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David Carroll’s News and Notes: Time Out for Bad Behavior

David Carroll

When I was writing a book about all the famous people who had visited my hometown, I interviewed Hugh Moore, an attorney who has attended more than a thousand concerts. Rock, country, soul, classical, you name it. He has kept track of each one, dating back to the 1960s.

I thought I would give it a try. As I compiled data for the book, I made note of the shows I had attended, mostly with my wife. Our list was much shorter than that of Mr. Moore, but the memories are vivid.

I will never forget Rod Stewart kicking soccer balls into the audience. Or the Pointer Sisters, an opening act, upstaging headliner Lionel Richie. Or getting to meet Kenny Rogers backstage, as he rendered my usually talkative wife speechless.

I’ll always remember Red Skelton in his 70s, performing with the energy of a teenager, and enjoying every minute of it. A young Barbara Mandrell, long before becoming a household name, playing every instrument on stage. I’m thankful to have been part of many standing ovations. I enjoy honoring actors, musicians and comedians who give it their all.

When theaters went dark during the pandemic, I missed being part of a communal exercise, sharing the joy of live performances.

Now the curtains have reopened. There’s just one problem. Some in the audience have forgotten how to behave. Confined to their living room with a big screen, they have felt free to comment loudly, to wander around as they please, and drink to excess. Somehow, they feel it is now acceptable to do that in public too.

Let’s start with the phones. I didn’t have a smartphone all those decades ago, and cameras (with a flash) were not allowed during a performance. I never had the need or the desire to show someone a grainy photo of Willie Nelson from 200 feet away. I don’t think anyone would want to see me, my back to the stage, smiling awkwardly while Willie is singing “Always on My Mind.” I don’t think anyone would be impressed that I was among 12,000 people in the audience that night. And yet, because I actually watched and took in the sights and sounds of the show, I can replay it in my mind any time I wish. In fact, my memory is much clearer than any iPhone video. Plus, I didn’t interfere with the enjoyment of anyone else who bought a ticket.

I attended a Broadway touring show at one of Chattanooga’s beautiful theaters. During a solemn moment in the play, the person in front of me decided it was a good time to check her Instagram feed. You know what I’m talking about. The stillness of a dark theater interrupted by the bright light of a phone. It happens all the time. You are totally focused on the performance you paid a lot of money to see. Writers and actors have worked hard to bring you this moment. They have taken you someplace else and you are totally engrossed in the story. But some audience members would rather watch a cat chase a dog.

Recently, we’ve heard about people in the crowd interrupting shows by shouting at the performer on stage, or even throwing objects at them (some have hit their intended target). Many of the artists are fighting back, stopping mid-song to admonish the offenders. To no one’s surprise, some of these offenders are offended. In their way of thinking, they bought a ticket and they can act any way they choose.

My favorite such moment happened at a Larry Gatlin concert. He and his brothers played a few uptempo songs, mixed in with a few slow ones. During a ballad, some people in the audience decided it was a perfect time to have a conversation. It was loud enough for all to hear, including Mr. Gatlin. He stopped, stared at them and said, “Listen, if I’m interrupting y’all with my music, I apologize. I can go somewhere else.”

That was many years ago, and the noise has only gotten worse. We live in a time when bad behavior is often exhibited by our leaders. We should not imitate them. We can be better.