Feeling the stage

When I work in the venue I’m primarily watching the crowd. I’m watching for specific things. These include clouds of smoke from people smoking, people showing visible signs of intoxication, people trying to go into areas they aren’t supposed to, people touching others inappropriately, and fights. Occasionally there is even barfing.  Honestly it’s like supervising little children on recess. Except they are huge, drunk, and wicked children who are able to actually cause harm. Sometimes I wish I could suggest that certain people utilize nappy-time.

Sometimes I’m just looking for things that don’t fit. Somebody asleep or passed out drunk. Someone showing symptoms of having a seizure. Strobe lights or dehydration have caused some people to drop to the ground, resulting in me calling an ambulance for them. People who don’t seem to be watching the show but are watching a specific person very intently. People looking into an area where valuables might be stored. Someone lingering by the merch booth and looking around nervously as they consider stealing something.

Tonight my attention was drawn to a young blonde woman right at the front of the stage who seemed to be freaking out a little bit. By freaking out I mean she was flopping her upper body over onto the stage and screaming a lot. Then she would lay her torso and arms on the stage and remain there. Prone. Almost like she was hugging the stage floor. She would lightly pound her hands on the stage along with the beat sometimes. All the music venues I work at have a stage that is at hip level. Most people just set their drinks on the stage and watch the performer. This woman was reminding me of Linda Blair in The Exorcist. She wasn’t on a bed, but imagine that type of agitated flopping on the stage. Then undulating on the carpeted stage floor for a while, then being still, then standing up and starting over again. And screaming in happiness.

Now I’m perfectly aware that people enjoy concerts in different ways. But I’m also aware that people take drugs and/or get drunk at concerts. Any exaggerated movements or actions like this will get the attention of the security staff. This also just didn’t quite fit the vibe of the performance. The artist was a solo singer-songwriter. He was the lead singer of a pop-punk band in the 90’s, but now is doing a stripped down solo tour with just him and his guitar. This kind of show just doesn’t bring out violent body-flopping on the front of the stage. When she would just lay her chest on the stage and fling her arms out on the stage I worried that she had exhausted herself, injured herself, or passed out. She was like a whirling dervish getting lost in her spiritual spinning. When she was stretched out on the stage she would continue to move around and almost gyrate into the edge of the stage. Her arms would move into different positions and she would push the palms of her hands into the stage floor. Sometimes she would turn her head so that her cheek was mashed against the stage carpet. This carpet has probably had gallons of alcoholic drinks spilled on it over the years. Sane people wouldn’t put their face on it. She would then turn her head so that the other cheek was then mashed against it. Some drugs enhance your sense of touch and cause you to seek repetitive tactile stimulation. This girl could have taken Ecstasy and wanted to make love to the stage.

I watched the people around her to see if they were reacting to her like she was a batshit crazy person. They seemed to be her friends and were supportive of her odd behavior. They weren’t acting like they were irritated by her in the slightest. They would occasionally put their hands on her shoulders and exchange smiles. They weren’t making faces or feeding her water like she was a drunken embarrassment. Situational cues are very helpful in moments like these.

So she wasn’t technically disrupting the performance. She wasn’t screaming over the singer during quiet moments. She wasn’t putting herself at risk of injury. She wasn’t pissing off everyone around her. She wasn’t trying to actually climb onto the stage. She wasn’t stumbling or falling or showing signs of extreme intoxication. This particular woman enjoys the show by flinging her upper body on the stage and striking a prone crucifixion pose. Ok girl, do your thing.

Who am I to tell her how to enjoy this concert? While some people stand planted like statues, others dance like it’s their last day on this planet. Others prefer to document the show on their smart phone or DSLR camera. Others smile wide and cry tears of pleasure, while others sing along with every lyric perfectly. Some people hug their friends or hold their partners close for the shared experience, others stand off by themselves not wanting to be touched by anyone so they can focus on the performance. I observe all of these different takes on being an audience member when I work. It’s so fascinating. My Sociology minor from college still fits me.

I continue to watch this woman lay her chest on the stage and love it for the remainder of the show. Once the show ended the singer put down his guitar and moved up toward the audience to shake people’s hands. I was slightly concerned that she would climb onstage and try to grab the singer, so I moved up closer behind her just in case. She got his attention and she told him, “Thank you! I’m deaf. So I was laying on the stage so I could feel your music. This was the best concert of my life, thank you.”

