How Much Is Too Much At Rock Concerts?

There's an interesting story today in the Wall Street Journal about how rock acts are taking measures to curtail their fans' drugging and drinking at live shows. According to the article, the Maryland jam band O.A.R. has even gone so far as to adopt a "fan code of conduct" that urges concert-goers to "refrain from fighting, doing illegal drugs, wielding laser pens, and drinking underage."

Hard to argue against something like that. Whether or not the fans will comply, though, is tougher to say. Almost regardless of who the band is, a lot of people going to rock shows—especially big outdoor summer shows—are doing so to get out of their heads a little bit. (Or a lot.) And the dynamics of a rock concert are such that no one wants to be a nag. It's rock 'n' roll—inhibition is the ideal. Which is why you're taking a risk if you ask someone to try blowing their weed smoke away from your face, or stop pushing you on their drunken quest to get closer to the stage, or to quit spilling beer (or worse) on you. Don't be the man, man.

But if bands are explicit about asking people to refrain from illegal, unruly activities, will fans comply? What happens at an O.A.R., Widespread Panic, or Slightly Stoopid show where it's safe to assume that a good percentage of the fans are using the concert as a context for letting go? Will people stop going if they become chastised outliers? Or, put another way, is a Phish show still a Phish if everyone's sober?

The music, of course, is the central focus at a concert. But the extra-musical stuff matters too. The vibe, the smells, the other humans. A rock concert without some wildness probably isn't a great example of the form. And unless you, to pick one example, strictly forbid alcohol, then there will always be people for whom a concert ticket is a license to over-imbibe. You can discourage bad concert behavior, but I don't know how you stop it.

It's an interesting problem, this issue of how to police a rock audience. What's your take? Do you think more bands should be proactive about their audience's behavior? Are things fine the way they are?


SPIN's 125 Best Albums of the Past 20 Years

Search 1,400 Album Reviews

Editor's Picks