Opinion: Houston Sucks At Show Etiquette
Photo: Marshall Forse Walker
I believe I can say that I see more concerts than pretty much anyone in Houston who doesn’t work at a live music venue. And while I might see even more than those people, sometimes up to five or six shows in one night, the one thing I see continuously is how attendees interact with one another, as well as how they interact with those who are performing. I occasionally venture out to other cities where they may also suck at knowing how to behave at a live music venue, but what I see here turns my stomach more than what I see elsewhere. Houston, you suck at show etiquette. Period.
For starters, I should point out that this doesn’t apply to how people act in spots that shouldn’t attempt to have live music, yet still do. While the idea of having shows at breweries and restaurants isn’t a new one, it’s also not the best spot for them either. Also spots like hotels, grocery stores, and places like Axelrad are completely taken out of this. It’s a stupid idea to attempt to have a show at spaces where the band has to fight the audience for volume or where those in attendance didn’t come for the live music. Those are separate articles to be written at a later date. No, this is how Houstonians act at spaces that were set up for live music. This isn’t a new sentiment, as I’ve gone so far as to call out people to their face when it happens. It’s not a youthful thing or a transient dweller thing; it’s a Houston thing. And it’s getting old.
The first type is the “the rules don’t apply to me” group. While waiting in line to get my ticket scanned at larger venues like NRG or my occasional trip to the Woodlands Pavilion, I’ve had people who were always old enough to know better, break the rules. At U2, I had no less than twenty adults in an age ranges between late thirties to upper fifties cut in front of myself and others in line. If you think I’m an ageist or elitist, I’m not. You can tell people’s ages by how out of touch they are in they means of dress, or the amount of grey hairs they have on their heads. Line cutting isn’t the only group, as there are the types who think the long arm of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission based laws that every space that sells alcohol, don’t apply to them. Everything from attempting to leave a venue with a drink in hand to attempting to bring one in, this rule isn’t limited to age. I’ve seen everyone from underage kids to at least adults in their late forties attempt to skirt around such laws, like they’re the king or queen of some country. It gets even hairier when there’s a “no video, no photo” policy in place. I’ll admit, with the exception of comics, I think the “no photo, no video” rule is a little dated, but rules are rules. I see this one broken all the time, even at comedy shows where comics are typically working on new material that they don’t want lifted from a twenty second web clip. If you ever wondered why the Yondr pouch was invented, Houston was probably one of the places the idea originated.
Another group is the “I’ll talk really loud no matter how close I am to the stage” people. Some performances and some types of music aren’t loud, yet no one in this town can seem to shut up when there’s music playing. This is especially bad in spaces like Rudyard’s where the band is very close to the audience. Not to single out a venue, as I’ve witnessed this at Big Top, White Oak Music Hall upstairs, the studio and the green room at Warehouse Live, and the Bronze Peacock at House of Blues. However, there are also those who are just loud period, and maybe you’re in the middle of the crowd or the back and they’re literally yelling to their buds in the crowd, yet you have to hear them. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you’re louder than the insanely expensive sound rigs that many of these venues utilize, then you’re more than likely too loud.
Of course, that brings us to the “I’m just gonna be on the phone no matter what” people. I’ve seen it when bands take people’s phones, when people insist on texting or even talking on their phone during a performance. I’ve seen it when a band asks for the room to be dark, and then some idiot pulls out their giant bright phone to respond to a Facebook message or a text, right in front of the stage. Of course, we all have to deal with people using their phones to take a video or a picture, and I myself do it as well. However, I usually do so from the back of the room in small venues, or off to the side in larger ones. I have, of course, had people hold their phone up high, right in front of me or in my line of sight, while they attempt to video the whole concert it seems. That’s dumb. I seriously doubt you’re going to ever watch the whole concert ever again, even after you upload it to wherever you upload it to. This also leads to the Facebook Live idiots. Why, why, why would anyone care about your garbled and crappy phone video of a concert? Your phone has a crappy ISO and a terrible speaker. There’s also a great chance that the live sound is set up for the venue size, sometimes quite large, and your phone makes it sound terrible. Please, please, please stop this stupid exercise. No one cares, no matter how many likes or loves you get, it’s vulgar and dumb.
Then, we get to talk about the “I can’t handle my alcohol” people, which I see way too often. Look, I get it. You dropped $10 on a beer, and you want to have a good time. However, after you’ve had three or four of them, you’re infringing on my good time by acting like a drunken idiot. At PJ Harvey, where pretty much everyone there was older than I am, this was the worst I’ve ever seen. Okay, okay, you got a babysitter and you and the spouse are going to have crazy hotel sex after the concert. But does that mean you have the right to spill draft beer all over the place while dancing all over me like we’re on a date? No. Drink like an adult, please.
Finally, there’s the “I’m going to invade your personal space” people. While all of these annoyances are essentially about personal space, there are people in this town who literally believe it is their inalienable right to stand directly in front of you. I get it if you’re behind me and you’re five foot four and under, as I’m pushing six foot five. Of course this is how I feel, if you’re as big of a fan as you think that you are, you would’ve started the show off in front of me. And so you know, I never get to the venue early. At the last TV On The Radio show at House of Blues, I had a real moron stand directly in front of me, then continuously bump me until I told him to dance somewhere else. This also happened with a women no younger than her fifties as she danced atop of me at PJ Harvey at Revention Center, until I asked her to take advantage of the eight or so feet ahead of her to dance all she wanted to. This also happened at Madness On Main this year upstairs at White Oak Music Hall for the LIMB set. However, this was more of a mix of morons with professional cameras both video and photo, standing in front of me as I stood off in the corner away from everyone else. There were also two latecomers with bulging backpacks who hulked their way through to stand on top of me like I wasn’t there well before them. If you really think you need to be as close as possible, just get up there early and stop grinding through a crowd like you’re “with the band,” please.
Removed from this list is also people at punk and at metal shows, where I expect there to be people dancing on top of one another. Though I will say that the crowd surfing died twenty years ago, maybe it’s time we give that a rest. If not only because many of you are doing it wrong, and usually end up hurting someone because of your lack of skills at it. Also removed from this list is festivals if not for the only reason that they usually have a mix of people from many other places, so I can’t really place how people act at festivals on Houstonians alone.
The truth is this, pretty much every band that plays this city whether as a resident or as a touring act feels the same at any given time; this city’s crowds can suck. As a music journalist, many of us often look around for someone to blame in a time when it feels like Houston’s music community should be growing to a larger place. However, if you attend enough live performances, maybe you’ll start to see what I’m seeing. It’s time for we as patrons to start acting better while calling out those who ruin the experience for those of us who actually came to see the bands performing. Otherwise, this city will quickly return to a time when bands just skip us over in favor of other places, and we’ll be left back in the dark days of music again.