Lessons From Ben Folds Five on Concert Etiquette and Situational Standing

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As far as bands go, Ben Folds Five is a group that rocked this piano player’s world at age 12, and has continued to do so until now (age 29). Sadly, prior to their breakup in 2000, I never got to see them perform live. For the last 12 years of my life, I basically assumed it would never happen. I saw Ben Folds perform solo a number of times, all great shows, but I never got that Five fix I so desperately wanted.

Finally, early this year, reports surfaced they had reconvened in the studio, and then came the official announcement – a new album and a tour. I pledged my money to their PledgeMusic campaign (signed vinyl album on its way as we speak!) and geeked out as I saw their first tour date would be in Holyoke, MA. I called the box office the morning tickets were released and secured front row seats for myself, my buddy Dan, and some slacker named Jarret Izzo. Everything was in place.

Holyoke is a “magical” place in that nebulous region known as “Western Mass” where some towns are straight out of Norman Rockwell paintings and others are more his freakish nightmares. We arrive to the Mountain Park Amphitheater 7:30 for the 8 PM show, grab a beer, find our seats, and prepare. The minute the band walks outside and launches into one of their newest songs, “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”, we stand and begin to rock out. This is one of the most triumphant moments in my life – seeing my favorite band reunited in concert for the first time AND debuting brand new material no one has ever heard.

That’s when the trouble began. The security at this venue is quite minimal – there were only two security guards at the front of the stage, and only one on our side. He immediately comes over and yells at me to “SIT DOWN”. Instead of yelling back at him (which is what I’d normally do, I was just so damn happy that I remained calm), I politely asked why we had to sit down. This, I explained, was a rock concert and typically people stand up during a rock concert.

Remember people, we’re not talking about seeing the Pops perform selections from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” (which I love, by the way). This is a rock band giving their all on stage and we, the audience, give back by showing them their rocking out is not for naught.

As the band launches into “Jackson Cannery” I’m still arguing with the security guard (as politely as I can muster), who says that for the courtesy of the people behind me who purchased seats, I need to sit down. I turn behind me and see other security guards doing the same thing to other patrons who want to stand and rock out – even asking people snapping a photo or two to sit down immediately. I purchased my seat as well – don’t I receive the same courtesy as everyone else? To use my seat (or in this case not use my seat) as I chose?

It comes to this – I tell the security guard that if this concert venue has a written policy of forcing patrons to sit, I will abide by that rule. But, of course, they don’t. He backs off, we stand the rest of the show (as do other people). Finally, towards the end of the show, when the security guards have backed off their stance of forcing people to sit, people begin to stand, rock out. Finally, when it comes time for the encore, we run to the front of the stage with some people around us. The rest of the crowd follows suit, and you can tell the band is glad to see the energy from the crowd (and the crowd is happy to finally rock out).

The bottom line is this – is it appropriate to stand at a rock concert? I say yes, absolutely. In fact, I’ve never been to rock concert where everyone didn’t stand the whole time. That being said, if this was a Pops classical concert, or a jazz show, then I’d most likely be sitting the entire time.

In this case, maybe the venue itself was to blame – did I pick the wrong place to go to see a rock concert at? When I called Mountain Park the next day to very nicely and calmly air my grievance, I immediately informed them I wasn’t looking for a refund or any sort of compensation for being yelled at. The show was just too good, and overall my experience was great. I wanted them to know that this wasn’t about money, or anything silly like that. It was about the fact that no where on my ticket, on their website, on any other materials received from Mountain Park, or on any posted signs at the venue were we told standing was not allowed.

Venues have a responsibility to inform their patrons of their rules and expectations for you as a paying customer. Sometimes, their formal and informal rules can get a little blurred. That’s why I’ll be running an upcoming series on your Boston concerts venues – where should you go to rock out, where you should go to see a chill show, who has the best beverages, etc.

Oh, and Ben Folds Five – thanks for being wicked awesome and putting on a kick ass show.