The unwritten code of rock concerts.
October 16, 2010 2:10 PM   Subscribe

Rock concert etiquette: What are the unwritten rules of general admission, unseated shows. re: your spot.

I’ve been to more rock concerts than I can count, but there is one aspect of it that I’m pretty clueless about.

I get pretty frustrated when someone tries to cram in front of me+friends, especially when we’ve scored prime spots early on in the night and patiently waited through openers and sound check so that we can have a good sightline for the headliner. Likewise, I get pretty pissed off when I have to split from my friends to run to the bathroom and people aren’t letting me through to get back to my group, in which I usually just become a hypocrite and politely try to slide through the crowd anyway. Sorry!

So basically my entire concert-going career I’ve seen it as an every-man-for-himself sort of deal – “don’t you dare get in front of me, asshole BUT excuse me my friend is over there so if I can just get through…” I’m sure this is terrible protocol. I wanted to know what you all do: What is your concert-going etiquette regarding general admission, unseated shows? Do you just try to let everyone in front of you when they try to press through, assuming they spit from their buddy at some point? Do you stubbornly refuse and tell them to fuck off? What about when YOU become “that guy/girl” who has to run to the bathroom? Do you just find a new spot and enjoy the show without your group for the rest of the night?

What is your “personal code” for these situations at GA unseated concerts?
posted by windbox to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The people that try to shove through after you've waited up front for a while are jerks, but I've always thought that if you vacate your spot (even if your friends are still up there) to go to the bathroom or something, you've given up the rights to it.
posted by rachaelfaith at 2:12 PM on October 16, 2010

Every man for himself, but don't be a jackass. Same as life, really.
posted by yellowbinder at 2:14 PM on October 16, 2010 [11 favorites]

If someone falls down, pick them up.
posted by dobie at 2:16 PM on October 16, 2010 [6 favorites]

I don't drink anything at concerts, so I don't have to leave my spot. I try to squeeze forward if people try and slip in. Generally, what I've found is the crowd that stands there through the opening acts, set changes, and everything tends to creep forward into a tighter group as the night wears on. If it's one person, I may let them through, but I lean forward to still make sure my sightline isn't disrupted.

I'm short though, so some guy is usually blocking my view at least partially. So it's important to me to maintain what I can see.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:17 PM on October 16, 2010

Personally: I think friends should be re-united with friends. Thus I am sympathetic to people who are trying to rejoin their party. But also irritated by people who try to take advantage of my good will.

My personal solution is to arrange myself so that there is no gap between me and the people in front/beside me. Someone comes and starts to push through, I am immovable like a cedar. If they really need to get up front, they will find another way around that doesn't involve walking in front of me. This works especially well for groups trying to push their way up front because they need more space than I am going to give them. They will find a path of lesser resistance somewhere else.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:22 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Every man/woman for him/herself. People are allowed to get in front of you if there's space. You're not obligated to create extra space for people. But you're generally expected to let people through if they're trying to get to an open space.

There isn't really any such thing as saving a spot. The spaces aren't clearly defined enough for that. If you go to the bathroom, the best you can do is let your friends know you'll try to find them again, and hope you succeed. If people are being polite, they should allow you to pass by and be next to your friends, but this can't be guaranteed. Going to the bathroom in the middle of a concert is generally a flat-out bad idea; do so at your own risk.

(Just so you know, it took me a while to realize that "GA" was supposed to mean "general admission" rather than giving us some cultural context by telling us these concerts are in Georgia. Words usually work better than abbrevations.)
posted by John Cohen at 2:24 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question here.
posted by pised at 2:39 PM on October 16, 2010

Please, please, please, please, please, please do not mosh/slamdance/whatever at shows where the majority of the crowd is not going to mosh/slamdance/etc. A friend of mine had her knee permanently fucked up at a DEVO concert of all things by an idiot mosher.
posted by SansPoint at 2:41 PM on October 16, 2010

(Actually on re-read, not really similar -- but maybe between the two questions, it will give a picture for someone curious about GA tickets in general.)
posted by pised at 2:42 PM on October 16, 2010

I'd imagine the etiquette is somewhat different at, say, a Josh Groban concert, compared to a GWAR show.
posted by schmod at 3:28 PM on October 16, 2010

Please, please, please, please, please, please do not mosh/slamdance/whatever at shows where the majority of the crowd is not going to mosh/slamdance/etc. A friend of mine had her knee permanently fucked up at a DEVO concert of all things by an idiot mosher.

