Yondr pouches do not rock.

Commentary, Music

Attending a concert should not feel like going through airport security. Rock stars, keep your hands off my cell phone.

The magic of attending live concerts is the chance to immerse yourself in the music and forget about everything else. But these days, that’s easier said than done.

Faced with throngs of  tech-addicted fans, musicians like Jack White have turned to Yondr to secure their audiences’ undivided attention – by securing their phones.

Founded in San Francisco in 2014, Yondr provides performance venues with locked cases for attendees to store their devices during shows. CBC has produced a handy videodemonstrating the process – basically, as you enter the venue, your phone is locked in a Yondr pouch and returned to you. If you want to use your phone, you have to leave the show and head to a “phone zone” to get it unlocked.

Against Me

Taken with a camera phone at an Against Me! show

So it’s sort of like when you were in high school and your teachers confiscated your phone before class – but instead of storing it in a plastic bin at the front of the room, you get to carry it around in a bulky grey pouch.

Yep, nothing more rock-n-roll than that.

As readers of this blog will be aware, I’m a live music aficionado. I’ve been to over 100 shows in my twenty-some years of life, ranging from local folk performances and youth talent shows, to televised awards ceremonies and grandiose arena spectacles. So believe me when I say I have great respect for the magic musicians create onstage.

But this trend rubs me the wrong way. Artists have a right to enforce “no recording” rules at their shows. But physically locking someone’s phone away is a bridge too far.

When you think about people on their phones at concerts, your mind likely conjures up images of social media-obsessed hipsters who can’t go ten minutes without checking their Instagram (or whatever platform the youths are using these days). But there are lots of legitimate reasons an audience member would need to access their phone.

arkells5

Taken with my iPhone at an Arkells show, while live-tweeting for The Fulcrum.

As a music blogger, I frequently use my iPhone to make notes between songs, to jog my memory when I write my review the next day. And back in my student journalist days, I was sometimes dispatched to live-tweet local gigs. (The horror!)

Even if you are not a globe-trotting arts blogger, life happens. People need to arrange for rides home. Parents need to liaise with babysitters. Teens have to respond when their parents check in. That girl in general admission needs to find out why her friend hasn’t come back from the bathroom yet. Etcetera.

I’ll admit, checking your phone during a concert does take you out of the moment for a bit. You know what would be worse? Feeling your phone vibrate inside a Yondr pouch and not knowing if it’s a nuisance call, or a family member with an emergency. Audience members shouldn’t be punished for having more important things in their lives than what is happening onstage.

As a concertgoer, I don’t want to have to walk out of the show every time I need to check a message. And I assure you, it’s much less distracting to have the person next to you in a crowd send a discreet text, rather than push past you to head to an emergency “phone zone.”

And trust me, artists – you don’t want to be responsible when an audience member has a heart attack or seizure in the crowd, and no one around them can call 911.

Now, for a controversial opinion: I like filming and taking pictures during gigs. Now, there are lines – I wouldn’t film at a quiet, sit-down venue. But for the most part (so long as the artist is cool with it), there’s no harm in filming a song or two. Holding my phone up and aiming it at the stage while I rock out does not detract from my ability to exist “in the moment.” And I derive joy from revisiting moments from concerts I’ve attended.

Last year, I was at a Juno Week gig where Ben Kowalewicz from Billy Talent dueted with new wave icon Carole Pope, singing CSNY’s “Ohio.” It was one of the most amazing performances I’d ever seen, and I’m so glad I was able to get it on video.

A recent Rolling Stone article on the Yondr trend quotes LCD Soundsystem manager Ian Montone saying, “No one wants to be standing behind 1,000 phones filming the entire show.”

Maybe I’m an exceptionally tolerant concertgoer, but I’ve never been in a situation where my enjoyment of a show has been hindered by someone else using their phone. (In fact, I’d rather be behind 1000 people demurely filming than someone screeching through songs or drunkenly staggering through the crowd).

Concerts are not movies, where perfect darkness and silence is a necessity. Live concerts are, by their nature, loud and chaotic. Unless you’re in a seated concert hall, people around you will be moving around, dancing (badly), cheering, singing along (badly), and yes, filming and taking photos. And yes, some of them may be tweeting.

(This isn’t just a millennial thing, either. A few nights ago, my social-media savvy father filmed a wicked guitar solo at an Alice Cooper concert, posted it to Twitter, and tagged the guitarist, who re-tweeted approvingly. That camera-phone clip now has 60+ retweets and over 7000 views. “Phones are part of our psyche,” he observed.)

Musicians take their work seriously, and they want their shows to be a sacred space. I respect that. And it sucks to play to an audience that seems inattentive.

But your fans are not your prisoners. Don’t tell someone who’s paid to see a show how to “properly” enjoy it. And don’t assume you’re the most important person in their life.

As a performer, the last thing you want to do to a fan is leave a bad taste in their mouth. No one wants to be lectured about their lifestyle choices, or to have their personal property interfered with. Walking into a concert shouldn’t feel like going through airport security.

As Jack Black has taught us, rock-n-roll is about sticking it to the man. Don’t be the man your fans are sticking it to.

Respect the fans, and they’ll respect you.

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