December 2, 2014
by Jonathan Diener

As the phenomenon of social media continues to evolve, people have been finding more importance in documenting their experiences. What were once our tackboards and scrapbooks are now our Instagram and Facebook feeds. This also means that the world is more reliant on the usage of smart phones than ever. Instead of a bulky VHS camcorder we can hold up a small rectangle (unless you’re one of those weirdos with the huge phones) and film whatever we want, wherever we want. The problem with this new accessibility is the ever-growing obsession with proving you’ve been somewhere or done something rather than enjoying the experience as it happens. When it comes to the live music experience, I feel these DIY documentarians are ruining it for the rest of the crowd.

As a tall person, I try to abide by my own show attendance etiquette by letting those smaller than me stand in front of me. I tend to stand in the back of crowds, not because I’m the cool guy crossing my arms, but because I want an uninterrupted experience. My annoyance with stage divers or drunkards double-fisting overflowing cups of beer slamming into me have been replaced with the terrible cell phone and tablet abusers. This new disdain reached its peak when I went to see Ryan Adams a few weeks ago in Detroit. I’ve been listening to his music for years and was familiar with his perfect stage show reputation. My friends and I ventured onto the floor near the front to give it a go. After all, it’s fairly mellow music so it’s not like we’ll be slammed into by shirtless hairy guys in a circle pit. Ryan and his band walked on stage, the crowd cheered and as he went to hit his first note, a middle-aged gentleman raised his iPhone and pressed the record button. This was no quick picture. This guy was filming whole songs at a time. Not only was he standing in front of my girlfriend, but he’d raise his phone up to my eye level. To steady himself he always used both hands, which meant both of his elbows were out blocking two other people’s line of sight. I tried to let it slide until finally I had to start yelling between songs. He apologized and I thought it was over. Ryan walked to our side of the stage to do some acoustic songs and of course the phone went right back up directly blocking everyone in its path for five minutes straight. Sure, I should have either went up to him and said something or called a security guard, but I just felt too defeated. I felt like my show experience was being ruined by a sea of cell phones blocking every gap between the freakishly tall heads swaying back and forth.

The relieving thing about this situation is knowing that the artists on stage are aware of what is going on in the crowd. One example in the mainstream is The All-American Rejects singer Tyson Ritter being criticized for grabbing a kid’s iPad out of the crowd and smashing it on stage. Of course he reimbursed the fan, but it was to make a point. People are already living their lives through a screen of some sort, but it’s watering down and sucking the emotion out of the live concert experience. More often than not now, you’ll hear the singer of a band tell the crowd to put their phones down for at least one song and enjoy themselves. There are professional photographers with photo passes up front in a designated area taking high quality photos and video. I’ll admit, I’ve been consumed with social media and have been guilty of trying to get that perfect picture for instagram. The difference is that I’m conscious of the people around me. I’m not blocking anyone’s view. I do a quick photo and I’m set for the rest of the show and that’s IF I choose to take one. Sometimes the best experiences and memories are the ones saved in your mind, not saved in your photo stream. When something is truly remarkable to me, I know I don’t have to prove it to anyone other than myself. I was there. I witnessed it. That’s all I need.

Luckily, Ryan Adams ended up calling people out in the crowd for constantly filming the show. He politely asked people to put down their phones and just have a good time. Not only for the people in attendance, but for his sake. It’s incredibly distracting to see weird lights shining at you from the crowd, which is usually the only place you can look to avoid the bright stage lights. I cheered as some sweet justice was served. I was already in the back of the crowd trying to find a spot to watch the rest of the show and avoid some kind of weird anxiety attack from the rude people around me earlier.

A few days ago a video was posted from a Ryan Adams show where he stops a song and explains to a fan that he has something called Ménière’s disease. For him, flash photography can trigger vertigo style symptoms and in turn, ruin the experience for him. So not only is flash photography distracting, but physically harmful at times and people continue to ignore the signs prohibiting it in the venue. When someone is performing and isn’t feeling it, it will then ruin the experience for the crowd. It’s not some rockstar rule made for the fun of it. This isn’t a, “Don’t look the band in the eyes as they walk by” kind of situation. Yet, people still think it’s a good idea to try and get away with it. Unfortunately for them, it’s not very subtle when a bright light shoots out at another person.

In my older and more irritable years, I’m very pleased when performers speak out on issues like this. As a performer myself as well as a show-goer I have a very low tolerance for ignorant people. Ruining someone’s day is not worth 25 likes on Instagram. People are performing for your sake and want it to be something memorable and worth every penny. Please be mindful of the people around you who may have been looking forward to that day for months, or maybe their entire life. It’s nothing more than The Golden Rule. I wouldn’t want someone filming a whole set right in front of me. If I wanted to watch a performance from a screen I’d watch videos online, not pay money to attend a live show. Maybe it’s the hippie in me, but can’t we all just get along? I don’t think people go to concerts for the overpriced beer and inaudible conversations, they go to experience something special. Let’s keep it that way.

Jonathan Diener is very tall in real life, but is never That Tall Guy In Front Of You At Shows. He’s the drummer for BraidedVeins and the Swellers, the latter of whom will be playing (likely) their final home state show Dec. 6 at Magic Stick in Detroit. He’s on twitter: @jonodiener