Shutting up: What to do about people who talk during concerts
Audience • Musicians, fans and an etiquette coach talk about dealing with annoying concertgoers.

By david burger

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: April 23, 2013 02:25PM
Updated: July 7, 2013 11:33PM
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Todd Snider, the singer-songwriter who frequently visits Utah on his tours, has an idiosyncratic approach to people who talk during his concerts, which often feature just his barefoot self and an acoustic guitar. “Once they come in the door, they should be able to do what they want,” said Snider. “I’ll be groovy. It’s the rare 1 percent when I come offstage and tell them that it wasn’t cool. But pizza, sex, surfing, playing music — it’s all good.” Snider, who in the same interview proclaimed that “I hate going to concerts when the guy plays new songs,” is in the minority when it comes to musicians tolerating noisy audience members.

It has happened to all of us.

You are at a concert, and some jerk behind you starts talking.

And talking.

And talking.

Loud rock shows usually drown out these annoying folks.

But plenty of other concert venues try to create an intimate vibe where you can hear Leonard Cohen sing about a secret chord that pleased the Lord, rather than hearing some stranger talk about what he had for lunch — or worse, how it’s affecting his stomach.

Those of us who sit in front of these twits get fed up — but not fed up enough to speak to the offending person. Because who wants to be a killjoy who stifles everyone’s fun?

With the summer concert season about to begin, we asked musicians, fans, concert promoters and even the great-great-grandson of Emily Post the best way to deal with that annoying loudmouth who sits behind you at every show.

Musicians • Many musicians say there is nothing worse than people yapping in the background.

“If you’re paying $15 to get in, it’s ridiculous to waste it,” singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle said. “Don’t make your boredom everyone else’s problem.”

Damien Jurado, a Seattle-based singer-songwriter who often performs in Utah, finds Salt Lake City crowds especially noisy.

“I’d rather play Velour in Provo,” Jurado said. “Most club-owners don’t give a s---. But Corey [Fox, owner of Velour] does. They appreciate people coming there. They have a great crowd.”

Adds Kyle Henderson, with the Utah County alt-country band Desert Noises, “It’s a really great place to play. Everyone really listens. Everyone pays attention. A lot of national acts will come to Velour for that reason.”

Other musicians believe talking is just part of the job.

“I think people lose their attention span pretty quickly,” country singer Kip Moore said. “I try to not get too bent out of shape.”

“I try to focus on the ones who are listening,” said Neal Middleton, frontman for the local hard-rock band Royal Bliss. He sees a noisy audience member as a sign that he needs to be better. “For the most part, when we’re doing a softer song, I need to step it up.” But he acknowledged that “there’s always a drunk guy [who is] ruining the experience for everyone.”

Todd Snider, a singer-songwriter who frequently plays Utah, is in the minority when it comes to tolerating noisy audience members.“Once they come in the door, they should be able to do what they want,” said Snider. “I’ll be groovy. It’s the rare 1 percent when I come offstage and tell them that it wasn’t cool. But pizza, sex, surfing, playing music — it’s all good.”

Fans • Concertgoers have differing thoughts about how to deal with excessive talkers. “Personally, if it’s a loud show or in a big arena where you could step away from the stage, I don’t see the big deal with talking to whoever you came with,” said Anna Hatton, a University of Utah student. “If it’s an intimate show and there are people close by who could hear your conversation, that’s rude. It’s also disrespectful to the artist, especially if it’s a small enough place that they could see you.”

Nick Dutson of Utah Valley University said, “I’m usually the guy that’s making the noise, so if someone else is [being loud] it’s quite surprising. I hate it, though, when people are rude about it. If they just ask nicely, I’ll usually shut up pretty quick, so I think that’s what I would do to them, too. If they didn’t stop, I would just move to another spot. No reason to fight it.”

Chris Kilbourn, who runs the local Internet marketing company Tofu Marketing, has been a band member, manager and concert organizer. He views audience noise as useful.

“A disrespectful audience reveals a lot about their opinion of the band’s music,” he said. “It’s just like in marketing. You want to be able to track what works and what doesn’t work. A silent audience doesn’t tell me anything. Bands tend to become overconfident of their musical skills.

Kilbourn said if bands would listen to their audience “they could learn a lot about themselves. Performers are communicating with their audience, and it must be a two-way street.”

