OK, Charleston. I’ve noticed a really annoying trend since moving here 10 years ago. It happens a lot, it always irritates me, and I feel the need to discuss it now.
The trend is this: I buy tickets to a show. I go to the show. The show is fantastic. But the crowd? It sucks.
A few years back I had tickets to see Iron and Wine at the Music Farm. They’re a tiny, acoustic group led by Sam Beam and his amazing beard. Their music is typically mellow and quiet, a far cry from the electric edge of many bands that play the Farm.
I was excited for the show, and wriggled my way into a spot near the stage. Iron and Wine finally took the stage. They broke into their first quiet, acoustic song, and then the next, and the next. Soon, however, I realized something: I couldn’t hear the band.
People stood at the back of the room near the bar, talking their faces off. Chatting, shouting, cutting up, laughing. It was like they thought they were at a club, and were talking over the thump-thump-thump of bass.
In short: I couldn’t hear the band I paid to see.
The band kept playing, though, and the crowd got louder, more brazen. Finally, about six songs into the set, Sam Beam (and his beard) stopped playing.
“Excuse me,” he said. “But all you? There in the back? Would you please shut the fuck up?”
We, up front, cheered. We’d paid money to see Iron and Wine, not to shout over them. Chastened, the crowd in back quieted … at least a little.
More recently, I saw the Black Crowes at the Family Circle Cup Stadium. They’re a rocking band, right? Sure. But the first half of their show was intended to be a quieter, acoustic set. A fan of the band, I was nearly bursting with excitement to see them slow things down and have some quiet time with their audience.
I had seats on the court, and the band took the stage to raucous applause. Soon, Chris Robinson began to sing. I watched, quiet and happy, until I realized something: I couldn’t hear the band.
People on the court and in the stands were laughing, talking, shouting, cutting up, being otherwise loud and drunk. They acted as though they were at a sporting event, instead of an amazing acoustic set by an amazing rock band.
In short, I couldn’t hear the band I paid to see.
It got worse. Finally, Chris Robinson stopped playing, and stared out into the crowd. “C’mon, y’all,” he said. “Would you please shut the fuck up?”
After that, they changed the set to electric. It was still a great show, and the crowd was more cooperative, but damn … a full acoustic set would’ve been incredible.
I’ve seen this again and again at concerts and shows, but one place has thus far been safe from the rudeness: the theater. The plays I’ve seen since coming to Charleston have been filled with rather calm audiences, happy to sit quietly through the shows they paid to see.
Not, though, when I saw Bug at the Footlight Players Theater.
It started simply. A middle-aged couple sat in front of me, long after I chose my third-row center stage seat. The woman carried two plastic cups of white wine; he, one of red. They talked, loudly, and I tried to ignore their conversations by reading (and re-reading) my playbill. It didn’t work.
But still, as he sipped and she guzzled, I had high hopes for my enjoyment of the show. The loud couple wasn’t directly in front of me, after all, and I had a nice view of the stage. And surely they would stop talking once the show began. Surely.
Alas, it was not meant to be. The opening line of the show (“Motherfucker,” in case you’re curious) dissolved the woman into shrill giggles. The following “fucks” and “shits” didn’t help, and soon she was hysterical.
Even that was okay, though, really. Much of the audience laughed nervously in the face of spousal abuse and insect infestations. Many of us squirmed in our chairs, much like the drunken woman before me. But it all fell apart in the second act, when the drunken woman ruptured the fourth wall and answered a rhetorical question put forth by an actor onstage.
Yep, she talked to the actors. In the middle of the show. She heckled them. For the rest of the play, she left no rhetorical question unanswered, and she even offered the characters advice. “Squish those bugs,” she called, loud and often. “Stomp them.”
Eventually, I moved further down the row in which I sat. Her antics kept pulling me out of the action, distracting me from the drama on stage.
To their credit, the actors never flinched, and for that I congratulate them heartily. They were amazingly poised and confident, even when the drunken woman neared hysteria when they stripped off their clothes and prepared for self-immolation.
The woman didn’t ruin the play; she didn’t even ruin my night. But she was certainly rude. Just like so many audiences I’ve seen here in the Lowcountry.
So for that reason, may I please put forth this one request to you. Please, Charleston, please. Will you kindly remember your genteel Southern manners and let the rest of us enjoy the show?