This is good advice. If someone is doing this inappropriately and repeatedly collides with you, and keeps up after you tell them to stop, don't be afraid to make yourself all elbows and knees (and discreet fists). I had to elbow the wind out of some idiot mosher at a very laid back concert, and I'm sure his friends thought I was a dick, but I wasn't going to be the one leaving the show early and in pain.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:31 PM on October 16, 2010

Just the other night, I was at a show like this. Got in right at the end of the initial line, stood in one place for the next hour and a half until the main show started. Soon before that, two different people -- each taller than me -- slid into the space just in front of us. Each time, after it was apparent that the person wasn't moving, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Hey, I've been standing here for more than an hour. Uncool." And each time, he said, "Oh, um... I'm just looking for a friend." I smiled and nodded and kept staring, and he left.

I don't mind if you squeeze through, as long as you keep moving. Stop long enough for me to realize you've stopped, and I'm going to say something.
posted by Etrigan at 4:20 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with the "every man for himself" sentiment. If you leave your spot at some point, either for a drink or a bathroom break, don't expect to get your spot back. You can certainly get back to your friends by throwing a few elbows, though. That's the nature of General Admission.

Also, if you have long hair, pull it the hell back. Nobody wants to get whipped in the face when you start doing the wasted hippy dance. Put it in a knot and dance away. If only this would become conventional show etiquette...
posted by Fui Non Sum at 4:33 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ditto. Though, as a corallary, if there's enough space in front of you to stand comfortable, move up. It's like defensive driving - don't tailgate, but make sure you don't get cut off. And it's polite to let someone through to their exit. The more I think about it, the more similar it seems to driving in Massachusetts...
posted by maryr at 4:34 PM on October 16, 2010

Every man for himself.
If you leave your spot, it won't be there when you come back.
If someone crams themselves in a teeny space in front of you, you are allowed to vocalize your annoyance at their dick move.
You can hold a spot for someone by standing with your legs far apart, but the other person should know that it'll be hard to squeeze back in.
No one wants to be whipped in the face by long hair. Tie it back.
Don't lean on other people. If you're drunk, you're going to get pushed the opposite way you're falling.
If you're the only one dancing in a tight space, you will be made to stop not only by me, but others around you. I generally take my dance cue from those around me. If everyone does the head-bob, I do the head-bob. They dance, I dance (albeit badly) I won't mosh because it's not 1996 any more (and a lot of concerts I go to don't usually have moshing).
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 5:27 PM on October 16, 2010

If you leave to pee, you have to take what you can get when you get out again.

A friend of mine had her knee permanently fucked up at a DEVO concert
I tore my meniscus at a Dave Brubeck show. I still don't know how that happened. Dude's almost 90, and there was a notable lack of moshing.

posted by Sallyfur at 6:15 PM on October 16, 2010

The last time I had to pee in the middle of a show (during the opening act of Arcade Fire at MSG) I was by myself and didn't have friends to return to. So I turned to the people standing near me, told them I had to pee and was on my own, and asked if they'd do me the favor of letting me back in a few minutes later. They said it was fine, and were super-cool about it all around.

In my experience, a little bit of politeness and decency goes a long way in these kinds of situations. I made sure to do my business during the opening act so I wasn't interrupting the main event, they understood that I was by myself and knew that I'd gotten there super-early, everyone felt like they were being granted a little courtesy.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:28 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Technically it's every man for himself. However, most people respond quickly to direct attention. This can range from, "Hey, sorry, I've been waiting in this spot for a while." to *poke poke. Thumb jab over your shoulder.* The effect is remarkably equivalent.

