Rolling Stone magazine recently listed “Yelling sit down at people who are standing up” at arena concerts amongst their 10 most annoying concert behaviours and it got me to thinking about some of the moaning that goes on in the aftermath of the C2C festival each year between the rival camps of ‘sitters’ and ‘standers’.
This is a divisive issue across most genres of music but is particularly interesting when it comes to country music because we aren’t used to seeing that form of music in arenas over here in England and so are a tad confused over what etiquette should be employed, after all, being British, we don’t like to rock the boat too much in public or social situations!
From the off we should, unfortunately, establish something upfront – there is no right or wrong answer to this issue. You can argue your standpoint till you are blue in the face but this is a confusing subject that ultimately will depend on many different factors like venue, type of music, age of crowd and length of day! I can’t help but feel, though, that music, particularly country music, was designed to be enjoyed standing, dancing and swaying with your nearest and dearest rather than observed from the removed, cinema style experience of sitting down.
This issue first raised its head for me personally back in 1991 during a show at Birmingham NEC. I had gone to see Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell 2’ tour and had ended up with a ticket ‘up the sides’. This I feel could be our first step towards a resolution of the sitting v standing debate – if you definitely want to stand up at an arena show then a ticket on the floor is a surer way of standing than a ticket ‘up the sides’. However, in this instance I had bought a ticket through a record shop (remember them?) and had had no control over whereabouts in the arena I went. Four songs into Meat Loaf’s wonderful show about life, love and electric guitars I felt that tap on the shoulder and turned to find an irate man indicating I should sit down. Those dreaded words came next. “My wife can’t see.” A shrug of the shoulders from me and back to the show. Tap. Tap. More pointing, raised eyebrows from him. Shake of the head from me.
At this point not only has the mood been ruined for me and for them but the negativity sort of seeps out into the surrounding seats because no matter how hard you try and ignore unsocial behaviour or arguments at concerts it cannot help but effect the people around. There is a chemistry in the air at gigs that can be infectious when things are going well but destructive when they are not. The guy ended up getting a steward but the steward didn’t want any part of it because there is no hard and fast rule about standing. I tried, over the wailing of the guitars, to explain that I didn’t think Meat Loaf’s show and music was designed to be experienced sitting down – have you heard ‘Bat out of Hell’? How can you sit through that but the ground was definitely stoney and ultimately I ended up bobbing up and down like a yo-yo as the show progressed, caving to social pressure, fidgeting in my seat for some songs whilst standing up for others. A terrible compromise that made both parties unhappy I imagine.
In 2015 I attended my second C2C festival with my wife and two children who were aged 11 and 9 at that point. So, breaking the only rule I have established about standing at concerts so far (if you want to stand, buy a ticket on the floor), we bought a ticket up the sides so the children could see. We were looking forward to ‘house favourites’ Lady Antebellum and Jason Aldean but had a year previously on a holiday to Florida discovered the joys of Kip Moore and were delighted that he was opening proceedings on the Saturday. Two songs in and everyone was rooted firmly to their seats in the whole section around us. More fidgeting from me and if I’m honest a disconnect with what was happening on stage because I just don’t like to experience music sitting down. By song 5, the Daykin family national anthem – ‘Beer Money’, I’d had enough – both my daughter and I leapt to our feet and stayed there for the rest of his set. Apologies to the people around me who had nothing but a fine view of my backside but this singer and that song meant more to me and my family than my consideration of your view. As the show progressed gradually more and more people stood up at the sides but there were plenty that didn’t – and lots of moaning on Facebook after about ‘standers’.
So, lets establish some rules shall we?
Rule 1 – If you want to stand, buy a ticket on the arena floor. (Aside – unless you have kids, then it gets more complicated!)
