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Jump to Wally Denton's profileConcert Etiquette
Fans Disguised as Empty Chairs

by Wally Denton, class of 1970
June 15, 2006

I attend quite a few concerts…..Usually the inexpensive ones that are outside featuring crossroads-type artist. There is nothing I enjoy more than being outside on a nice evening with a few thousand of my closest friends listening to live music. It’s not so important to me that the featured band consists of original members as long as parts of the performance sound like the music I remember. Having original band members is a luxury that few mature bands have. I know that Dan Z. and Rick L. differ with me on this, but it’s ok to have different opinions. Sometimes the social aspect of the gathering is just as important as the listening experience (to me).

The venue and the genre of music usually dictate acceptable behavior….Usually! It’s obvious to most that the crowd acts (and looks) differently at a Trapt concert than that at a James Taylor gig. But the difference is not always so obvious. As many bands (and their loyal fans) age, things sometimes mellow.

This was the case at the last Little Feat concert at Innsbrook. In the past, Little Feat fans were a little on the raucous side. When the band came on stage, a large contingency of the crowd would move as close as they could get to the stage. There they (we) would stay for the entire set, dancing, bouncing, singing, and waving our arms in the air like lunatics.

But things are changing. With no assigned seats, you are free to stake out your space as soon as you get to the venue. To some, this means standing in front of the stage while the opening act plays, during the break between bands, and finally for the headliner. This has a cost on the social interaction of those most loyal fans, as they must figure a way to get food and drink (and make the necessary trip to the Porta-John) without losing their position.

A new, different strategy is starting to emerge. Some attendees get there early and take a folding chair to the front of the stage and set it up. Then they disappear to perform the aforementioned activities. Folding chairs are not permitted for some concerts (Lynyrd Skynyrd in particular). A folding chair takes about the same amount of space as three crazed fans, if that particular band has crazed fans.

When Little Feat started to take the stage, there was the normal compression towards the front….with a twist: As the crowd got to the area dominated by folding chairs, Southern courtesy took over and most of us stopped. As the band opened with one of their most popular songs, confused fans tried to figure out what to do.

Halfway through the opening song, longtime fans still held back out of courtesy to a barrier of folding chairs that were only half occupied. By this time, that was too much for my buddy Mike and me. We moved on in as close as we could to the stage, careful to stand in front of empty chairs only.

The empty chairs stayed empty until halfway through the third song. We wouldn’t even have been aware of the return of the chair owner’s return except they lightly brushed against us (even though there was enough space to avoid us) and muttered something barely audible. I then noticed some disapproving glances from a few of the chair people. Directly in front of me (the equivalent of about the fifth row) was a kid sitting sideways in a chair playing a game on mommy’s cell phone. In front of this kid were two more kids sitting, having a yelling conversation, completely ignoring the band.

My Bud and I took all of this in and decided to ignore the "empty chairs fans", stay put and enjoy the show. Discussing it afterwards, we concurred that we were committing no “Yankee like behavior” and that the non-fans, hogging the prime fan area, were actually the bad guys. We also wondered how much impact this had on the band, since most performers seem to get energized by fan adoration at stage-side.

So that brings up the question….Do you honor empty chairs or non-attentive fans in a situation like this? I know it differs with every venue and band (and attendee) but sometimes there is a very large gray area. I don’t want to act like a Yankee but I don’t want to roll over and give in to inconsiderate people either.

Tonight I go to see Styx (Dan and Rick, I know, it’s not really Styx because Dennis DeYoung won’t be there). I expect this to be a much more mellow concert than last week. Since my wife is going, I’ll be carrying the dreaded folding chairs, but rest assured, no matter how early we get to Innsbrook, OUR chairs will NOTbe set up in the “Standing Fan” area.

What do you think?


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