Peeing, though, is risky. I'll try to get back to my spot, but I'm not sore if I can't.
posted by cmoj at 6:30 PM on October 16, 2010

Box out.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:44 PM on October 16, 2010

It's every man for himself, and generally people will be more understanding of pushing your way through if you're trying to meet up with someone.
posted by empath at 6:45 PM on October 16, 2010

You can certainly get back to your friends by throwing a few elbows, though.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend something quite that aggressive. I have found that the easiest way to get back to my friends is to simply touch people on the shoulder before I squeeze past, and make eye contact and say "excuse me."

As far as defending your space - you might be in a "spot" all night, but remember that everyone is going to be pushing forward when the headliner goes on, so unless you're right against the stage or barricade, people are going to push their way in front of you. I can't necessarily describe the best way to react to the organic movement of the crowd, just know that if you want to be close, you're going to have to push forward.

Please, please, please, please, please, please do not mosh/slamdance/whatever at shows where the majority of the crowd is not going to mosh/slamdance/etc.

THIS. So very much. The people in the crowd don't enjoy it, you risk seriously injuring someone, and performers DETEST it. However, I'm guessing that anyone who is concerned about etiquette at a general admission show is already aware of this.

If it's the kind of show where this is permitted and expected, by all means, go for it, but keep it in the pit, please.

Another thing - PLEASE. If you have a large shoulder bag, messenger bag, or backpack, check it or leave it at home. If neither of those are an option, at least be aware of the people around you and the extra space your burden occupies. I AM TIRED OF BEING HIT BY YOUR GIANT TRENDY CHROME BAG.
posted by louche mustachio at 7:27 PM on October 16, 2010

Indie music fan and DIY concert promoter here. My strategy if I have to move through a crowd to rejoin my friends or my date is to apologize repeatedly. That works just fine for me.
I second that you ought to leave your backpack or tote bag at home. A clutch purse for girls is much more convenient for everyone involved.
But what I really came in here to say was: I wish attendees at concerts wouldn't worry so much about being up front or "holding their spot." It's silly ultimately and I've seen some fun shows turn into sour experiences for other people because of hostility related to those things. If the band is your all-time favorite act, I understand the effort, but if you're just a plain old fan, I say relax. I mean this as general advice (not specifically for the OP): the show will be a much more enjoyable experience if you leave the tension and competitive spirit at home with your backpack.
posted by pinetree at 7:52 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow. That sounds like a pretty miserable way to look at the whole affair.

The way I look at it is... the enthusiastic people get to be at the front. They get to have the good spots. Sometimes I'm one of them, sometimes I stay back. No one can tell who's spot is which and why focus on it?

If I need to move through the crowd in any direction, there will always be people in the way, to get them to more I extend my right hand slightly in front of me and place it slightly to the side of someone I'm trying to walk around. Usually, they move, if they don't notice then I just wave my hand side-to-side in a parting motion (sometimes tapping them and the adjacent person while doing so) to create a place for myself to move through.

If someone is trying to fill in directly in front of me... I don't let them! Or, if I mistakenly let them block my view I'll just wedge myself in front of them later.

So no, I always get back with my friends if I care to and I vary on who I'll let past me. If you're in someone's way and they really need to go forward, they can just go around.

Don't be territorial and don't be afraid to move through the crowd.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 8:21 PM on October 16, 2010

A clutch purse for girls is much more convenient for everyone involved.

Not if it means you only have one hand for the rest of the night. A small purse with straps or a credit card/cash/ID in a back pocket is the way to go.
posted by maryr at 9:09 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't like to go to shows unless I'm close, in the heart of it -- why bother? So, I go early. Like -- early. I'm the first guy standing there, or the fourth, whatever. So happens I'm tall, and I've had people say "Hey, you're tall, not fair, blah blah" and they are wrong -- where were they at seven pm? What, I'm supposed to go to the back because I'm tall? Fuck off.

