When you write an opinion column in a newspaper, you sometimes charge into a hot-button issue in hopes of stirring debate.
And sometimes, you just stumble upon one.
I ended last week's Feedback column — a review of Norah Jones' Aug. 15 show at Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend — with an aside that had nothing to do with what happened on stage. Here's an excerpt:
“... this was a crowd ripe for some epic showdowns between people who wanted to sit and people who wanted to stand. And that happened; I was near one particularly nasty confrontation. The Schwab should put up signs at shows like this that say something like 'People are allowed to stand and dance wherever they'd like.'
I understand the sitters' frustration, but that's just how it is. Period.
And if you're the type of person who'll sit in your chair and yell 'move!' and 'sit down!' at a group of people standing and obscuring your view of the stage, do everyone a favor and stop doing that."
To put it mildly: Some readers didn't like that take. I got emails that called me “rude" and “snide," emails that chided me for encouraging selfish, boorish and insensitive behavior. “Your encouragement of such uncivil behavior says a lot about you," one guy wrote.
If that's the case, let me clarify: My point was not to encourage people to stand and block the view of others who want to sit. Heck, I often want to sit at a show and still see.
But, I wouldn't expect an unobstructed view of the stage, especially outside the fenced-in reserved-seating area at Les Schwab Amphitheater, where there are no seats or seat assignments. Just grass.
A large, green patch of grass for people with general-admission tickets to sit and stand and move around as they please.
That was my point. By “that's just how it is," I didn't mean “people are going to block your view, so deal with it." I meant that general admission in a big field means general admission in a big field; you can stew and stare and shout all you want, but when it comes right down to the letter of the law, you really don't have a leg to stand on.
(And before I move on, please understand: I really do understand the frustration. Truly. I have been there.)
Anyway, after I got these emails I did what anyone would do: I turned to my blog and Facebook to find out what others thought. So far, I've received a couple dozen comments ranging from “chairs and concerts don't mix" to (paraphrasing here) “high-priced seats should come with an unobstructed view."
But most folks fall somewhere in between, calling for an area dedicated for dancers and/or raised seating to ensure a sightline above the throng. Most seem to acknowledge that different venues and shows call for different setups; a seated show by an acoustic guitarist at the Tower Theatre, for example, is a completely different situation than, say, tonight's ZZ Top show at the amphitheater, which will have a mix of seats and general admission.
The folks who run local venues fall all along the spectrum, too. At the Tower, everyone is required to have a ticket and take a seat upon arrival, said Ray Solley, the theater's executive director. Once a show starts, people are welcome to move into the aisles up both sides of the room to dance or stand.
And if someone stands in the middle of the Tower's seated section?
“We stay out of it for a song or two," Solley said in an email. “Then, we'll ask them to move into the aisle if they want to continue dancing.
“Our staff does a good job of knowing the right timing between being party poopers and see-no-evil ushers," he said.
The Tower has also removed the first several rows of seats to create a dancing area in front of the stage for a handful of shows over the past couple years, with few complaints. And, of course, if a performer encourages standing, clapping and dancing, “that's fine with us," Solley said.
Cameron Clark's C3 Events company operates Munch & Music in Drake Park and the Peak Summer Nights concert series at the Athletic Club of Bend, among other events. He said the public “does care deeply" about the issue, and that C3 has actually researched the subject and tried several different solutions, including dedicated areas for sitting and standing, setting a “seated until" time, and an “anything goes" policy.
“None of these solutions have been universally embraced," he said.
For the past five years at the Athletic Club, C3 has removed reserved seats in front of the stage and “let the crowd work it out," Clark said.
“We are comfortable with this cultural shift," Clark said, “and we know that there are some ... who won't attend our shows because they have no guarantee that they will be able to sit and watch."
Clark also called accusations of being “anti-dancing" a red herring.
“For the record, we are, and will continue to be, 'anti-rudeness.'"
Also anti-rudeness: Sisters Folk Festival, where up to 3,000 people scatter around seven or eight venues around Sisters to see artists that, generally speaking, call for a quiet listening environment. That's a quality that the festival works constantly to uphold, said artistic director Brad Tisdel.
“One of the things that we're trying to maintain ... is both honoring the musician and the integrity of the event, and one of the things that I think we've done well is keep our venues really intimate," he said. “It's a profound experience if you can sit there ... feet away from an artist and have them give a captivating performance. It's a magical musical experience and that's what we've always wanted to do."
To that end, Tisdel said folk fest staff will step in and ask a small number of people standing in a sea of seated listeners to sit or move to the side out of respect for their fellow patrons. The festival provides ample room for standing and dancing behind seats, and posts signs asking people to keep quiet during quiet performances.
But the festival is also shifting to meet demand. This year, for the first time, one stage's evening sets will be standing only; staff will remove chairs before the final two performances of the night, Tisdel said.
“It's venue and concert specific, depending on the artist and what the promoter's going for," he said. “There's a reverence for the music, too, that I think is really important. If you honor the artist and the music, everything else kind of takes care of itself."
But back to Les Schwab Amphitheater, where the venue's director, Marney Smith, said earlier this week there were “significantly" more sit vs. stand conflicts at the Norah Jones show. So many, in fact, it spurred her to order signs that warn incoming concertgoers that the people around them are welcome to stand and dance at any time, even in the reserved seating area.
“We very strongly believe that people should be allowed to dance to music, and if you feel like sitting or standing or dancing or singing along, whatever you want to do, you do it," she said. “The artists prefer it, and the majority of the concertgoers prefer it."
Smith acknowledged that there is no “perfect solution" when what one patron wants conflicts with another, so the amphitheater is drawing a clear line.
“Our thought is that if we do a better job of making sure people are aware of that policy," she said, “that they'll be less surprised and hopefully less irritated if they are among those who don't want to dance."
For Tisdel, the line is a bit fuzzier, and it resides, at least partly, within each patron.
“I think (the crowd) policing itself is an important piece, (and so is) being respectful and cool, and being reasonble," he said. “I think there's a common sense approach to it all."