I Don't Care If You Use Your Phone At My Gigs (from Inside Jazz Kansas City)
Recently there was a Buzzfeed or a HuffPo or some other thing that went viral about an incident where theater superstud Patti LuPone snatched a cell phone out of an audience member’s hand during a part of the performance when she is supposed to interact with the crowd. A lot of really super awesome performers, educators and friends of mine gladly shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and rightly so. A lot of people say they hate phone usage during performances, or sporting events, or backyard barbecues, or whatever else it is that people do. And that’s cool, too.
That being said, I’m 34 years old, I’m a professional musician, I play clubs and concerts and, five or six times a year, one of the most gorgeous concert halls in the world, and I don’t give a shit who does what with their phones, iPads, cameras, Walkmans, word processors, Kindles or anything else.
I take my craft very seriously. I care about forging an interaction with my audience, making connections; finding, in some small sliver of the universe, a medium with which to share my art - my perception of the world through a highly abstract medium. I WANT the people who have chosen to spend their time listening to me, or the group I’m playing with that particular occurance, to pay attention and absorb and feel better about the world because of my music.
I also want them to have a good time, and I want them to come back. My feelings are that people have so many choices to make regarding how they spend their time. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Kansas City is experiencing a bit of a boom, and there is no shortage of places to hang out, not to mention the number of creature comforts we have at home. If someone, jazz fan or otherwise, chooses to come to the venue at which I’m playing, that means a lot to me. Who am I to lay a slew of rules upon them and dictate how they enjoy their evening?
Now, I do understand a few important tenets of these “rules,” like don’t carry on audible phone conversations to the point of distracting other patrons, turn down the brightness of your screen so as to not blind the person next to you, make sure you turn your flash off (pro tip: it’s not really doing any good in a dark jazz club anyway) if you’re going to Hipstagrambook something, and so on. Disturbing the other folks who choose a more subdued and focused evening isn’t cool.
There’s a much deeper conversation we could have here, of course. Why are people so tied to their mobile devices, when they’re experiencing something first hand that could be so cool? Why would someone become embroiled in a ridiculous Facebook grumpfest, or an inane and unnecessary text conversation with a middling friend when they could easily just turn off their screen and experience real honest-to-goodness art being created in front of their very faces?
I dunno. Phones are fun. I like my phone. I’ve probably developed closer relationships with my best friends because of the text message. I love being able to take pictures (even some of the world’s hippest took dumb selfies once upon a time), and I sometimes take a video of something that amazes me so that I can see it later, and neither of those things affect my ability to be in the moment, at the present, watching it all unfold. I mean, come on, don’t be grouchy, it’s awesome the be privileged enough to have a tiny little multifunctional computer in your pocket.
There’s a benefit to fans having phones out, sharing snapshots to Instagram, uploading videos to YouTube and uploading bootlegs to Soundcloud, too. I’ve bought records and tickets to shows solely because I found some social media representation of an artist that blew my mind (it works both ways, though, I’ve YouTubed some unknown cats blowing over a standard tune to see if they could really play or not, and I know some people - myself included - that would like some stuff taken down, when, ah, perhaps, they weren’t, um, using fully functioning senses). Plus, I mean, it’s really freaking cool when someone uploads a picture of you to their followers.
There’s also the human aspect of this, something that I suppose personally irritates me about our culture - sometimes it becomes habit to follow archaic practices when we don’t need to any more. Just because a chamber concert in a salon 200 years ago required a quiet and still listening audience, I’m not sure we need that all the time today, especially not in a bar or venue that has musicians playing in a style that, let’s face it, has a few stodgy stereotypes surrounding it.
I can’t really say my viewpoint is without holes, because of course it is. Like I said earlier, I would love for everyone to be completely enamored with what’s happening on stage, that they are having an experience they’ve never had before, that their very lives are being changed for the better because of our art. But before that, I really just want people to have a good time, and leave the place feeling better about life than they did when they walked in. For some people, the phone helps, and you’ll never see me chastising an audience for using such devices, nor will I ever snatch one out of their hands, like the illustrious Ms. LuPone.
Besides, that’s theft. Theft leads to jail.
Jail is bad. Jazz is good.