Friends In Real Life

Everybody loves their cell phones, their selfies, their Instagram posts – but is the time coming when concertgoers will be told to keep their phones in their pockets or else?

It’s a provocative question and the answer is likely no – nobody is going to go to jail. But there are an increasing number of artists who have become bold enough to ask audiences to eschew the Facebooking and just enjoy the show – and are, with kid gloves, enforcing it.

Those who have checked their phones during recent Eagles concerts have seen people in yellow jackets materialize and politely ask that the phones be returned to their hiding places. Don Henley made it clear this shouldn’t be a lot to ask: “This may be the last time we’re here and we want you to be with us in the moment,” he has said onstage.

The music critic in Atlanta agreed.

“Can you blame them for wanting their fans to remember their live show from experiencing it rather than from viewing it through a screen the size of a saltine?” Melissa Ruggieri of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked.

Photo: John Shearer / Invision / AP
The Forum, Inglewood, Calif.

It’s not the only act out there that is vocalizing its concerns. Neutral Milk Hotel and Wilco, for instance, have asked audiences to refrain from zealously documenting the events. Reckless Kelly has also made it known they are saddened by distracted fans and even wrote a song about it.

And, although there are few if any major acts that request people to videotape their shows, many are not that concerned – considering, of course, that videos can always be removed from YouTube. A representative from Barclays Center in Brooklyn told Pollstar that in the venue’s young history, there has not been an artist that has requested that video be discouraged (although the venue recently hosted a private viewing of the season premiere of “Game of Thrones” and that was definitely a different story).

Meanwhile, Brad Paisley recently noted at the Pollstar Live! conference in Nashville that he’s not too bothered by video because it can’t duplicate the experience of seeing his production live. And Roger Waters’ The Wall began with an announcement that videos and photos were fine as long as flash was not used.

Yet, Björk asked the crowd at last year’s to avoid spending too much time with their devices. Although she is so far the only one to do so, Bonnaroo organizer Ashley Capps wasn’t opposed to the sentiment.

“I think we’re grappling with new technology and all that it makes possible both positive and negative,” Capps told Pollstar.  “There’s part of me that’s very old school. For instance, I don’t tweet during shows; I want to pay attention. I try to put my cell phone away at concerts that I’m involved in as a member of the audience. But at the same time I’ve seen cell phones used the way lighters and matches were once used and, I have to admit, seeing everybody hold up their phones can be kind of cool.”

Capps noted that Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead recently performed at his promotion company’s in Knoxville, Tenn., with a small orchestra and the audience was invited to call a number on their cell phones and asked to participate in the piece.

One could argue that Neutral Milk Hotel is asking for a video moratorium because of its enigmatic persona. Fronted by a reticent singer/songwriter who spent a decade secluded from the media, the band may just want to keep its internet mythology intact.

“Yeah there’s a bit of that; there’s a bit of mystery to them,” the band’s agent, Jim Romeo, told Pollstar. “But I don’t think it’s calculated like, ‘Let’s keep ourselves mysterious.’ I think it’s a genuine feeling of, ‘Let’s enjoy the moment.’

“I think it’s coming from a lot of different things,” Romeo added. “Jeff Mangum, himself, doesn’t like his picture taken, even in general with fans. He’ll meet with them after the show but he’ll draw them a little picture when they want to get a snapshot. He’s a bit camera shy.”

To that effect, photographers are not allowed in the pit because of the distraction. Romeo added that the band has not toured since the ’90s and is not accustomed to the social media experience.

“There are a lot more bands asking people to put away cameras and phones,” Romeo said. “I think it’s come to the situation where it has taken over concerts and people’s ability to enjoy them.  … I’ve been to shows where people are pulling out iPads and stuff; it’s gotten a little out of hand. I think it has come to a head and artists are starting to notice it.”

The U.K. band Savages has signs asking fans to not take photos, he said. “They’re the only other band on an indie level that’s making a statement about it.”

Security is getting more involved, Romeo added, but they’re no Gestapo.

“The intrusion of security every five minutes is also blocking people’s view and causing problems. Give them a warning but be gentle; don’t go crazy. And if somebody’s in the middle of the crowd, don’t bother busting through it. It’s a fine line to make sure security doesn’t become the show. That defeats the purpose.”

Willy Braun, singer for Reckless Kelly, said his band is vocal about cameras and phones, and in some ways is the mouthpiece of a silent majority. Braun wrote a song about it called “Be My Friend In Real Life.”

“The inspiration for the song was looking out in the crowd and seeing a few people either taking photos or video,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me if they’re snapping a couple of pictures but when they’re texting or checking their email it’s like, ‘Man, you paid $15 or $20 to come see a show and you’re not really watching it.’ Or you’re texting somebody, ‘Oh my God! We’re having so much fun!’

“Are you really? You should be living for the moment. Maybe text them afterward and tell them how much fun you had.”

Braun said before the song was written he’d spend up to 15 minutes onstage ranting about cell phones, cameras and “kids not going outside to play.” He made it clear the band is friendly about the whole thing but added that he has had conversations with other bands that are “annoyed” by the atmosphere.

“There are a few that will go up there and actually ask the audience to post videos but they’re trying to get their name out there,” he said. “I can’t specifically tell you who it is, but it’s the up-and-comers who’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s all take a selfie!’”

Speaking of selfies, the trend has added to the length of meet-and-greets.

“I don’t really mind it, but it’s a lot easier for someone to take the picture,” Braun said.

Of course, this isn’t to say Braun – or Henley, Björk, Savages, Wilco, Neutral Milk Hotel or others – want people to stop enjoying themselves.

Watershed Festival, Gorge Amphitheatre, Quincy, Wash.

“I’m guilty too,” Braun said. “I saw Springsteen last year and he crowd surfed three feet in front of me. I pulled out a camera and took a picture. But I also watched the rest of his three-hour show without my phone in my hand.”