In Defense of Sitting Down at Concerts

A series of recent TikToks have called out fans who sit at shows, but isn't that what seats are for?

man entering a music venue
Photo by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for Thrillist
Photo by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for Thrillist

Last week, I found myself standing in a long line of music fans outside of a venue in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. We were all visibly and audibly hyped to head inside and see acclaimed artist Brittany Howard kick off her new US tour with the first of many sold-out shows supporting the release of her new album.

After just a few minutes queued up, a pair of fellow fans standing in front of me struck up a conversation. One of the women told me they'd driven hours to the venue, had never been inside the theater before, and wanted to know what the seating situation was like. They were nervous it'd be standing room only. "I just can't stand all show like I used to," one of them confessed. "And if I'm paying for a seat, I'm going to use it!"

I found myself nodding vigorously as we spoke. Years ago, early in my concert-going days, I would rush toward the stage immediately upon entering a venue with a goal of getting as close as physically possible to the artist. Now, I find myself carefully studying each venue's layout and seating options before buying a ticket—and if no seating is available, I'm more than likely going to stay home. As the great poets Blink-182 once sang, I guess this is growing up.

As soon as Howard took the stage in Chicago, it didn't matter who was watching from the standing-room main floor or the balcony seats. We were all enraptured as the artist and her band tore through soulful songs new and old. By the time the concert was done, it truly felt like we'd all been part of a spiritual experience. And because I'd been seated for most of the gig, this particular geriatric millennial's experience didn't involve any lower back pain.

Until fairly recently, I didn't realize my own preference for experiencing live music with the option of a seat was at all controversial. For me, sitting at a concert typically offers better sightlines and an overall more comfortable and stress-free experience compared to fighting it out for prime real estate on a venue's main floor. But it seems every couple of weeks another viral video hits TikTok with fresh complaints that too many fans are remaining seated during shows.

"They don't understand the culture," a TikTok user said of the audience "watching seated like it's the opera" at Beyoncé's Renaissance tour stop in Stockholm. "No one stood up for Maggie Rogers … Ppl were giving NOTHING," noted a video from the indie star's Hollywood Bowl concert in LA. "Everyone at the TWICE concert was sitting down and not singing," the caption on a video of the K-pop girl group's show at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood read. A video from TikToker @spencewuah, who has nearly 16 million followers on the platform, went so far as to call Beyoncé fans sitting at the Renaissance tour "homophobic."

The Sultan Room in Bushwick hosts live music from many genres. | Photo by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for Thrillist

Welcome to the latest battleground in live music etiquette. At a time when more and more music fans are traveling long distances—sometimes to different continents—to attend concerts, it's bound to be an issue that continues to bubble up as we approach a summer packed with star-studded tours and festivals.

So why is this happening now? While the popular hypothesis in comment sections on these viral videos often suggests that concert-goers forgot how to conduct themselves at shows when the industry fully shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nick Leighton, the New York-based co-host of the etiquette podcast "Were You Raised by Wolves?", doesn't buy that theory.

As Leighton pointed out, live entertainment etiquette has been debated for as long as the topic of etiquette has existed as we know it. Emily Post's first etiquette book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, was published in 1922 and, according to Leighton, it stated that audiences talking at the theater were committing a faux pas. Those insisting on talking during a performance, Post noted, should stay at home and listen to the show on a phonograph instead.

While Leighton acknowledges that audiences "got a little bit rusty" during the pandemic, he instead blamed many of the etiquette incidents we're seeing play out at concerts today on a "main character syndrome" linked to the explosion of social media platforms.

"When we go to a concert, we are not the main character. You are in the audience," Leighton said. "A lot of our lives on social media and Instagram and TikTok are about being that main character, so when you’re not that main character, a lot of people don’t know how to just be in an audience."

Emily Berger, the general manager of intimate Bushwick music venue The Sultan Room, offered a similar assessment. With 10 years of experience working in a live music setting, first as a live music photographer and today in venue operations, she sees social media as playing a central role in how music fans are behaving at shows right now.

"I think everyone should enjoy a show and have fun the way they want to have fun," Berger told Thrillist. "But now there's this idea of going to a show to create the most memorable kind of 'movie moment.' You have people wanting to film all these videos and content to create this story of a crazy, wild night. It's a crowd of people all wanting to capture that moment for themselves so they can post about it or talk about it or share it in any way that they want to."

music fans sit at a concert venue
Fans sit at a concert at the Sultan Room in Bushwick. | Photo by Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for Thrillist

For music venues like The Sultan Room, questions like these aren't just a matter of vibes. Berger noted that fans shouldn't have to suffer if someone else is negatively affecting their experience. Particularly if it's a safety issue, she encourages fans at The Sultan Room shows to alert venue staff to be the "bad guy" and intervene with another fan if needed. Overall, she sees concert etiquette as an issue of simply being mindful and aware of others sharing in the same experience you are—whether they choose to do it standing, sitting, dancing, or swaying.

"A concert is everyone's individual experience and I never want to limit someone's experience,” Berger said. "You can't tell people how to act at a show, but you can tell people how to be mindful of what's going on."

So how exactly are we supposed to be behaving at these shows, and how can we know when and if it's appropriate to stand or sit during a concert?

According to Juliet "Ms. J" Mitchell, a certified etiquette trainer and business coach based in Minnesota, the answer depends primarily on the genre of music, the setup of the venue, and how the audience is behaving as a whole. A classical music concert is going to be much different than a metal show, for example. In the words of Leighton, it's best for concertgoers to "ride the wave" of the show rather than fighting it, much like you wouldn't try to have dinner at 5 pm if you were vacationing in Italy.

"Just look around you and check out the general vibe of the concert," Mitchell told Thrillist. "When it's your jam, it may not be anybody else's jam but yours. If you are the only one standing up and you're in someone’s way, maybe you just have to pull it in and tap your foot, sit in your seat, and rock back and forth."

If, however, you just can’t help yourself from standing or dancing from your seat, Mitchell said you can do the other fans around you a courtesy and give them a heads up before you block their view. Ultimately, she said the question, like all etiquette debates, returns to two basic tenets of etiquette: respect and consideration.

"Am I being considerate of the other person? Can I contain some of my excitement or would they say, 'Hey, do your thing,'" Mitchell said. "Just try not to block or obstruct a view, or minimize that as much as possible by watching your movement. Try to reel it in unless everybody else is there with you."

The "there" Mitchell mentions is at the core of what a concert is: a unique communal experience shared by fans of the same artist or genre. What makes the experience so prone to conflict between individuals is also what makes it so special.

"Part of the fun of being at a concert is being among your people. You're in a room full of other people who are all into this thing," Leighton told Thrillist. "We all just have to remember that we're all trying to have a shared experience, and we all don't want to take away from other people's shared experience. That is a group effort."

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Joe Erbentraut is the Editorial Director of News at Thrillist. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin's School of Journalism and his writing and editing has also been featured in Fodor’s, the Village Voice, HuffPost, and Chicagoist. Joe is obsessed with soup, specifically when it involves lentils. Follow Joe on Twitter.