I went to the Neil Young concert on Oct. 3 at Outlaw Field at the Idaho Botanical Garden. It had been a while since I’d attended a rock concert, although I have been to scores of them, and have seen such iconic bands as Pink Floyd, Steve Miller Band, Elton John, Cheap Trick, Kiss and The Cure.
When I first moved to Boise I saw Jethro Tull at the Morrison Center. I remember thinking then, wow, I have never seen such a polite and serene audience. They clapped in the right places – politely – but I was the only one whooping and hollering and whistling. In the right places, that is, at the end of a song or at the end of the concert, at that moment when you want to be loud enough in your accolades that the band will return to the stage and grant you an encore.
Seeing Neil Young was a dream come true. I have four of his albums –they’re on vinyl and I play them on my turntable. They have that sound you can only get from well-listened-to vinyl – the songs crackle and hiss and from time to time there might be a skip. But I have been playing them nonstop since I purchased my $80 ticket (with fees it came to $90). And good ole’ Neil, he did not disappoint. He sounded better than his recordings – not something you can say about all performers. He began with a couple of acoustic songs – “Harvest” and “Heart of Gold” – and it was just him and his guitar and harmonica on stage. Classic.
It was while he was playing “Heart of Gold” when I first noticed the interfering noise. After the song ended, I leaned over and whispered to my friend, “Are people talking a lot? Do you hear people talking out loud?” She whispered back, “Yes – and this guy next to me is on the phone! His ringer is on!”
Neil soon brought his band onstage (Promise of the Real featuring Lucas and Micah Nelson, Willie’s boys) and the shred fest began. The acoustics were amazing, the guitars amazing, Neil’s voice – all 70 years of it – was amazing. Crystal clear and unmistakable, he sang song after song in that signature warbling alto vibrato.
It would have been perfect. Except for the fact that there were so many people talking loudly, having raucous conversations, belly laughing, even – during the concert. While the song was being played. So many, in fact, that I did not try to shush them, although I ineffectively glowered in the dark at those closest to me.
I mean, c’mon, I thought to myself, we all paid a premium price. This performer is at the very least a rock and roll icon – to me, an idol. As I looked around in between songs, I also saw a number of people scrolling Facebook or Twitter on their phones. What? We’re not at the doctor’s office!
The concert ended with a 15-minute rendition of “Keep on Rocking in the Free World,” and an encore that included some of the most incredible guitar/amplifier gymnastics I have ever heard or seen.
I left the concert on a high – and a low. It was one of the best concerts I had ever witnessed. But it was marred by the inconsiderate talkers, laughers and phone users.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I have not seen or heard such disrespectful behavior at other performance venues – the ballet, the symphony, or even at the movie theater. I am appalled and embarrassed about it – I hope it didn’t go all the way up to the front rows, I hope Mr. Young was unaware of the phenomenon. And I’ve been wondering, why? I wonder, was it because it was at an outside venue? Did people feel like they were at their neighbor’s potluck firepit? But then, that doesn’t make sense – even when we are at intimate gatherings, if someone pulls out a guitar and starts singing, everyone listens. Politely. Respectfully. They silence their phones. Refrain from loudly conversing.
I love my phone. It has saved me from being locked out of my house; it keeps me informed. I’ve taken amazing photos with it and use it to keep in touch with my loved ones no matter where I am or where they are. I can play games and even ask my phone questions. But for all of the wonderful convenience, advanced communication and technological skills that make it oh, so much more than a mere phone, there are, and should be, limits and rules to its use. For instance, texting while driving (or even walking) is dangerous. And people need to know they can put their phones down, or on silence, and feel comfortable about it.
This fantastic new technology has opened new worlds to us, but used injudiciously, it’s effectively shutting out the reality of the present. We should have the common courtesy to know when we need to put it away. We should have the sense to know when not to use our outside voices, even if we’re outside.
Jeanne Huff is special sections editor at the Idaho Business Review. She has produced more than 90 IBR publications and has written scores of profiles and feature articles. She enjoys spending her spare time with her children, grandchildren and furkids, hiking – Mt. Borah is still on the list – and practicing for the upcoming Thrill the World Boise performance (Oct. 29 at the Boise Spectrum).