Deaf. Wow. That explains everything. Don’t I feel kind of stupid for assuming she was high on drugs now? This was a beautiful thing I just witnessed. The singer was very touched as well. They had a sweet conversation about her feeling the guitar chords and the rhythms and the power of his voice through the stage floor into her body. She was absorbing his music into her body by the vibrations through the wooden stage floor. Just six strings and his voice. Into her chest. Into her head. Into her heart.

She saw me and introduced herself, and told me that she was deaf and how much she enjoyed feeling that concert. She asked me if I could take some pictures on her camera of her with the singer. I was happy to. I took a ton of photos for her and her musical idol. He had to be so moved by her experience tonight. He hugged her and they said goodbye ,and she left with her friends. So many smiles.

I’ve seen a lot of great live shows in my life. Pearl Jam, Prince, Tori Amos, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Depeche Mode, David Bowie, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Some of these concerts moved me so much that I achieved an almost spiritual level of pure happiness. I’ve teared up at certain shows. I get tunnel vision and will hyper-focus on the performer, not really remembering where I was or who was around me. The shows can mesmerize me and put me in a trance. The music took me somewhere else and changed me for the better.

But of all the various shows I’ve attended, I don’t think that I enjoyed any of them as much as this young woman enjoyed this show. She literally felt the music reverberate throughout her body. She pushed her face, her breasts, her hands, and her hips against a conductor of the music. I envied her devotion and pure joy in feeling the music of this man. She didn’t even possess the one sense that the rest of us have when attending music concerts, and yet her level of connection and ecstasy was immeasurable. Tonight’s performance may have been the happiest night of her life.

It’s been many months since this concert but I think of her often. Whenever the music is so loud that I feel it through the floor. Sometimes I’ll lay my hand on the stage while a band is performing. I’ll feel the vibrations of the music. I nod to myself and smile.




Get off the damn stage

On rare nights the band will do something very unusual that is really entertaining and engaging. They will leave the stage. And I don’t mean leave the stage to go back to the green room for congratulatory tequila shots and purple Kush. I mean they leave the stage and move through the crowd, ending up at the back of the venue facing the stage like they are the audience. But they are still playing a song as they do this. Most bands aren’t able to make this happen, but if you have portable acoustic instruments and a wireless mic system (or just a really loud voice), you can pull it off.

The bands that I see do this are usually those big bands with tons of percussion instruments and about 10-12 people onstage. They will start marching off each end of the stage into the crowd while playing and singing. The crowd sings or claps along and slowly turns around to watch the band as they move through the audience and regroup at the back. It’s a really cool moment, and it definitely gets people to look up from their damned smart phones and appreciate the performance. Psychologically and physically it tears down the wall between performer and audience member. People sometimes dance with one of the musicians, clap them on the back, take a quick selfie, etc. It can also be a true ‘fan moment’, when you are suddenly just inches away from one of your musical idols.  I love when bands do this.

Some bands will continue the dance party mood of their stage show and just play a song with their acoustic guitars, a ton of percussion instruments, and loud vocals. Other bands will bring it way down, and purposely sing very quietly so the crowd has to get quieter to hear them. It’s amazing to see a concert venue get super quiet and watch everyone excitedly change their attention level. There are no lights on the performers anymore, and the aren’t amplified or even onstage. It really becomes all about the unaltered sounds of instruments and voices in a room full of people. Like musical performances for Kings and Queens centuries ago in a candlelit castle. Sometimes there is even a jester.

On this particular night, a slight problem occurred when two women decided that they could walk up onstage to watch the band performing at the back of the room. As you know, music venues do not allow anyone onstage except the performers and their crew. You’ve undoubtedly seen security guys literally throw people off stage at rock concerts. The reasons that you cannot be onstage are obvious and numerous. Usually I’ll explain that the sound engineers, musicians, and sometimes photographers need the steps clear for access to the stage. You can’t be on the steps, nor can you be onstage. The only time I’ve ever been onstage is when I was performing in a band. Or one time the singer of a band pulled me up onstage to rock out. That was Rob Halford, the lead singer of Judas Priest, when he was touring with his industrial side project called TWO. There were maybe 10 people total at the show, and he pulled us all onstage one by one to be onstage during the final song. That sort of thing is ok. Just wandering up onstage on your own is always completely unacceptable.