Rule 2 – Match whether you stand or sit to what venue you are in. I’m not sure standing at The Opry would go down that well. If you’ve gone to Birmingham Symphony Hall be prepared to sit. Popping into see Jess and the Bandits at this year’s C2C we saw the floor was set up with seats and the implicit message was sit down so we went up on the balcony where we could stand, leaning against the balcony wall. I tailored what I wanted to do to the surroundings. Arenas, however, are fair game. They are nothing more than huge aircraft hangers with some speakers hanging at one end and, in my opinion, the atmosphere is awful when everyone sits in an arena. Martina McBride sang her socks off opening the C2C festival at the O2 in 2014 but because everyone sat down to watch her the atmosphere was awful. I felt like I was sitting in a giant Cineworld. This is the problem the C2C organisers have every year from those social media voices crying out for more traditional country music – in a space the size of the O2 you have to choose acts that are going to get people on their feet otherwise it’s like a crypt in there. Kacey Musgraves at last year’s festival is a good case in point. I had previously seen her in the intimate settings of a 600 capacity club in Birmingham (all standing!) which was great but elevated onto an arena stage (I know having to follow Chris Stapleton didn’t help) she lost something because her music suits smaller venues – lots of people sat and watched and her set, whilst being musically superb, died a death due to people sitting down. If you are in a theatre or smaller venue and its seats – you may well have to sit but sitting down in an arena just kills the atmosphere.
Rule 3 – Who have you gone to see? Certain people’s music should not and can not be enjoyed sitting down. Kip Moore, Dierks Bentley, Florida Georgia Line? These are not people who can be enjoyed cinema style, sitting down however if you are attending a Michael Buble show, Norah Jones, Vince Gill or maybe even Martina McBride you might want to sit and listen to the show as their musical styles are not necessarily conducive to dancing. The tricky thing about festivals is that I might be sitting in front of someone who has only paid to see Lady Antebellum but I am a huge Dierks Bentley fan so want to stand up to enjoy someone I never thought I would see grace a UK stage. I stand up, annoying the Lady A fan behind me who was quite happy to sit through Dierks’ set – what’s the answer here? Simple – the casual fan has to accede to the joy and passion of the fan in front for me. You can’t expect to sit through the set of someone you are not familiar with or haven’t made any effort to listen to squashing the joy and enjoyment of the passionate fan in front. Sorry – but that’s how it is on this one. Festivals are tricky but it’s sheer selfishness on the part of the casual fan to think they can sit through an act moaning about someone standing up in front of them.
Rule 4 – Fans need to realise that when you are in a concert crowd that crowd develops an organic life, an ebb and flow, of its own. You cannot go to a show in isolation, cannot simply be focused on what you want to get out of the show. Fans have to realise that they are a part of a greater body of people and that body will take on a life of its own as the show progresses. If someone stands – can you go elsewhere? Have you sat in the right place to be able to have a clear, unobstructed view? At Kip Moore’s recent gig this year in Birmingham my wife, who didn’t want to stand in a hot, throbbing crowd in her work clothes asked if we could go upstairs on the balcony, where there is seating (of sorts – benches!). We got there early, queued patiently in that British fashion, dashed upstairs and got the seat on the very corner of the balcony, like the two old guys in the Muppets, hanging over the stage. We could sit down, there was no danger of someone blocking the view and those downstairs could stand, jump about and dance to their heart’s desire (pun intended!).
I am mindful of the fact that due to health reasons some people may not be able to stand up for long periods at shows. Country music is an age defying genre that does attract older and younger concert attendees than say shows by the likes of Halestorm, Beyonce and Muse and not everyone at a show has the physical ability to stand. That’s where this issue gets complicated and again I refer you to rule 4 – the idea that being in a crowd is a partnership with the other people around you. Work out some compromise in that situation that leaves both parties feeling like they got something out of it.
Ultimately, with no firm guidance from the artists or venues themselves, this is an issue with legs. It will run and run. In the country genre most artists,I believe, want the fans to stand up and sing and dance. In a recent interview with Dierks Bentley in Maverick Magazine, Dierks alluded to being thrilled that when playing over here in London last April, the majority of the crowd stood up and sang along. If you choose to go and see an act in a small, intimate seated theatre then you might well expect to sit down but if you choose to go with 20,000 other people to an aircraft hangar then I think you have to attend with the knowledge that unless people stand up the atmosphere will be such that the show may well never get going. Standing in arenas is fair game – in fact I believe it is crucially important to both the atmosphere and the relationship between the artist on stage and the greater body of the fans below. Sure, a ticket on the floor of the arena is a greater guarantee of not getting that tap on the shoulder but I think every fan needs to attend arena shows with the understanding that, as it sometimes says printed on the tickets themselves : ‘People around you may stand’.
James Daykin (@rockjames)