Out of Step – A Primer on Proper Show Behavior


“Put your hands in the air
Bring your knees in tight
Yeah we do this shit together man
No fists, no fights”

-Frank Turner, Four Simple Words


Image by Ted Van Pelt- tedvanpelt@comcast.net

Ah it’s back-to-school time, that time of year when the city’s population balloons with new and returning college students. Suddenly everyone’s morning commute becomes a little more sluggish, the lines at Tacodeli get a little bit longer, and open seats at Epoch Coffee turn into a hot commodity. Many of these temporary residents end up hailing from elsewhere in Texas, making this city easily the coolest place they’ve ever lived. And Austin welcomes them as it does (for better or worse) with all newcomers and like it or lament it, our local economy and even our music scene are bolstered by them.

Our storied music scene is borne on the backs of countless local bands and small venues, which (despite the annual hoopla of SXSW) are what really make this the “Live Music Capital of the World.” Sooner or later the most recent crop of fresh-out-of-high-school, first-time-on-their-own college freshmen will find their way down to 6th Street, Red River, Rainey, and the Eastside and once again I’ll find myself being “that old guy” at the show…and I’m barely even 35!

This old guy’s seen some shows in his time though and if there’s one thing I know for sure, the “damn kids these days” don’t know how to act at shows. And that includes some of you older folks as well! As a veteran of literally hundreds of shows and as Austin music blogging’s resident cantankerous curmudgeon, I’m here to give you some tips on how to enjoy live music without being an ass or getting curb-stomped at the end of the night.

Lesson 1: Leave the book bag at home

It never fails. If I go to a show within the first month of school being back in session I inevitably end up standing behind some recent high school grad with a giant bag on his back like he’s just hit up his locker after home room. Small bags are one thing, but it’s never a small bag. Half the time I’m convinced the person must be going camping right after the show.

Leave the goddamn bag at home! No, I get it. Your roommate at the dorm is totally stealing your stuff. Maybe you’re heading to Epoch after the show to study for a class for which you’ll forget everything about 10 minutes after graduation. Seriously though, ditch the bag or pay for two tickets, because that’s how much space you’re taking up. If you honestly need the bag with you then have the common decency to stand such that your back isn’t intruding on everyone else’s space. I came to dance and you’re in my way!

Lesson 2: Shut up
You’re either here to listen to music or not and if not, take the conversation outside. Now I don’t mean all conversation, but there’s a time for it and that time is not in the middle of a performance.

Nothing bugs me more than when a band starts playing a slower and/or quieter song and I have to struggle to hear it over the half dozen conversations around me. Just because you don’t know the song or because it’s not loud enough to pierce your ADHD doesn’t mean everyone else has the same problem. If you’re not going to enjoy the whole performance then get out of my way or shut up. I didn’t come for one song or some songs, I came for everything the band is giving me and I won’t suffer rude music tourists.

Lesson 3: Don’t push
This is one of those grayer areas where I’m willing to make some exceptions, because there have been plenty of times where I’ve pushed my way to the front of a crowd, but I always do so for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? If you’ve been at a show the whole time and are still stuck in the middle or back of the crowd and really want to get up front, I feel you. Most of the time you just deal with it and get to the next show earlier. If you’re really into the band though and the people in front of you obviously are not, push past them (politely) and get your ass to the front. Now if you arrived to the show after the two opening acts just so you could see the headliner and nothing else and find yourself crammed in the back of the room, I don’t want to see you pushing anywhere except out the door once they play that “one song” you like, but can’t remember the name of.

Since I usually arrive early enough, I’m often up front if I want to be and as no stranger to more aggressive crowds, when someone starts pushing I regard it as license to push back. I take perverse pleasure in being a bouncer for the bit of floor within my influence and I have no reservations about pushing your ass back where you came from if you try to usurp my space or that of anyone near me. This brings us to lesson 4.

Lesson 4: Mosh etiquette
Moshing is hardcore punk’s reluctant gift to the world. Over the last 30 years it’s gone from something that used to only happen at hardcore shows, to being appropriated by metal, to being featured so often on TV alongside anything other than the most timid music that entire generations have grown up thinking it’s just “what you do” when you go to a show. It’s right up there with crowd surfing and holding up lighters. Which you’re also doing wrong.

I enjoy a little aggression at a show, though, so I won’t turn my nose up at mosh-like circumstances even if I do avoid getting in the pit myself. As moshing has grown away from its roots however, much of the etiquette has been lost and often that means people get hurt when they shouldn’t. Here’s a few simple rules for the pit:

    1. People who are not in the pit likely do not want to be in the pit, if they push you out of their way it’s not personal so don’t turn it into “a thing.”
    2. Being in the pit is like being in a family and family help each other. If someone falls down in the pit and you notice it, help them up.
    3. Moshing is not about hurting other people, not intentionally. If you get into a mosh to hurt people you deserver whatever ass-kicking you get.
    4. Don’t stage dive/crowd surf. I’m with Ian Mackaye on this one, it’s just dumb and the only reason you’re doing it is because you’ve seen someone do it on TV. I saw someone crowd surf at a Marmalakes show! What the fuck?!

For you people on the outskirts of the pit who don’t want to give up your position, feel free to gently (but firmly) push any errant dancers back into the pit if they fly into you. The pit is where they want to be in the first place so you’re really doing them a favor. Good mosh etiquette helps everyone have a better time. Remember, we’re all in this to have fun.

Lesson 5: Your eyes are better than your phone’s camera
There’s been a lot of talk about using smart phones at shows in recent years and there are some hardliners who would like to see people dragged out of venues for doing so. Speaking as someone who likes to take a few snaps here and there at a show, I think that’s a bit harsh. If you’re watching the entire show through your iPhone screen and consistently blocking the view of people behind you though, then you need to stop it. It’s one thing to snap a pic or even video your favorite song, but too much is just too much. Enjoy the show and put your phone away. If you must chronicle every moment of a show because you’re doing some AMA on your life as a total douche then at least do it out of the way of the rest of us. People around me with their phones constantly blocking my view run the risk of dropping those phones when someone violently runs into them and then having that phone accidentally stepped on…several times.

Lesson 6: Stay hydrated
You’re not going to listen to this one, but I’ll say it anyway: stay hydrated. That means “drink water” for you slower folks. This is especially important here in Texas and at outdoor venues while it’s still hot. I am not exaggerating when I say that at every show I went to at Stubb’s outdoors this year I saw someone in the crowd pass out from dehydration.

I know you want to get drunk and have fun, but passing out in the middle of a show is not fun, for you or those around you. Either guzzle some water before you get to the show or get some intermittently while you’re there. I’m hard pressed to think of a venue around here (especially outdoors) that doesn’t have free water.

Look, I want you to go out to shows and support our local venues and bands, but there are good and bad ways to do that. The bad ways will force me to ridicule and make an example of you, the good will go completely unnoticed. Trust me when I say that you want to be unnoticed in this respect. There’s plenty of music out there to enjoy, just don’t be a dick while you’re doing it and we’ll be fine.

About Brian

Brian Audette lives somewhere in Austin within a pillow fort made of broken dreams. He only comes out to see shows and buy beer. He has a surprisingly well maintained lawn and is using it to breed an army of attack mosquitoes with which to take over the world. Brian can be reached at brian@ovrld.com or at @bjaudette.