The year was 2004. Several thousand teenagers crowded around the stage in anticipation of Blink-182. Two big kids, chortling, "Coming through," barreled by, pushing aside scrawny pop-punkers and leaving angry fans in their wake.
Suddenly, a snarl rose above the din--"Excuse you, asshole!" A big 30-something man, covered in piercings and tattoos more befitting death-metal, launched after the pair. Seconds later he had the lead guy in a headlock, the kid's plump face beet-red, before security intervened.
It doesn't always get that heated, of course. Most unwritten etiquette laws honored by music fans are much more subtle, but violate them, and you can expect scorn at best or a near strangling at worst. In the interest of being a law-abider, we asked both musicians and concert goers for their sage advice and offer up some guidelines when entering the world of the concert.
Rule No. 1: Don't neglect personal hygiene.
"Take a shower before you got to a concert. No one wants to smell your B.O. I've been to plenty of shows that before it even starts you can smell people," said Ben Steiner, a frequent concert goer. Because the personal bubble at shows often shrinks to nearly nothing, few things can detract from the thrill of seeing your favorite band more than having your nose crammed into someone's ripe armpit.
Rule No. 2: Don't act too cool to be there.
Often the most annoying people at a show are the growling gaggle standing in the back, noses upturned at anyone enjoying themselves.
"Don't hate the people who are having fun. My question is: Why aren't you happy to be here?" said singer/songwriter Matt Shockey.
"Have a good time or leave," said Sunny Mittal, drummer for indie-rockers Tugboat. "Don't hang out outside. Clap after the song whether you like it or not. It makes the band feel welcome and makes for a good vibe," he said.
Rule No. 3: Don't wear the shirt of the band you are there to see.
It's a faux pas universally avoided by concert veterans and violating this rule will earn the perpetrator a "that guy" label. Ryan Hondo, guitarist for metal band Archaelyda, takes this one step further.
"You don't wear the shirt of your own band to your own show," he added. Music fan Michael Gilliam offers one caveat: You can wear the band's shirt if you buy it at the show.
"Wearing it is easier than tossing it over your shoulder and losing it," said Gilliam.
Rule No. 4: Don't make your friends take care of you.
A little pre-gaming is expected, but don't overdo it. If your friends spend the night propping you up, hiding you from security and holding your head out of the toilet, it might be the last show you'll be invited to.
Rule No. 5: Don't make a spectacle of yourself.
"Other [fans] can make the show better but they can also make it a lot worse. Don't get drunk and yell at the band between songs," said Steiner. Remember, people pay money to hear the band, not to watch your drunken antics.
"I go to quite a bit of concerts and the ones that stick out in my mind are the ones that are ruined by the people around me. A lot of it is just giving respect to the band and the audience," said Matt Jones, an avid concert goer.
Rule No. 6: Don't crowd surf at the wrong show.
If you're at a punk/metal/hardcore show, by all means launch yourself onto the crowd. If you're at Built to Spill, not only will you have a short ride, but you'll also look like a tool. Know when it's appropriate to surf.
Rule No. 7: Don't venture into the mosh pit if you're not willing to take some abuse.
Moshing has its own etiquette. The mosh pit is not for whiners. If it's how you choose to enjoy the music, then be prepared.
"If you're in the mosh pit area, don't get mad if you get bumped or hit," said Hondo. "If someone falls down, you've got to help them up. Mainly don't lose your cool and start a fight--if you're going to lose your cool, then don't be in there."
Rule No. 8: Don't Bug the band to play your favorite song.
Shouting "Freebird" is a tired cliche. Part of the thrill of a concert is discovering the setlist. If the band is taking requests, then shout away, but otherwise shut up.
"One thing that's frustrating is when you consistently bug the band to play this or that song. We'll play it if we're gonna play it," said Erik Eastman, guitarist for indie-pop band My Paper Camera.
Rule No. 9: Don't linger on stage if you're going to dive.
Stage diving is a respected tradition. Most bands won't object to someone climbing up and promptly jumping off. But the stage is the band's workspace, and it's obnoxious for everyone when someone starts to interfere with the music.
"At hardcore shows, kids like to jump up on stage and freak around. If you're going to leap, don't get too crazy," cautioned Matt Maw, a fan of hardcore.
Rule No. 10: Don't leave before you hear the other bands in the lineup.
"Give the next band a chance. At least stay for a song," said Joziah Curry, guitarist for indie-rockers Mousy Brown.
While you don't need to stay for an entire set, it's uncouth to jet too early. Who knows, you might find a new favorite band.