Best Shows Ever

I solicited feedback from friends and family on facebook and via email about their favorite concert experiences. I asked them to consider what factors influenced the experience, paying special attention what effect, if any, the venue had.

Survey Roundup:

  • 15 self-selected respondents
  • venues ranged widely in capacity from 30 people (backyard) to 23,000 (coliseum)
  • wide variety in musical genres represented: psychedelic rock, r and b, opera, classical, bluegrass, indie rock, pop, folk, and electronic

Some descriptors extracted from respondents’ accounts and themes to group together:

  • Transcendence: natural high, bliss, euphoria, trance, flying, expansiveness, cloud 9
  • Amazement: unbelievable, “killing it,” epic [larger than yourself], stunned, slack-jawed, spellbound, thrilling, will never forget it, lucky
  • Spiritual: healed, sacred, magical
  • Senses engaged: hot, smoky, LOUD, “It was like this pulsing rush through every cell in my body,” sparkly costumes, flashing lights
  • Performers: passionate, “playing their guts out,” interaction w/ audience, heartwarming connection
  • Impressions of venue space: ornate, elegant, beautiful; outdoor venues: open-air, surrounded by trees
  • Humanity/Social Interaction: “seeing the crowd in front of me just moving like one solid human force was epic,” “I was bruised and completely soaked in sweat, some mine, most belonging to the other concert goers, my ears were ringing and I was hooked,” sense of belonging, familiar faces, fans supportive and enthusiastic towards artist

The common thread that I extracted from the fifteen respondents’ accounts of their favorite concert was connection. A sense of intimacy was crucial whether the venue was large or small, and could have been fostered by the artist, venue, audience members, or most often, a combination of all three. In this small sampling, respondents’ feelings of being part of something larger than themselves was essential to a great concert experience. This feeling, though, was not tied directly to a single definable aspect. A feeling of connection resulted from a convergence of elements that were personal (respondent’s previous experience with artist/band, respondent’s expectations going in); social (respondent’s feeling of closeness to other individuals in attendance , the crowd as a whole, and the artist(s)); and aesthetic (respondent’s appreciation of artist(s)’ musicianship, the beauty of the venue). Pitts (2005) discusses a similar observation in her article “What Makes an Audience? Investigating the Roles and Experiences of Listeners at a Chamber Music Festival”:

“…two aspects of concert attendance…are rarely given due attention in discussions of listening: the visual impact of performers and other listeners, and the collective experience of being part of an audience. Both of these might be assume to be peripheral to the music ‘itself,’ but they are strong components in the social experience of attending a concert…” (p. 260).

What follows is a single full account from a respondent who illustrates how the right convergence of elements at a live concert can actually transform a venue from “pedestrian” to “fabulous” in the eyes of the concert-goer. This respondent’s situation was unique because her father conducted the orchestra that accompanied the performer.

Leontyne Price, an African American opera singer, floated from stage right and stood before the Midland Symphony Orchestra. She clasped her hands together before an immense bosom and when my father lifted his tuxedoed arms, baton in hand, and gave the signal to the symphony to begin, I held my breath. In an emerald green gown, she was stately and beautiful. Her mouth opened and the sound that was loosed changed my world. She didn’t just sing, she created a place and time beyond any other. The richness and depth of her voice were unearthly, and her music made us better people just by responding in heart and soul to the commands of her voice, which was beneficent, magnanimous, holy.

I was perhaps ten or eleven years old. The place: Central Auditorium, my junior high. The heavy navy velvety curtains, the musty warm scent of the auditorium, the lighting which created a rich glow that fanned out on the stage–all contributed to my pleasure. The place was changed from a pedestrian place of business and enjoyment to a fabulous music hall for a few hours. I think it meant even more because of that magical alteration. It was the only real auditorium Midland had until many years later when Dow and other wealthy families contributed money for the Midland Center for Performing Arts. Yet it is the performances at central that I recall most warmly even now. I thought it was wodnerful. I can still hear the swish of those humungous curtains, see the lights go down. And the balcony was fun to explore and sit way up high in the back. At intermission I ran upstairs by myself (we were allowed to do that back then–it was safe) to the balcony and crouched by the balcony railing. I peered down at the other audience members. They settled for the next part of the program and when the lights went down, the hush brought a thrill to me. I was back within that suspension of time. I knew Leontyne was going to sing just for me.


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