You’re out at a concert with some good friends—maybe some folks you haven’t caught up with in a while. Perhaps a particular song isn’t your favorite so isn’t holding your attention. Or maybe you’re pretty into the music and it’s making your mind race and wander so you want to loop your friends in on what you’re thinking. Your friend seems into chatting too, so no harm done, right?
Not quite. In my view (and that of many music fans), you should really do your best to hold the conversation until set break or after the show.
First, to clarify: getting to know your neighbors is a great thing to do at a show. It contributes to the communal vibe and helps everyone have a great time. I typically ask people next to me where they’ve come in from (since a large percentage of folks at any Phish show have traveled from somewhere else); and learning a bit about their lives and sharing our experience makes the show a lot more fun for me. And, of course, you’ll want to bond with the friends you’re come with. The only time not to hold a full-fledged conversation is when the music is actually playing.
The people around you can hear you—and it can be super-distracting. You may not realize how your voice can carry, but the person directly in front of you likely has your conversation coming directly into her ears, competing with the music, which is emanating from speakers not nearly as proximate. The people behind you can see and hear your conversation, forcing them to look over / through you to try to stay connected to the show.
Some people struggle to stay dialed in to what’s happening on stage even without any distractions. Staying present and paying direct attention for hours straight is getting harder with every minute we spend glued to our smartphones; and depending upon what’s happening in people’s lives, what substances they’ve ingested that night, people’s minds can wander. It’s that much harder to be present and connected to the music when someone’s conversation is ringing in your ears. For some people around you, your talking might reduce their enjoyment marginally. For others it might make the difference between an amazing, connected experience and a missed opportunity. Either way, why do you want to reduce your neighbors’ fun?
Most people won’t say anything to you—but that doesn’t mean you’re not bothering them. I don’t think folks should be talking during shows because of how it affects others’ experiences (see more below) and I am not shy so if you’re talking around me I’ll likely ask you (as nicely and sincerely as I can) to quiet down. But, I’m pretty rare. Many times when I speak up it’s actually on behalf of someone else I can tell you’re distracting but who is unlikely to say anything. I’ve been to more than 40 Phish shows with one particular friend and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen him distracted by “chompers” (that’s right—there’s a nickname for talkers in the Phish world, which kind of makes my point that people get bummed out by it). I’m more naturally extroverted and perhaps more comfortable with confrontation than he, so I tend to intervene—and he and others will often thank me for doing so. Most of the time when I say something, people can tell I’m being sincere and apologize and stop talking. Not always, but more often than not.
We’re all creating this experience together—and you’re not helping when you’re not in it with me. A Phish show is a collective experience. The band is leading the way, but the audience is an essential ingredient. Because the band is improvising, reacting off of our energy, our role is a bit more than just being along for the ride. With a collective experience like this, at some level you’re either contributing to the experience (dancing your ass off, throwing light sticks, filling up your neighbor’s water bottle when you go take a piss) or detracting from it (er…talking…that’s pretty much the only way, aside from getting too drunk and being belligerent). Think about being on a sports team. Each teammate is either contributing to a winning culture by practicing hard, understanding her role, etc. or detracting from it by slacking off, hogging the ball, undermining the coach. People are rarely neutral influences.
Would you enjoy the show more or less if everyone in the arena was talking? Back in college philosophy class I learned about a way to tell if something’s right or wrong usually associated with Kant: if everyone did it would the system break down? This is how I know it’s wrong to litter even though my one piece of trash won’t make a big difference: if everyone litters our cities and streets are filthy places to live. Well, ask yourself: if everyone was acting like I’m acting, would a Phish show be more or less awesome. If your answer is “less awesome” it’s probably a good signal that you should reconsider your course of action.
So, to wrap up, here’s my sincere request. First, do your best to keep the talking to a minimum when the music is playing. A quick comment here or there—totally fine. A full-fledged conversation—not cool. Next, make an extra effort to be aware of your surroundings and your impact on other people. If someone keeps looking at you when you’re talking, it’s likely because you’re bothering him but he isn’t quite willing to say anything.
Finally, if someone does ask you to quiet down please understand that this is not because that person is being a dick or trying to ruin your night or tell you what to do. It’s because your actions are making her show less fun and rather than stew about it or accept a situation that is probably having a similar effect on others, she is doing the best possible thing: speaking up nicely and giving you the opportunity to be gracious and contribute more helpfully to the collective experience. Please assume good faith and be gracious and grateful, not snarky and offended. Everyone in your section will appreciate it, and the anti-talker just might buy you a beer after the show.