There are, apparently, two types of concertgoers: those who love getting out their cellphones to snap pics and maybe film the performance of their favorite song, and those who just want you to put your [EXPLETIVE] phone away because they didn’t pay to see the band through your [EXPLETIVE] viewscreen all [EXPLETIVE] night.
Those in the former camp may then be disappointed — and those in the latter, delighted — to discover that on alt-rocker Jack White’s latest tour, which kicked off Thursday in Detroit and visits The Great Saltair in Magna on Aug. 9, cellphones will not be part of the concert experience.
“PLEASE NOTE: this is a PHONE-FREE show. No photos, or recording devices allowed,” reads a statement from White’s team posted on the website event page of local vendor Ticketfly. “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets & experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON.”
Upon entrance to the venue, all phones will be placed in proprietary locking pouches created by San Francisco-based company Yondr, though fans will maintain physical control of them throughout the show. If needed, phones can be unlocked in a “Yondr Phone Zone” in the lobby or concourse. At show’s end, unlocking scanners will be placed at every exit.
Yondr founder Graham Dugoni said that the premise of phone-free shows is a simple one — it enhances the live experience.
“In terms of taking photos and filming, can you document and fully experience something at the same time? I think you really can’t. Your attention is in one place or another. And then you’re draining energy out of the room,” Dugoni said. “We come to be swept up in the shared experience. What effect do cellphones have in such a context? We want to preserve that feeling.”
Yondr has been gaining attention for its partnerships with prominent performing artists. Comedians Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, tired of seeing new material leaked onto the internet, were early advocates. And Dugoni said his product has been used for small tours as well as special one-off shows by the likes of Justin Timberlake, Donald Glover, Guns N’ Roses, Alicia Keys, Ariana Grande and The Misfits.
“But this is the largest tour we’ve done with a musician,” he added.
And a first for Utah, according to several local concert promoters.
While other musicians such as Tool and A Perfect Circle have posted signs at shows asking fans to keep their phones in their pockets or purses (and then used event security to ensure compliance), White’s tour is a previously unexperienced escalation.
“I have not had any request that has gone to this level of implementation, of using a device or an audience-wide shutdown of phones,” said Chris Mautz, co-owner of First Tracks Entertainment.
“This has been our only [Yondr show] so far,” added Christina Pfeiffer, the head of ticketing and marketing for Postfontaine, which is promoting White’s show in Utah.
For that matter, it’s the only Yondr show for anyone in the state so far, company publicist Kelly Taylor confirmed via email: “Interestingly, Yondr has not been used at a major concert venue in Utah yet!”
There are plenty of people in the state, though, who are apparently willing to be the test subjects.
A Salt Lake Tribune poll posted on Facebook asked people to vote whether they would choose to attend a show where cellphones weren’t allowed, and of about 1,500 respondents, some 63 percent said they would.
Is putting your phone away a concert deal-breaker?
When musician Jack White visits Utah on Aug. 9 at Saltair, attendees will be required to keep their cellphones in a lockable pouch for the duration of the concert.
Source: Tribune-generated Facebook poll
Many expressed a sentiment along the lines of, “I would go specifically for it. I’m tired of trying to see over and past hundreds of tiny screens to watch a concert.”
Others were less enamored of the idea. Some like being able to document a show and having the means to go back and relive it later. Others, like Sugar House resident Marissa Williams, simply took issue with the idea of adults being told how and when they can use their phones.
“Do I think it's a ridiculous rule? Yes,” she wrote on Facebook. “Am I going to do it anyway to see Jack White? Also yes.”
“In this day and age, everyone wants some kind of photo or video memento of a show they really enjoyed, myself included,” she added in a subsequent email.
Avery Holton, an assistant professor in the University of Utah’s department of communication who studies social media and personal identity — and who estimates he goes to 30 or 40 concerts a year — finds the issue of regulated constraint troubling.
