I can’t remember the first concert I ever went to, but it was probably in the womb. My dad ran a record label, and we constantly had chain-smoking, rowdy musicians jamming at our house. I don’t recall much of those early years, but I’m positive that growing up in such a musical house inspired my love of live music.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are sitting on my dad’s shoulders at concerts so I could see over the crowd. My dad is not a very emotional man, but I knew he loved me when he got us Paul McCartney tickets because his middle school daughter just had to see the ex-Beatle live. I treasured the countless times coming home in the wee hours of the morning with my dad after concerts— exhausted and hung over just from the loud music and little sleep.
But as I got older and started attending concerts alone and with friends, the magic of live performance lost its allure. I can actually pinpoint this realization to a specific moment: It was 2009 at a Death Cab for Cutie Concert, and a drunk bro “accidentally” spilled a cup of beer on me. As the warm liquid cooled and the pungent stench penetrated my clothes, I understood that if I wanted to go to concerts, I would have to deal with the kind of people who go to concerts.
Now, I don’t want to make stereotypes about rock music: The 1950s gave the public enough of a scare of the dangers of “youth music.” And not everyone who attends a concert is an asshole, creep or pedophile, or some combination of the three. But as a woman concertgoer, I’ve dealt with enough abuse to make me consider skipping the chance to see my favorite bands live.
I myself have been sexually assaulted at a music festival, and many others have argued that music festivals are particular hotbeds for assault. (Drugs, alcohol and a “lost weekend” are not a good combination.) But this kind of inappropriate conduct happens at many concerts, not just festivals.
It can be hard to tell what’s going on in the middle of a hot and sweaty crowd; you often don’t know where your body ends and your neighbor’s begins. Of course, a certain amount of awkward, accidental touching is expected, but some people think it’s okay to make sexual advances — particularly on women — without their consent.
Often, it is safer not to call someone out for abuse when you’re trying to pay attention to the artist and have a good time. Sometimes, it seems easier to say nothing. Especially if you are not sure if it was on purpose. But this isn’t a solution.
Letting harassers get away just means they will keep making sexual advances and go unchecked. But I also think this problem highlights the larger issue of the boy’s club mentality of rock and roll.
Since its inception, male musicians have dominated rock and roll, while females were less represented or pushed to the side. While great strides have been made for female artists, rock music is still controlled by predominantly white men.
And this plays into the concert experience. As someone who is five feet tall, I’m attune to the privilege of tall people, particularly men, at concerts. I can’t count the number of times, nor would I want to, that I’ve been stuck behind a tall guy. They, of course, could see perfectly fine if they were standing behind me, but my view is of their sweaty back.
Over time, I’ve stopped being too nervous to ask to stand in front of tall people, but I’m still astonished by how unaware some men are that their actions affect other people.
Of course not all female concertgoers have to deal with being shorter than the people around them, but I still see women — of all statures — leave pits because men around them are dancing aggressively and are too intoxicated to notice. And this frustrates me.
Concerts should be a safe space for anyone and everyone to get as close as they ever will to their idols. Rock and roll will continue to be a boy’s club until women feel safe enough to go to concerts — never mind pick up an instrument and start a band themselves.
I’ve found a quick fix to this problem. I developed a love of concert photography in high school, but I was always too short to shoot from the audience. I decided to get serious and started applying for press passes.
Now, I experience most concerts shooting from the photo pit. Sure, I have to battle with the occasional aggressive photographer as we both try to get the perfect shot, but it’s a community I feel safe in.
Every once in a while, when I have a spare second in the photo pit, I’ll turn around and look at the audience. And I can’t help but think how glad I am that I’m not there.