So I walk up onstage and turn on my flashlight. I walk across the stage to the woman on the other side of the stage from me. I tell her she needs to get off the stage and she walks down the little stairs back to the floor. I walk back and tell the woman standing onstage on my side of the stage that she needs to get down. She says no. I look at her and my face telegraphed this sentence: Are you fucking kidding me right now?
But what I said was, “You need to leave the stage NOW.” She started giving me the usual bullshit about how she was watching the band, and how she knew the band, how she went to school with the bass player.” All I hear is “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I AM SPECIAL AND RULES DO NOT APPLY TO ME.”

I explained that nobody is ever allowed onstage, and the band is obviously coming back and need the steps clear to return to the stage. Get off the stage. I turned my flashlight on again and leaned one arm up against the wall so she wouldn’t be able to move further out on the stage. Luckily the entire crowd was turned around watching the band play at the back of the room, so they didn’t notice that there was an errant woman onstage refusing to do what security is telling her to do. She acted all offended that my arm was close to her and spouted some crap about not appreciating my strong-arm tactics. I calmly repeated, “You need to leave the stage now. You cannot be up here.”

Now the odd thing about this interaction is how we treat women and men in this situation. Had some drunk dude refused to leave the stage, I would’ve already grabbed him and removed him by now. Afterwards one of my coworkers suggested that I even could have told her that. I surmised that she knew I probably wouldn’t put my hands on her for this. Anytime you put your hands on someone non-consensually you are potentially making a bad situation worse. And of course somebody can film it on their smart phone. And that wouldn’t show the 3 minutes of polite verbal de-escalation, it would just show me manhandling a 50-year-old woman. If anybody gets hurt you can even face a lawsuit in the worst case. I’m justified here, but I felt that it’s still a shady area and could color people’s opinion of our staff and venue. The sound engineer, production manager, and bartenders were all watching how I handled it, and would be potential witnesses for me if it went badly. Again, she and I are literally onstage with the lights on us. We are the secondary performance now, a two person play about power dynamics. Oh the drama.

What I wanted to do was channel Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. “If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor.  So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Get off the fucking stage.” My impatience was spiking and this woman was pissing me off by still refusing to leave the stage. We definitely were having a Mexican standoff. A confrontation amongst two or more parties in which no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory. I took the high road. I moved around her and walked down the three steps to the floor. I then looked up at her and held out my hand to help her down the stairs. Just like a gallant gentlemen helping an aristocrat across a puddle. This way I wasn’t towering over her or using my size to intimidate her off the stage. She bought it. She grabbed my hand and walked down the three steps.

And soon after that the band did return to the stage and all walked up the three steps to complete their set. Without some random woman who thinks that she has diplomatic immunity standing in their way. Jesus Christ. If any security staff asks me to stop doing something when I’m at a concert, I gladly do it. Otherwise they kick you out.

So then she felt the need to bond with me and we shook hands. She even gave me her name and asked mine. I assumed she wanted my name so she could call or write an email later complaining about me to management. I almost gave a fake name, but I’m the only white guy with dreads that works here, so it’s not hard to describe who I am. So I gave her my real name and she proceeded to try to tell me the story of her going to school with the bass player. She became way friendlier now that we were offstage. Then I got the feeling that she was flirting with me a little bit. Is she about to ask me out? Good lord, the people I meet at this job. I excused myself from this conversation and went behind the curtain to the green room. Where I just stood and laughed at the insanity.


Onstage with Denzel

Working security at music venues continues to put me in odd situations that I never thought I would be in.

I usually do the expected things like greet patrons, check IDs, scan the concert tickets, stamp wrists, and bounce drunk people out that need to leave the venue.

But some nights I end up onstage.

Some touring bands with a fervent fanbase request that one or two security guards from the venue stand onstage during the set. This is to prevent overzealous (or over-drunk) fans from climbing onstage and interfering with the performance. And to prevent stage-diving or accidental damage to musical equipment.

On this particular night, we had a rapper on tour that requested security presence onstage. With only a DJ table onstage, there was more room than normal for the performers to run around. But also more room to entice a drunk fan to try to come on up and have a moment with their musical idol. So once the show began I positioned myself stage right.

