Magna • There’s a scene in the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” where Paul Rudd’s character says that, since moving to Hawaii and becoming a surf instructor, he’s quit wearing his watch. Jason Segal’s character fanboys over such living in the moment, but Rudd quickly disabuses him of any grand-scheme-of-things mysticism:
“Yeah. No, like, my cellphone has a clock on it, so I don’t really need it.”
Provo resident Michael Richardson could identify with that at Thursday night’s Jack White concert at Great Saltair. He wasn’t wearing a watch. But he found himself wanting one. Because even though he remembered full well that his smartphone was stowed in a lockable canvas pouch — like everyone else’s at the show — that didn’t keep him from trying to check it.
“I have reached for it a few times to see what time it is, to try to figure out when Jack will be on,” Richardson admitted. “And then it’s like, ‘Oh yeah.’”
White apparently is all about that living-in-the-moment thing. His “Boarding House Reach” tour has become the largest to date to partner with Yondr, a San Francisco-based company that produces proprietary locking pouches now popular with many performing artists (not to mention some court systems and even high school classrooms).
When White’s tour stop in Utah was announced, local vendor Ticketfly included a statement from his management team on its website: “PLEASE NOTE: this is a PHONE-FREE show. No photos, or recording devices allowed. We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets & experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON.”
And so, as fans queued outside Saltair, 15 or so Yondr employees populated the lines, backed by tables covered with bags filled with the pouches. Your ticket was scanned, your phone was momentarily handed over and slid into a canvas pouch, the magnetically sealed opening snapped shut, your phone was handed back to you, and on you went to pass through security.
Lehi’s Stephanie Grover said she was dubious of the concept, though she did concede that experiencing it made her see its merits.
“I’ll admit I was a little panicked at the idea of not being able to look at my phone whenever I wanted. … I wasn’t pleased when I found out about it. I kept thinking, ‘How am I gonna check my emails? How am I gonna take pictures? How am I gonna post on Instagram?’” she said. “It’s actually been really nice not to have to stress out about things. I’ve just been able to put work aside and enjoy the show.”
Of course, for some, “the show” has come to encompass more than simply hearing the music itself. People like snapping selfies with the artist onstage behind them. They like having a video of their favorite song being performed. They enjoy having a digital memento that will pop up as a Facebook “memory” in a year.
Sara Woolsey, whose family drove 250-odd miles from Panguitch to Magna, lamented not being able to snap some pictures of her 8-, 10-, and 16-year-old kids at their first concert.
That said, she was pleased to find there was a “Phone Use Area” available on the venue’s outdoor patio. She stepped into the gated area, swiped her pouch over an unlocking device and was able to call to check up on her little one who was left back at home with an overnight sitter. A Yondr employee then ensured her phone was locked away again before she left.
She ultimately came away an enthusiastic advocate.
“I think it’s friggin’ awesome! … I actually asked if I could buy some!” Woolsey said with a laugh. “They’re a great idea. They’d be nice to have at home to lock up the kids’ phones when you need to.”
Richardson, from Provo, meanwhile, was enjoying the adults having their phones locked up, too. He said his wife, who was not in attendance (she’s simply not a Jack White fan), believed the mandate to be “ridiculous,” but he had a different opinion.
“I was really happy not to have to look through other people’s screens all night,” he said. “I just kind of expect [phones] to be part of the concert experience now. So this show is very unique for not having them. It’s pretty cool.”
An enforced phone-free evening was not altogether new for Sandy’s Jacqueline Lovell, who said her first such experience came when she and other attendees were asked to seal their phones in an envelope at her sister’s wedding. “Of course, I was happy to do it,” she said.
She was slightly less happy to do it Thursday night.
Her partner, Scott Lantz, extolled its virtues, noting that leaving their two small children at home had afforded them a “relaxing” evening and that being forced to have their phones locked away was “forcing us to spend quality time together — I know that’s embarrassing to say!”
For Lovell, though, even if she recognized the purported benefits, the lack of autonomy in the situation was a bit irksome.
“He’s the fan tonight and I’m here for him, so for me, being present for the music isn’t necessarily that important,” she said. “… I had already been making more of a conscious effort to disconnect in small ways. This feels like an extension of that — even though it was forced on us.”
The experience of making it through a concert without your phone can be somewhat unnerving, though not necessarily unpleasantly so. Your eyeballs no longer need to navigate a sea of small viewscreens to find the stage. Your hands, however, will be searching for something to do, with your phone pouch stuffed in your purse or your pocket.
Some people pumped their fists to the beat. A stray few deployed celebratory middle fingers. Most simply settled on dancing in place, bobbing their heads to the music and clapping in unison upon White’s commands. It was a decidedly old-school feel.
Grover, from Lehi, suggested concertgoers embrace that more — whether they’re made to or not.
“Twenty years ago, we were fine being at a concert without them,” she noted. “I guess you don’t realize how attached you are to your phone until you don’t have it.”
JACK WHITE’S SALTAIR SETLIST
Over and Over and Over
Black Math (The White Stripes song)
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes song)
What's Done Is Done
My Doorbell (The White Stripes song)
High Ball Stepper
Connected by Love
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes song)
Carolina Drama (The Raconteurs song)
I’m Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes song)
The Same Boy You’ve Always Known (The White Stripes song)
Catch Hell Blues (The White Stripes song)
Steady, as She Goes (The Raconteurs song)