Blue Rodeo: Better Live or on Youtube?

March 20, 2015


This week I realized something.  It had been swirling in my mind for a long time, but it hit home pretty hard Wednesday night during the Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor show at the Arts and Culture Centre.  It’s no longer just a problem amongst kids, but it’s now permeated to reach our parents and grandparents.

Kids, it’s time to talk to your parents about appropriate cell phone use.

Wednesday night the Blue Rodeo boys put off a phenomenal show at the Arts and Culture.  They have still got it, in every sense.  The musicianship and harmonies were just out of this world. Their stage presence was captivating. It was worth every bit of the $48 ticket.  It was hard to look away.

And yet, many people did.  In fact, I would say about thirty percent of the audience looked away.  A lot.  There was not a single song,  from Cuddy’s show-stopping falsetto notes on “After the Rain” to Keelor’s audience-rousing cries on “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”, where there wasn’t a large portion of the audience fumbling with cell phones to ”capture the moment”.

I couldn’t believe it.  These were people I knew were my elders (not that I am a spring chicken by any means), people I knew and respected from the community. People I KNEW would shush me if I started talking loudly with my friends in a movie theatre. As they should.  Yet there were so many people staring at their screens that I could do nothing about it.   Even though they were distracting me, and countless others who paid nearly fifty bucks each to watch the show, there were just too many people with phones and cameras out to do anything about it. It’d be like trying ask someone to quit smoking that funny smelling stuff at a Snoop Dogg concert.

A few things about this.

I grew up in a household where my parents insisted on “no TV at the table”.  As we grew older and technology grew with us, the saying changed to accommodate: “no screens at the table”.  The dinner table was a place for communication, talking and sharing.  Even though all the kids are grown up now, these rules still apply. If I pop by for dinner, I know well enough not to take out my phone while I’m sharing a meal with my folks.  It’s about respect- respect for each other, and respect for the dinner table as a place to communicate.

A concert, particularly a concert in a quiet, dark theatre, is also a place to communicate.  The communication takes between the artist and the people who pay to see the show.  It deserves respect, and it has a few rules.  Not only are they plainly stated just outside the doors, but most of the time they are just common sense rules of society.  The same common sense rules that tell us not to butt to the front of the coffee line or to not eat our co-workers lunch out of the fridge.   We don’t do these things because we know they are wrong.  If you are at Salmon Festival with thousands of other people in the mood for a party, the rules are obviously a little more lax.  But the Arts and Culture Centre is not that. All I can think is that the usually-diligent ushers were hypnotized by Jim Cuddy.

I remember being at a Joel Plaskett concert a few years ago.  The age demographic was skewed younger by roughly 25 years.  There was someone in our row who was blatantly texting during the show, and because he was the only one in the audience with his phone out, the blue glow of his screen was very distracting.  The girl sitting next to me had the sense (and the gumption, because sometimes gumption is needed) to tell this dude to put the phone away so we could all enjoy the show without the blue light distracting us all.  He acknowledged that he made a mistake and put his phone away for the rest of the show.

But Wednesday night that would have been futile.  Nothing short of an Electromagnetic Pulse was going to stop this crowd from using these forbidden devices. People were staring at their phones instead of clapping to show their appreciation.  They were watching the concert through three-inch screens instead of realizing that the best thing to take away from a concert is the shared experience between performer and audience.   I got goosebumps a few times during the show. But the people trying to capture the concert through videos and pictures would have missed a lot of that. I promise, you won’t get goosebumps later watching a grainy blurry video with muffled sound.  And there were some prime opportunities for photos, like at the beginning and end of the show, and the beginning and end of the encore.

And a few things about the pictures and video you are capturing.

1)     It will never be as good as the real moment.

2)     The blurry, dark photos will never do justice to just how close you were when you try to brag to Ronda at work tomorrow.

3)     Learn to turn off the flash.

4)     Learn to turn off the sound.

5)     The picture of three guys standing on stage playing “Rose Coloured Glasses” is probably going to look exactly the same as the picture of three guys standing on stage playing “Till I Am Myself Again”.

6)     The flash, especially a lot of them in a dark theatre, can be really distracting to the performers.

This problem spans generations, it is absolutely not limited to any age group. I was just surprised to see so many sensible adults breaking the rules at once. Kids often don’t know any better, and they need us to show them how to do things right.  Any kid at the concert would have been awfully confused at so many respectable adults so blatantly breaking the rules of the theatre and decent society. Almost as confused as they would have been by Greg Keelor’s hilariously inappropriate road trip story.

And to everyone filming around me- I sang really loud and out of key during the sing-a-long on “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” on purpose, I swear…

  • SmartPhone

    This is probably one of the best sentiments ever conceived in the 21st century, by a guy who’s roughly 20 years younger than I am. People – of all ages – are so DISconnected with their devices, they’re actually not here anymore. Recording something for “later” instead of joining the now. It drives me nuts and it’s only going to get worse. Kudos to you Bill, for having the wisdom to see this, without a gadget in your hand. I hope others put down their devices soon and enjoy life/the show around them.

    • sam

      Amen and God Bless!! Live truly for the present and take from that fond memories of truth, experience, and stories to tell. Live for the moment.

  • NLTechieTchr

    Bill, you are right in all of the points you make.

    My husband and I got lucky at the show. Our seats were in K row, so many of the blue screen offenders were behind us. We were surrounded by countless male fans who could delightfully “carry a tune” during the sing-along. They also had learned to listen to music without humming or singing along when not invited to join in by the musicians. I was free to enjoy the voices I had paid to hear, and I thank all of the nearby fans in that sold out house!

    I recorded many highlights of the show IN MY MEMORY, where they will stay with me even when today’s devices are replaced by the next generation of electronic sieves. It takes conscious effort to turn off the devices, to live in the moment. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by every moment that takes your breath away.” A big thank you goes out to Keelor and Cuddy — your show was pure entertainment!
    Terry P.

  • PJH

    This is so true, I see at it many shows, one story that sticks out for me is seeing Leonard Cohen at Mile One, I won a pair of front row tickets, which were very pricey, and the guy beside me spent so much time trying to take photos and video, I had to wonder if he was even paying attention to the show. He’d put his phone away, then minutes later it was back out, taking 100 more crappy photos, despite the fact that the man himself was an arms length away.