While noting that artists who restrict phone usage at their shows do so for a variety of reasons — be it anxiety, control of content or, as White contends, because they detract from the enjoyment of the performance — he added that to do so exhibits “a strong artistic, authoritarian, controlling aspect.”
“If part of the experience for fans is being there and creating their own memories, and they have some control of it, I don’t see what the problem is,” Holton said. “All sorts of things are tied up in this: having autonomous control of being able to enjoy our experience, having the ability to say, ‘We paid $50 for this; if I have some basic etiquette, why can’t I do this?’”
As a substitute, White announced that his tour photographer would be posting photos and videos after each show to jackwhiteiii.com and the Instagram account @officialjackwhitelive for fans to use on social media.
“Ideally, they’ll be able to relive it that way,” Pfeiffer noted. “I know it’s not the same.”
As for the concert itself, reactions from White’s opening night show at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit noted it was an unusual experience, but also were generally positive.
Rolling Stone wrote: “White’s sold-out show in support of his new album Boarding House Reach … was an impressive, screen-free undertaking that tested the waters for the remainder of the tour, which would follow in similar fashion. The message was loud and clear: be present and be centered. That’s not to say it was an easy concept to take in. Those concert-going rituals that had become so innocuous — sending an email in between sets, texting a friend to meet up, snapping a quick photo — were now unavailable, and it took a fair amount of desensitization to adjust to the normalcy of it all.”
The Detroit Free Press said the cellphone ban brought “an old-school feel” and “steered attention firmly toward the stage.” The Detroit News reported that, with phones locked away, attendees “had no choice but to pay attention. They answered to White’s call-and-response requests, filled the arena with a chorus of chants during the closing ‘Seven Nation Army,’ and even lit up the arena with lighters prior to the encore. It was like 1979 all over again.“
As for the fans, the only online complaining seemed to center on the venue’s sound quality, and a perceived attitude of nonchalance from the headliner. As for the phone issue, no one seemed to mind too much:
Whether the first locked-up-phones show in Utah becomes a trend obviously remains to be seen.
While Pfeiffer said she sees Yondr pouches as a better fit for comedy clubs than for most concert halls, she concedes their footprint could expand with certain kinds of artists.
“It made sense with [White]. He’s targeting a more mature crowd,” she said. “… I think with more mature audiences, and quieter shows, it’ll be more prevalent. Which is not to say Jack White will be a ‘quiet’ show!
“I do think it will become a more popular occurrence,” Pfeiffer added. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s going to be more of a blessing than anything else; people not blocking your view, no distracting lights. It’s gonna make for a better concert experience.”
Mautz was unwilling to go that far, and said the issue could become moot anyway should fans exercise a little more consideration for their fellow concertgoers.
“I don’t really have a sense of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see an uptick of it, but I don’t know that it’s going to be incredibly widespread,” he said. “Certainly, it seems like there are pretty basic courtesies that all audiences should be able to implement, and probably some etiquette will make it less impactful.”
Yondr’s frontman, however, suggested that the ubiquitous role that smartphones have taken in our lives makes self-policing impractical. If all people were simply able to behave judiciously, there would be no need for his product.
“It’s not about forcing people to do anything. It’s about helping to bridge a gap between technology and social etiquette,” Dugoni said. “It’s asking people a lot not to interact with their phones when their bodies have become conditioned to do so.”
That said, he thinks concerns about phones being banned at concerts will go away once more people actually give it a try.
“The best part of a phone-free show — there’s obviously the performance itself, and there’s a heightened atmosphere, but also beforehand, you witness people having conversations, mostly about two things: about the artist, and about not having their phones,” Dugoni said. “… I highly recommend it. If you haven’t been to a phone-free show yet, you really need to try it.”
Go phone-free with Jack White
When • Thursday, Aug. 9, 8 p.m. (doors at 7 p.m.)
Where • Great Saltair, 12408 W. Saltair Drive, Magna
Tickets • $69.75; Ticketfly