It’s the time of year for saving money!
When look back on how I’ve spent my evenings ten years ago compared with today, I have to admit I go to fewer live concert events than I used to. As to the primary reason why my butt is not filling more seats these days, I think that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more civilized while the vast majority of places I could hear live music in have become less civilized or considerate of their patrons than in the past.
Want an example? Here’s one that recently came across my electronic desk – I have a friend who suffers from MS, but he loves live music and still goes out, on average, three times a week. Recently he’s had to move from a cane to a wheelchair. Some venues have accommodated his lower mobility while others have not. One that did not was the Oriental Theater in Denver. Previously a strip club, it now hosts concerts with some regularly. When my friend’s wife inquired about handicap seating for the recent John Hiatt concert she received the following response:
Re: John Hiatt
Mon 3/19, 4:07 PM
We cannot reserve seats for this show, but there will be around 500 seats in the theater, while the crowd is 700.
My best suggestion is for you to please arrive right around doors opening at 8pm to make sure you get seats.
So, digest this for a moment with me. They have 500 seats yet expect 700 people, so at least 200 will stand for the entire time they are in the venue. And they have no handicapped section or provisions for handicapped show-goers besides “get there early,” which implies they expect someone with a wheelchair to wind up shoehorned up front, stuck once the concert crush begins. Nice…
My friend, who is an avid John Hiatt fan, went to the show, got in line early, and was given a seat at a table near the front. Soon the table next to him, which had seating for four and was reserved for “the band” had fifteen people around it, all talking, even during Hiatt’s set. When asked to keep it down the response was, “It’s a Concert, What’d You Expect?? Huh?” Add to the mix a dozen latecomers who had positioned themselves standing in front of his table, and my friend had an evening of not hearing or seeing the concert he had paid for and arrived early to see…
Even for the able-bodied, standing for four+ hours is not for the faint of heart, legs, or back. And frankly, knowing I would have to arrive to stand in line for at least an hour to insure that I will get a seat adds not only to the time needed to attend a concert, but dampens my ardor one hour’s worth…and then there’s the question of how much time I will be sitting down if I want to see what is happening on stage, since at most pop concerts of any size the audience gets to spend most of the time on their feet…
So popular music concerts are too much about survival of the drunkest to be much fun for me anymore, but what about classical concerts? Even they have gotten almost, but not quite, as bad. At the last couple of classical performances I’ve attended I’ve wondered if the “concert” couldn’t be more accurately described as audience noise accompanied by background music. Coughs, cell-hones, and the inevitable need for someone within earshot who must “share” even during the performance with their seatmate can rapidly crappify an evening. When you weigh the amount of time and money required to attend a live performance with the amount of musical pleasure received, the equation is no longer stacked to the pleasure side. While I used to enjoy entire concerts, now the moments of musical bliss have shrunken to those short intervals when audience distractions don’t overshadow the music.
And let’s not even go near the subject of bathrooms, intermission, and parking…
Finally, the last and perhaps most pernicious part of the live music equation is bad sound. Even in a “good” room there are many parts of the room that are not going to deliver the same level of sonics as the best seats in the house. How do you know where the best seats are? Trial and error. For me, almost nothing is a frustrating as being at a splendid concert and not being able to hear it. And unless you have a season ticket with a particular seat that you know is good, getting an acceptable place in the room to hear a show can be a crap-shoot. In some rooms, even the spot behind the sound-board (usually a safe bet) sounds bad.
So, what’s an old music lover to do? I go to house concerts and some small venues that I like, but as to the big halls, big shows, and “festivals” their days of seeing my bright and shiny face in the audience are long gone. Call me a wuss, call me a snowflake, but when the ratio of pleasure dips below the level of pain, I’m off to greener pastures, such as one of my stereo systems, where I can enjoy music in my own space, on my own terms…