Now More Than Ever: Rob Sheffield's Guide to Rock-Show Etiquette - Rolling Stone
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Now More Than Ever: Rob Sheffield’s Guide to Rock-Show Etiquette

Our item earlier this week on Leo DiCaprio obeying the unwritten rules of rock shows spurred some heated debate in the message boards between tall guys who don’t want to stand in the back and the short people who hate them. But our gratitude goes to the commenter who referred everyone back to Rob Sheffield’s splendid piece on rock show etiquette from 2004. Now that we’re in the thick of another summer of shows, we think it’s worth reprinting in full:


Lights! Guitars! Fireworks! A seven-foot burnout standing in front of you, singing “Fake Plastic Trees” while Skank-o-Tron waves her digital camera, spills beer on you and screams, “Wooooo!” Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends – It’s the rock show. As everybody knows, the band is only half the experience, or less if it’s Nickelback. In the right crowd, you’re one of the sun-kissed children of the rock gods, united under a blood-red sky. But the wrong crowd makes the show feel like waiting in line at a bus-terminal bathroom. If only we would all follow these simple Rock Show Etiquette Rules.

1. DON’T SAY CONCERT. – Say show. It’s shorter and saves valuable drinking time.

2. YOU’RE EITHER IN THE PIT OR YOU’RE OUT. – And if you’re out, either get in or stop pushing and shoving. If we wanted to be pressed up against a stranger’s hairy, sweaty body, we’d return your mom’s calls.

3. LESS TALK, MORE ROCK. – When the spirit moves you, yell, “Dude, they rock!” or maybe even, “They rock, dude!” But if you really feel like sharing, take your chitchat out to the bar. The bartender gets paid to listen to you whine – we don’t. Besides, the guitarist’s girlfriend will kick your ass; I’ve seen it happen.

4. SLAP THE GUY WHO YELLS, “FREE BIRD!” – Tackle him, break his left thumb, tell him the right one is next. The ironic “Free Bird!” joke was cute in the 1980s for fifteen minutes, which isn’t even long enough to play the song. You are only allowed to yell “Free Bird!” if the band is really gonna play it, in which case you are required to have tears in your eyes, a Pabst in your hand, a pretty little lady on your shoulders and godless communism under your feet.

5. DON’T BLOCK THE ROCK. – Tall dudes, you know who you are. Why not hang in the back where the tall dudes go, instead of pushing up front to block the view like Rerun chasing the ice cream truck? I’m six-five, so I just lean against the wall. Honor the tall-rock-dude-code – or know that the rest of us are watching you and thinking, “Jesus, what a bitch.” I hate to imagine what the short girls behind you are thinking, but I’m safe to say they’re not planning to blow you.

6. EARPLUGS ARE YOUR FRIENDS. – The band is wearing earplugs. So are the roadies, the promoters, the burger ladies, the dealers. The band assumes you have earplugs. too – that’s why it cranks the treble so high. So buy them at the drugstore, wad up TP from the bathroom, save cotton from aspirin bottles. It takes only one bad amp to turn your ears to oatmeal: That’s how old hippies became Yanni fans.

7. DON’T BRING THE CAMERA. – People who wave digital cameras at shows are the same people who sit in front of you at hockey games and wear those giant foam-rubber fingers that say, WE’RE NUMBER ONE!

8. DON’T WORRY, THEY’LL PLAY IT. – How sweet – you’re shouting out requests. Look, are you really scared Ricky Martin won’t sing “Livin’ la Vida Loca” tonight? Wondering whether Limp Bizkit feel like doing “Nookie”? It’s the hit! They’re saving it for last! Most bands are aware nobody gives a giraffe’s nads about their other ten songs. Shouting for the hit just makes us feel sorry for them. BTW, Ricky Martin always used to do “Livin’ la Vida Loca” first, sparing everybody the trouble of screaming for it! Thanx, Ricky!

9. WOOOOO! – Nooooooooo!

10. DANCE ON THE TABLE. – If you are near a table, and if you happen to be an extremely drunk girl, you must do this at least once. When you’re an old lady dribbling into paper bags, you’ll be glad you spazzed out when you had the chance. If this girl accidentally kicks a drink in your face, consider it an honor.

11. ANNOY THE SECURITY GUARDS. – It’s your right, and your responsibility, to tell Tiny why he should let you backstage. “Come on, let me in, I’m totally friends with the drummer!” “Come on, don’t make me text the manager!” Remember: Tiny hates music. You’re the only entertainment he’s got.

12. DON’T BRING COURTNEY. – Life is difficult enough.


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