And then there are *always* the mopes who attempt to sleaze their way in front of me, push me back, or sideways, push my date back, crowd her, blah blah. What, you think it's your birthday? Fuck off, get the fuck outta here.

As far as leaving during the set, I don't. I'm not a drinker, it's not a big deal. But between sets or acts, sure, and my date stays, or she takes off to the john or the bar and I stay, or if I'm solo someone I've bonded with during the show holds the place, no biggie, I'd surely do the same for them.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:17 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I try to be in the balcony at GA shows. Most of the time, the people near me who I've asked politely have been good about watching my spot if I have to go pee.
A cold look accompanied by "I was here first" has often been effective for me when others try to appropriate my space.
If I'm trying to get back to my spot and it's loud and crowded, I tap shoulders and gesture in the direction I want to go.

Please DO NOT grab someone's waist if they are in your way.
posted by brujita at 9:51 PM on October 16, 2010

Mostly good advice here. There are no rules and there is no etiquette. You just have to hope that most people are more-or-less reasonable about it. We all hate those jerks who go barging through from the back. On the other hand, most of us don't find it unreasonable that people who have gone to the toilet or to buy drinks should be able to get back to their group. When I do that I do the gentle-insinuation-of-the-shoulder thing, accompanied by the all-important mantra "Sorry... sorry... excuse me...". If anyone gets arsey I might mention that I'm trying to get back to my friends, but to be honest that hardly ever happens.

And anyone that starts to mosh in the middle of a non-moshing crowd needs to be taken out. The best way for this to happen is for alert security people to literally take them out. On the other hand I did once see such a person "taken out" in a rather different way by the friends of a girl who had received an elbow to the face. That was glorious, but rather nasty. One strives to avoid such things.
posted by Decani at 2:57 AM on October 17, 2010

"Ditto. Though, as a corallary, if there's enough space in front of you to stand comfortable, move up. It's like defensive driving - don't tailgate, but make sure you don't get cut off. And it's polite to let someone through to their exit. The more I think about it, the more similar it seems to driving in..." [YOUR STATE HERE]

Exactly. It is general admission. You (presumably) paid less in exchange for not having an assigned spot. Expect nothing. Standard "crowd of strangers" rules apply. Especially the part about if there is room in front of you, expect it to be filled. Fill it yourself, or don't complain.

Those rules are: don't be a dick, but don't be offended if other people are. You can ask anyone for anything, but don't be surprised if the say no, or don't keep their word. Never be the most or least aggressive person in the crowd. Never escalate if you aren't willing to get in a fight. Never *start* a fight unless you are defending someone else.
posted by gjc at 7:59 AM on October 17, 2010

gjc, it's not always about paying less and being grateful for what you get in the cheap seats. Many small venues have no reserved seating at all; everyone pays the same cover, and takes their chances.

I'm the type that likes to arrive early for prime position. I'm also the type that likes to come and go occasionally - bar, bathroom, etc. Here are the techniques that work for us:

1. With all that free time, make friends with the people around you. Form a sympathetic posse with the other early arrivers. A friendly gang of 5-6 folks makes a formidable support team.

2. When someone needs to go to the bathroom, everyone "box out" (I had never heard of that term before but it's perfect). Simply put, if everyone in the posse expands the amount of personal space they are occupying, via wider stance, elbows out, etc., they can easily "save" that square foot for the bathroom-goer.

3. Landmark your exit route and return exactly the same way. If people are standing loosely "in rows", you can sort of go down their "aisle". I make lots of friendly, apologetic eye contact and say "I'm sorry" all the way out. When I return, those people then remember me... And although they aren't overjoyed about my squashing past twice, they at least know that I started in the front and am returning. I am not an interloper trying to cheat my way to the front row.

4. Take care of your posse. Save space for each other for bathroom trips. If you are going to the bar, offer to bring back beer for your new best friends. (But please don't be the person who tries to navigate a crowded show clutching four or five open drinks. Longneck bottles were made for this circumstance.)

