While waiting to see Fruit Bats at The Middle East in Cambridge a few weeks ago, I had one of those slap-in-the-face moments. I was busy flipping through settings on my camera when I noticed the woman next to me.
She toasted the guy beside her, presumably her boyfriend, and they both sipped gin & tonics, an additional pair of empty cups already on the stage. As she pushed him flirtatiously, her drink danced over the rim and onto my shoes. She apologized and introduced herself as Charlotte. Hair tied up in a messy bun and clothes a bit loosed from post-work, she was, to say the least, excited to have a drink in her hand.
When opening band Citay came on and shot into some psychedelic riffs, Charlotte immediately expressed whatever the music made her feel. She continued to do so through Vetiver’s set, too. She danced, she hollered, and by the time Fruit Bats ended their encore, she left that night genuinely satisfied.
It would be nice to say the rest of us did too, but that would be lying. The drunken fans, though a bit abrasive, were — and are — the ones who have the right idea. How much you enjoy a concert comes down to one thing: social constriction.
No matter if you listen to Lady Gaga or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, George Harrison or LCD Soundsystem, Chopin or Minor Threat, your music makes you feel something.
But once we’re out in a music venue, we’re in the public eye of some pretty judgmental people. Unfortunately, this means we hold back from singing, crying, or whatever we would normally do. Let’s face it: Everyone old and young judges, especially at concerts, and there’s no way to stop this. We’re only human.
At shows, the judgment panel is almost always the same.
Off to the front right of the stage are Fan-girls, cameras in hand as they chirp “oh-my-god, I’m sooo excited” over and over.
Leaning against a pole is Soft-spoken Couple, a huge sense of understanding resonating between the two which allows them to talk like they’re hiding playing cards from everyone else.
Longtime Devoted Fan is patiently standing near the left side of the stage, his blank face fooling all.
Fair-weather Fans and Tagalong Friends are scattered throughout the room too, playing with their cellphones and shifting the weight of their bodies every few minutes. This panel is where judgment is dished out, left in the air for you to take it or leave it.
So what happens when we realize belting out lyrics could result in vicious glares?
We shield ourselves. We place little wooden planks between our thoughts and our actions, temporarily delaying them. This aids in holding back from wiggling in place, shamelessly crying, or throwing our fist forward like a microphone and leaning in to sing.
Part of this is out of respect. We put up these planks to avoid getting in others’ ways; there is a line between expressing yourself and ruining someone else’s experience.
But the other part is out of fear. None of us want to be the first crowd member to throw down a move only to hear snarky laughs or, worse, have the surrounding people just stare for what feels like the following three songs. Fear is the giant bully punching his fist into his hand, daring you to be brave.
As funny a mental image as this is, it’s a problem. All of us pay to see these bands who stir up some emotion from us and we’re getting gypped by none other than ourselves.
Unless we down a couple like my buddy Drunk Charlotte, we rarely get comfortable enough to treat the music venue like our bedroom. We nail wooden planks up and don’t fully hang out and express ourselves.
Yeah, we’ll sing along or sway side-to-side, our fingers poking through the planks for a bit, but it doesn’t come close to what we want to do.
As much as we should respect other concertgoers’ experiences, we can’t forget to enjoy our own. Do a couple sidesteps, drop a few tears, or shout your favorite verse. As likely as it seems you’ll get several looks, you’ll probably get more smiles.
People like Drunk Charlotte are the ones who make certain nights memorable, where everyone else goes back home and says how fun the crowd was. We should all be the first to start dancing. We should all leave satisfied. We should all be Drunk Charlotte. But please, try not to splatter your beer on people.
emCorcoran is a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org./em