Etiquette coach • When Daniel Post Senning, an author and spokesman at the Emily Post Institute — and great-great-grandson of the famous etiquette writer — talks about etiquette in entertainment situations, he likes to bring up the now-infamous meat thermometer incident.

In 2010, in Lancaster, Calif., a man named Landry Boullard was at a screening of “Shutter Island” when his female companion received a cellphone call and began a conversation.

A fellow moviegoer reportedly asked the woman to stop using the cellphone, and words were exchanged. Boullard walked out of the theater and returned with a 5-inch thermometer. He attacked the complainer, who suffered from a punctured neck and bleeding in the brain, leading to a coma. The man was hospitalized for five weeks and almost died, Senning said.

There are right ways to address a situation, and wrong responses, Senning said. “No one likes to be confronted.”

While “you can’t sit at the whole concert glaring” at an annoying, talking concertgoer, Senning said calling the attention of an usher to correct the situation is usually the best avenue.

“Sometimes it’s a broccoli-in-the-teeth thing, when they don’t even realize it,” he said.

When you’re at a concert, assess the behavior of the crowd around you, and then adapt, he said. If you are at a rock show where everyone around is screaming, it’s probably unwise to tell someone to shut up.

But if you want to scream at an Air Supply concert, you should look around to see what other audience members are doing. Chances are they are not yelping at Graham Russell to doff his pants.

Venue representatives • Teri Orr, executive director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation, books shows at two Park City venues: the indoor Eccles Center and the outdoor Deer Valley Snow Park Amphitheater. Audiences usually self-police, especially at the Eccles Center. But at Deer Valley concerts, where performers are more likely to invite audience participation, it’s not uncommon to see dancing fans congregate around the stage when the sun goes down.

If you are seated next to someone having what she called “a robust picnic,” ushers at Deer Valley will do their best to find a different, more reserved place for you to sit, Orr said.

Corey Fox, owner of Velour, the all-ages venue in Provo, has tried to cultivate an atmosphere where the audience respects performers and fellow fans.

“Trust me, we have some shows filled with college freshmen that haven’t figured that out yet but yes, that is one of our goals,” he said about quiet crowds. “I think the big reason is the absence of alcohol and that the performance is the only focus of the crowd. We also consider Velour a ‘listening room’ and we want the crowds to respect the performers and to respect their neighbors who are trying to listen. I also think the crowd reaction in between songs can be greater because the crowd is actually a fan of the band, rather than random people socializing in a bar.”

Veteran concert promoter Chris Mautz runs The State Room in Salt Lake City and books the acts for Red Butte Garden. “I wish there was some magic potion,” he said about correcting bad audience behavior.

When he is at The State Room and encounters especially disruptive audience members, he politely asks them to move the conversation to the lobby. “But it’s not easy,” he said. “I value every patron.”

Mautz believes self-policing can be a good thing, unless it intensifies. “It’s not helpful if someone is polite to you [and you] turn it into an adversarial situation,” he said.

Audiences at the intimate, 300-seat State Room tend to be more respectful than at outdoor venues. Outdoor concerts attract more listeners who come for social reasons. The toughest situation comes when an audience on one blanket has different expectations than the audience on the next blanket.

Mautz said when he goes to see a show, he likes to be “proactive” by getting to his seat early, getting to know the people around him. If he gets the sense that people wouldn’t tolerate someone who would talk or dance at a show, he will tailor his behavior accordingly.

Or, he might just move.

There are plenty of spaces inside most venues where you have the freedom to be an obnoxious chump all by yourself.

dburger@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davidburger

More concert etiquette

Daniel Post Senning, an author and spokesman at the Emily Post Institute — and great-great-grandson of the famous etiquette writer — offers these etiquette tips for attending concerts:

Candy with loud packaging is a no-no, except when it is a cough drop — but if you do have a consistent cough, you might want to stay home.

Tall people shouldn’t have to move to the back of every venue they attend, but if you are tall and notice that someone is shorter behind you, offer to move.

Don’t assume that simply turning your phone to “vibrate” will be OK. It can cause problems when the vibrating cellphone is next to your rattling keys.

If you are walking to the middle of a crowded aisle, always face the stage.