd Island”. For those of us listening and watching, it was wonderful)
I don’t have the right answers to those questions. There are only so many venues across the Northeast or the country that play host to music. Some of them are bars, some of them are straight up restaurants, some of them are listening rooms, few are theatres, some are made and specialize in music performances and others do it as secondary entertainment. A folk musician playing in a rowdy bar will have a different reaction from a crowd than a 5 piece rock n roll band. Just as a harmony driven roots duo would in comparison to a blues rock band at a listening room or intimate house concert. But, artists need places to play and perhaps the opportunity to get in front of people and impact just one or a few people is worth the squeeze. Is it the audience’s responsibility to realize where they are and how they should act? Is a ‘the guy next to me is talking during this intimate song, so its ok for me to?’ mentality warranted?
My heart still breaks every time a group of bros with backwards Polo hats or a bachelorette party sits front and center when one of my favorite songwriters is unloading their soul on the stage.
What do you guys think?