I’ve been on lots of stages performing with various rock bands I’ve been in, so I’m quite comfortable on stage. But, as the drummer, I am the furthest away from the crowd and am somewhat hidden by my drum kit. It is indeed a strange thing to be onstage in full vision of the entire crowd and not be performing in any way. I’m literally just crouching down on the side of the stage looking out at the crowd. I try to make sure that my walkie-talkie is visible by hanging it off the front of my hoodie. The word ‘security’ is clearly printed on my hoodie as well. My boss actually hates being onstage as security, and he probably offers the spot to me because I don’t mind it.

My friends know that I’m a big teddy bear, and friendly as hell. But as a security guard I’m sometimes required to be the tough guy. When on stage as a preventive measure my job is to at least attempt to look intimidating. The message we want to send is, “Security guards are onstage to prevent you from coming up here, so don’t even think about trying to get up here.” So I’m crouched onstage wearing all black scanning the crowd for potential problem patrons. Frowning, of course. And my brow is seriously furrowed.

The rapper is Denzel Curry. I had never heard of him and hadn’t had time to google him before clocking in to work tonight. The show was sold out and the venue was packed. His DJ/partner came out on stage and started playing the intro tracks. Denzel then came out and the crowd went wild. Little clouds of pot smoke puffed up over various spots in the audience. Denzel is an attractive young African-American man with huge thick dreadlocks. He was shirtless and pretty ripped. He reminded me of a leaner and younger Busta Rhymes. I later found out he was 22 years old. This dude wasn’t born until I was already out of college.

So he starts running all over the stage and getting the crowd going. He had a lot of room up there he could cover by running around and engaging with the crowd.  He sees me crouched over on the side of the stage. Now, just to recap, I am a Caucasian man twice his age, probably have 80 pounds on him, also with dreadlocks. I am quite sure that I looked….out of place onstage. I keep trying to look out at the crowd to make eye contact with people. Some patrons are just a foot away from me trying to hold up their smartphones to record the performance.

Off to the side of the stage were two sexy Latinas pushing right up against the stage. Each of their boyfriends were pushing right up against them too. The men were definitely grinding their crotches into the asses of the two women. Everybody was so into it, with the booze and the weed, that I almost thought that these two couples were actually having sex. The faces the women were making were straight out of a porn movie.  Mouths wide open in a huge O shape, flipping their hair around, and grabbing the hands of the boyfriends. The dudes were behind them doggy-style gripping their hips and sometimes their breasts. I felt like I was inside their bedroom witnessing a personal private moment. If I had seen belts come off I would’ve had to go over and ask them to leave. Because, you know you can’t have sex at the front of a rap concert. That might distract from the musical performance happening. Of course they weren’t actually having sex, but the dry-humping in unison continued for a few more songs.

Some things that run through my head as I’m looking out into the crowd include:

“So if somebody gets up onstage should I throw them back into the audience like fishes into the sea? Or should I escort them off to the side stairs?”

“Man, I don’t even like rap music.”

“Some of these fans would pay money to be able to stand on stage with their rap hero. Maybe I can have one of them trade with me?”

“What if Denzel pulls me out onstage like Bruce Springsteen does with Courtney Cox in the Dancing’ in the Dark video?

Denzel makes his way over to stage right and is standing right by me now. He looks at me. I’m wondering if he doesn’t know that I’m security and is questioning why the hell I’m even onstage right now. I look back at him and he raises his hand high. He wants to give me a high-five. I raise my hand and we give each other a huge high-five clap. I grin a little bit, and the crowd right around us cheers.

Was it that we both had dreads? Was he thanking me for working security onstage tonight? Was he bridging the gap and being inclusive? Did I just get vouched for?
I have no idea, but it was a special little odd moment. I know that the crowd found it quite unique to see this 22-year-old African-American rapper high-five this middle-aged white security guy onstage. I wish somebody would’ve recorded this.
Nobody tried to get onstage for the rest of the night. Denzel put on great performance. Being the only person onstage with a DJ behind you, the responsibility all falls on him to be the entertainment and engage the crowd visually. He probably sweat out 10 pounds during his show. At one point he laid down on the stage and rapped from a prone position, twitching almost convulsively as the music traveled through his body. Great show, great performer, great vantage point.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow night has in store for me.