Michael Deeds: Be patient, stay positive, have fun at summer concerts

mdeeds@idahostatesman.comAugust 16, 2013 

It’s difficult to imagine a more peaceful, gorgeous setting than the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Outlaw Field at last weekend's Steely Dan concert.

Yet, predictably, the rage started precisely when the headliner did. Fans leaped up and headed for the front when Steely Dan launched into the opening song. People who had arrived early and plopped low-back chairs in front of the stage suddenly had their views blocked. It got ugly, but eventually worked out. It was par for the course at any general-admission outdoor show.

With several summer concerts still on the horizon, it served as a reminder that it pays to stay positive. Smile at adversity. Then, afterward, laugh out loud at the ridiculousness we’re willing to endure to see a good rock show.

No, it’s not easy. When you pay $60 for a ticket and $7 for a beer, it’s human nature to expect unrestricted gratification.

But, sadly, that’s not how the real world works. At Steely Dan, fans who tried to take pictures were reprimanded. One Idaho Statesman editor attended with a friend who, after being warned, pulled out his smartphone again. “You take one more photo,” the security staffer threatened, “the band is going to stop.”

That’s laughable. But here’s the thing: Steely Dan ultimately was responsible for the “photo Nazis.”

“With this artist, photography of any kind, including cellphone photographs, was a big concern,” confirms Greg Marchant, COO of promoter Knitting Factory. “We were asked specifically to address anybody who had a camera out.”

Entryway signs were posted, Marchant says. Like many oblivious concertgoers, I didn’t notice them.

Whatever the case, it seems like a fairly ridiculous demand in 2013.

“We try very hard to please (the acts),” he says, “but at the same time, rarely is there a concert anywhere in the country that isn’t posted on YouTube within two hours.”

Yep. Including Steely Dan’s Boise show. (Thanks for the videos, YouTube user “Jenn Peterson.”)

Most concertgoers are aware of standard restrictions: No outside alcohol, low-back chairs only, etc. What many don’t understand is that the performers influence how certain things are enforced. Before each concert, a security briefing is held. Band management tells organizers how to handle rules listed on the tour rider.

At last month’s Mayhem Festival in Nampa, a wife of a friend had her purse thoroughly searched — all the way up to opening individual makeup cases. She was sent back to her car because of herbal supplements. When she came back through the line, they found brand-new batteries. She couldn’t take those in, either. She wound up tossing them in the trash. “I asked what in the hell that was about,” he says, “and the security gal replied ‘Boston Marathon Bomber.’ ”

Huh? Craig Baltzer, general manager at the Idaho Center, says there was an “overzealous” staffer that day. These workers often are part-timers.

On the other hand, “The security briefing for that show was a little different,” Baltzer says, “because the Boston thing did just happen.”

It’s a sick world. Performers have a right to be freaked. But nobody wants to attend a concert and worry that they might face a body-cavity search, Texas state trooper-style. Believe it or not, venues and promoters have significant business reasons for wanting concertgoers to have fun at their events.

Baltzer bent the rules at last week’s Alan Jackson country concert and let a few older fans with back problems bring in high-back chairs.

Marchant went person to person at Steely Dan’s entry gate telling fans about the photo restriction. He’d also like to remind Botanical Garden ticket buyers about pre-show emails sent out with tips and traffic routes.

“The biggest thing is to just let us help you have a good time,” he says.

Is some jerk annoying you at the concert? Smile. Then ask for help.

“Every promoter, every venue, we spend money to have people around the venue to help make sure you’re having a good and safe time,” Marchant says. “Use those folks. Say, ‘Hey, look, this guy in front of me is throwing things!’ ”

As for all the rules?

Well, if it helps, think of an outdoor concert as an airport. You have to grin and bear it when you go through the gate. To be safe, just leave the fingernail trimmers home. Once you’re in, you can’t always use your cellphone when you want to. And, just remember, you shouldn’t try to sneak in any of those airline bottles of vodka.

But once you’re flying? Well, there’s really nothing else like it.

Steely Dan fans can attest to that.

Michael Deeds’ column runs Fridays in Scene and Sundays in Life.

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