5. As a girl, my personal space gets quickly crowded by people who come late in the show. The drunks who really want to be in front of the headliner especially chap me. In those circumstances, I am not above these unseemly behaviors: linking arms with my posse to form human wall; batting eyelashes at nearby burly dude to have him serve as buffer; stepping back abruptly on someone who is crowding me from behind (the equivalent of tapping on car brakes to deter tailgaters) with a "oh, sorry, did my bootheel just get your toes? Sorry, buddy, guess I didn't expect you to be right up on me like that."

6. When all these preventive and defensive measures fail to keep a headliner-front-shover away, I am quick to play the guilt-trip offense: "hey, maybe you just didn't realize that we were all up here before you. Sorry you were confused, but go find your own spot." And I'll repeat variations of this, escalating my annoying-voice level, until the person gives up and leaves.

I admit that some of these techniques are easier for a female to pull off. In my fifteen years of experience with live GA shows, the drunkest, brawliest dude isn't going to get physically fighty with me for being politely, consistently assertive about my space.

In fact, it's the dumb teenaged girls who are likely to be most resistant to front-row-shover-prevention techniques. Once, I had a couple of them thrown out—they elbowed their way up in the middle of the headliner set, and poured a drink on me in the process. After I tried a couple of escalating "move along" tactics, they were dug in and not leaving. So I went and informed the nearest bouncer (truthfully) that two minors had washed off their X's and were drinking hard liquor up front and seemed pretty intoxicated. Bye bye, birdies.

(Yeah, I'm not proud. Karma probably put that one down in the book for me.)

Anyway: polite assertiveness, and befriending the folks around you, has been pretty foolproof for me. I don't agree that one has to abstain from either imbibing or urinating in order to keep a good spot at a show, but I agree that any time you leave your staked out spot, there is a risk of not getting back.
posted by pineapple at 8:31 AM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just a slight derail here; since October is Fire Awareness Month...I've been in my share of crowd-crunching GA shows where sometimes the breath was literally squeezed out of me a few times, but during every show my mind was pretty much concentrated on keeping my spot on the floor and not losing my footing. I never thought about what might happen if a fire broke out. Scroll down in this article to The Station fire, and the next time you're in such a venue, please take time to note where all the exits are, not just the main door where you came in. That said, back in the day when I still had the gumption to attend such shows (and I went to a few alone because none of my friends were interested in that particular artist) I found that arriving early, staking out your spot and then befriending those immediately around you (even just some casual "Where are you from? What's your favorite (artist who is appearing) album?" etc chat) tends to "mark" your territory and give you some support in regaining your position if you need to leave for a bathroom break.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:01 AM on October 17, 2010

the way i feel about this is that, 1- the only way to guarantee your spot is to get there early enough that you are ON the rail. that way you are literally able to hold on to your spot with your hands and no one can get in front of you. you might get edged to the side if you arent paying attention, but generally you'll be all right. is it dick for people to shove in front of you when you aren't on the rail? yeah, sure. but there will always be people doing it, so you can either get mad about it and let it ruin your good time, or you can just get a spot on the rail and hang on for dear life and it'll be awesome!

and 2- don't pee. sorry. if you want to be messed up, do shots, or smoke weed, whatever. but dont drink a huge beer. if you think you'll be thirsty later, bring your water to your spot when you first claim it, but don't drink it til way later. hold out as long as possible. i agree that if you leave to pee/get a drink/whatever then it's your loss. if its in between sets or before the show starts, ok, maybe. but once the music's on it's absolutely every man (and woman) for themselves!
posted by lblair at 1:16 PM on October 22, 2010

don't be an ass. That's what it boils down to a lot. If that means drink less, so be it.

Years ago when I was at a Third Eye Blind/Eve Six/Our Lady Peace show I got knocked down by bad moshing three times. Fourth I got picked up by someone in military uniform who said "Knock her down again I'll knock you down." Being a gentleman is always appreciated. Observe basic crowd manners
posted by TravellingCari at 9:12 PM on October 24, 2010

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