Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Warning - RANT ALERT

Not my favorite way to enjoy music: Spend seventy-five dollars of hard-earned money. Park miles away from the event. Walk in a crowd surrounded by other lemmings through dusty heat. Walk past overpriced concessions selling stuff that isn't good for anyone. Look out for drunks who have been at said event since morning, drinking. Be frisked, poked, prodded, examined for substances and metal containers that might contain food or alcohol that they would rather you purchased from said overpriced concessions. Find your expensive seat - a plastic stadium chair attached to hundreds (thousands) of other plastic stadium chairs. Sit in it for an hour waiting for music.

I have to take a break from ranting to rave about the warm up band, Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their old-timey music was fun and really did warm up the crowd with sing-alongs and dancing beats and creative instrumentation. A kazoo solo! Who knew? And I got a great idea. Instead of looking for a stand-up bass to buy, I now realize, because of the woman who played "bass" in this group, that a cello could do it, too. Smaller, less expensive, and able to produce beautiful deep bass tones needed to anchor old-timey musical numbers.

As they finished, more people came to find their seats. All of humanity pushes past us to get to their seats, which are all, inexplicably, inside our row. When I mention all of humanity, I really mean the ones who never learned restraint or politeness. Also, did I mention that they are really drunk?

I can tell from the first note of the warm up band that it is a good thing I brought my ear plugs. The brights are very bright, and they hurt my sensitive ears. Not so the masses, many of whom want it all louder, so they add to the din with their own hooting and hollering. Not a problem in a smaller venue. I can hoot and hollar about music with the best of them, but multiply my loud voice by thousands! Not good.

But my most difficult revelation about this type of huge concert comes when Dave Matthews actually comes out on the stage with his band to play. As I sit there in my $75 seat, I watch, seated and astonished, as everyone stands up and stays standing for the entire concert, almost three hours. I could see the stage before, while the warm up band was playing. I could use the little binoculars to study someone's fingerpicking, to realize that the banjo player was a girl, etc. Now? Not so much. Not at all. I cannot see anything of the concert, except for the margin of the light show that has everyone hypnotized.

I am a person who loves lights and color, sparkly things in general, and the light show that goes with the DMB music is spectacularly colorful and sparkly with fancy laser effects. But I don't get to listen to the DMB music because I cannot stand up for three hours. In fact, I don't want to stand up for even one song. That's not how I enjoy music. I can't study the musicians, close my eyes to savor some fancy licks, watch how DM moves on the stage, or anything I would do at an old-school concert (think symphony orchestra or coffee house or the village green or recital).

The people who are used to this sort of concert behavior enjoy the music by moving and dancing in their little space - when the f&#*heads who are leaving their seats and coming back and leaving their seats and coming back aren't interrupting their enjoyment! These constant travelers treat this time as if they are in their living rooms watching a C movie. Oh, it's not so good right now, let's go make popcorn or buy some overpriced hot dog and soda - behavior I would expect at a ball game, which has lots of long boring stretches in between exciting plays. But it is not a living room filled with people who know them and love them and forgive their fat asses and bad manners, it's a row of plastic stadium seats filled with people who did not pay $75 to have their enjoyment of the show interrupted constantly. Filled with people like me who really want to sink into the music.

Sinking into the music is not a possibility in a venue this big. Forgive me for being critical, Dave, but if I played music as good as yours, I would want people to really be able to enjoy it. I play music that might be half as good, and I still want people to really enjoy it. I would play smaller venues. I would tell my agent, yes, Morty, or Sol, or Gus, I know we could make a bazillion dollars every week if I play these huge places, but I really want folks to sink into my music, taste it with their pores. I want them to be able to, nay, be asked to sit down while I play, unless they want to gather on the side to dance, or better yet buy a less expensive spot at the concert that doesn't involve a seat at all. I've already made lots on my recordings, so let's lighten up on the huge venues. And insist that people sit so everyone can see.

I'm almost done with this rant. I haven't lit into the smokers who fill the air with cigarette smoke that begins on the outskirts of the seats but invariably drifts over to infest us and our clothing and our lungs with second hand smoke. I haven't really discussed, too much, how a new generation of music-lovers expects special effects, other than music, at every presentation. We all roared with delight when the guitar player for the Carolina Chocolate Drops stood up during their last song and clogged and twirled his guitar like a  majorette or a ninja. Yes, motion and color and interesting outfits - these all add to the performance, but they shouldn't be necessary and expected. Unless of course you spend way too much money for a ticket. Then I guess strobe lasers would be a given. Also a given? Pounding on said plastic stadium chairs and chanting to force musicians to do your bidding (play another song even when they are finished, play an oldie, tell a joke, I don't know). 

But what I really need to mention here is how often this experience reminded me of a middle school assembly, at the beginning of the year before pre-teens have been admonished about assembly behavior. The music is not the object; it is the rest of the experience, of being away from the classroom (or work week), with one's friends (and their dramas - you would be amazed at the conversations I overheard to while I was purportedly at a music concert well underway), engaging in illicit behavior because it is too difficult to police. Security guards were everywhere, but to my mind they were policing the wrong bad behaviors. The point of the expensive ticket, the point of it all, the music? It seems lost in a carefully constructed culture of disbehavior.

DMB, true to what I had been led to expect, played two or three more songs after they declared an end, but it took so long for them to come back out. The drummer had time to toss all his drum sticks into the crowd. They played the oldies, stuff even I knew, which was cool. Then it was over and this entire crowd, which had dribbled in slowly during the day, had to be corralled and led out. Again, the river of lemmings filled the earth. Then a river of cars had to be shifted from one parking lot to many highways. It took almost as long as the warm up band played to get us all out of there.

Not for me, the expensive ticket for a huge arena. Give me the small music festival or the coffee house or even a music club where I can sit and watch and savor, get up and go to a dancing place, or even right up by the stage to watch a guitarist float around the neck with nimble fingers. Musicians are real people then, not images flickering on screens for backlighting and visual entertainment. The only time I could see Dave's face was when they projected a camera view on the space behind the band for decoration, I guess. If I had been in the lawn seats, I could have seen that more. 

Musicians are real people, and I like to experience music like a real person, not like a lemming or a bit of seaweed in the Sargasso Sea. I like to sit or stand or dance or smoke or drink to music, but by agreement with all the other listeners, not at their expense.

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