Just when I thought that I had probably encountered some of the rudest audience members possible in my life, I was proven wrong again Friday night while at the Imperial Theatre for the Sam Bush concert in the Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser True Music Southern Song & Soul series.
Everything seemed to be going fine as the house lights blinked to indicate the concert was about to start. But in my middle-level balcony area it became clear that late arrivals were taking whatever seats they saw available. You could see the volunteer ushers looking at tickets and pointing people to the very upper-level balcony seats. Yet when the people got either up to my Row K (the last row before the upper balcony) or close to it, they would settle into whatever seats were vacant.
It didn’t take someone with clairvoyant talents to figure out what was coming.
The house went dark and out came Morris Museum of Art Executive Director Kevin Grogan to explain the house rules: No flash photographs (ignored by several). Turn off cell phones (ignored by many). No singing along (that went out the window when the band itself encouraged singing along on several songs).
And then the band came out. That’s when things started getting a little crazy. The even-later arrivals started claiming their seats only to find people in them. You’d think those who knew they were in the wrong seats simply would move, but that wasn’t going to happen.
You could see the later arrivals mouthing words like, “I think you’re in our seats,” with the guilty offenders acting like they didn’t know they had taken the wrong seats. Then followed the inevitable comparison of tickets followed by the wrong-seats people moving.
Did they move to their correctly assigned ticket seats? Of course not. They simply moved to whatever nearby seats still were empty.
While this was happening, one guy several rows down from me decided to stand up and dance wildly while holding his drink. It apparently spilled on the two women sitting in front of him judging by their gestures.
There were about four or five empty seats to my right on Row K. This nicely dressed guy in his 20s just past those was having a very audible conversation.
He was so loud that I could hear him during Grogan’s talk and then even over the band. This talker either was unaware the concert had started or didn’t care. I tried to focus on the music.
About into the third song two well-dressed women in their late 20s holding wine glasses came up the aisle stairs and settled into two empty seats to my right.
They also seemed to have no clue the concert was taking place as they launched into a loud conversation. I gathered they had the mistaken impression that they were in a nightclub rather than in a concert hall because they tried their best to talk over the band.
The woman to my right held an iPhone and immediately began scrolling through her many messages. And while talking nonstop, she held the iPhone in my direction.
The glare from its “search-light” surface was so strong I was having trouble seeing the band.
Finally I said, “Could you please hold that facing away from me?” She apologized and then moved to the other side of her friend, while still talking.
The two guys to my left were reaching the end of their patience with the Talking Two and shot me some “Can you believe this rudeness?” looks. One went down the stairs. I could see him talking to a volunteer usher. Then he signaled for his friend to join him. The usher had reassigned them to some front row mezzanine seats.
But did the usher come up and tell the women to stop talking? No, he didn’t. Ushers don’t really like to get involved with problems of audience members.
I also decided nonconfrontation was the best idea, and I found a first-floor vacant seat for the rest of the concert. I figured it was far enough into the show that it wasn’t going to be claimed.
I know it’s fairly common these days for audience members to talk during a show, at least some. I’ve been hushed myself. But for the most part, it’s common courtesy to shut up and listen.
Many entertainers in concert halls don’t stand for people talking while they are trying to perform; especially when that talk comes during a ballad or tender number.
When he performed solo with just a guitar early in his career, country music star Larry Gatlin reportedly stopped his show at one Nashville nightspot and said, “I’m going upstairs to play, and those of you who want to listen to me can follow me up there.”
In general, it seems rudeness and weird audience behavior are growing.
I don’t think I’ve been to a show in recent years in which some individual hasn’t felt like bellowing out “I love you!” or “Go Dawgs” or something like that. I think it really stems from the desire to be the center of attention. The performer usually responds, “I love you, too,” which, of course, just encourages others to do the same to gain the star’s brief attention.
At one of the WKXC-FM Guitar Pulls a couple of years ago, this woman seated next to me kept going to get alcoholic drinks. It was pretty clear she was drunk.
One of the featured entertainers that night gave his moving account to the quiet, listening audience of how he had struggled with alcoholism and managed to straighten out his troubled life.
I swear to you, at that point, this woman next to me raised her glass high, let out a high-pitched yell and shouted, “I’ll drink to that!”
Mike Farris is going to be the final entertainer in the Morris Museum of Art’s 2012-2013 Budweiser True Music Southern Song & Soul series on Friday, Feb. 15. He does soulful gospel music, and I’d recommend that you don’t miss him. But be prepared to handle some rude, nonstop-talking people. They seem to be everywhere these days.
GOODBYE PATTI PAGE: The recent death of legendary ballad singer Patti Page reminded me of the phone conversation we had in 1981 when she was recording for Nashville-based Shelby Singleton’s Plantation Records.
Singleton had discovered Jeannie C. Riley and recorded her career-making hit Harper Valley P.T.A.
The Country Music Association in 1980 had recognized Page with its Pioneer Award for being the first artist to use over-dubbing on her recordings and for being the first artist to use a wireless, hand-held microphone.
In our conversation, I asked Page if she found country music fans to be aware and knowledgeable of other singers.
“I think they are more aware than the people who are in charge,” she replied. “Some country music stations told me they had to wait until my record got into the Top 40 before they could play it. How is it going to get there if they don’t play it?”
Since she was born in Claremore, Okla., also the hometown of cowboy philosopher and humorist Will Rogers, I asked her if she agreed with his saying that he never met a person he didn’t like.
“I must have met somebody along the way I didn’t like,” she said, “but I can’t remember them. So they must not have made much of an impression on me.”