Encore: Live music isn’t going anywhere

Old friends embrace as the sun sets behind the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington. Photo by Grace Wright.

GRACE WRIGHT | OPINION COLUMNIST | gawright@butler.edu 

Tens of thousands of strangers file into an outdoor amphitheater, find the seats they will barely use and strike up a conversation with their neighbors. There is no need for an opening act, and when seven ordinary men take the stage, something extraordinary happens. 

For three hours, the hardships that exist outside of the venue are put on hold, and the weight of the world is lifted. The crowd will watch and listen in unwavering awe, and by the end of the night, there are no strangers. Although the heaviness of life will return, it is somehow a little lighter. 

This is the captivating experience of a Dave Matthews Band concert — an experience I’ve had more times than I’m willing to admit — but one that will never get old. 

Although every artist provides their own concert experience, there are a few things that make concerts and live music universally special. One of these things is the deeper connection we, as an audience, are able to feel with the artist. 

Seeing how someone performs a song — the emotion and power they unleash with each lyric — and hearing the ad-libs they provide throughout their set is something you’re not able to grasp through a recorded track. 

Some artists also have the ability to make us feel personally engaged even though we are only one in a sea of thousands of fans. Mya Hall, first-year exploratory studies major, felt this connection with Taylor Swift at her Reputation Stadium Tour. 

“When [Swift] performs, she engages with her audience and connects her fans to her music,” Hall said. “She always talks to her fans as if we are her friends. We also all had wristbands that lit up with her songs, so it felt personal, like we were a part of her concert.”

The intimacy between an artist and their audience isn’t the only opportunity live music gives fans to connect. Concerts offer a sense of community, bringing concertgoers of different cultures and backgrounds together through a shared love for music. 

These connections often begin with the people we choose to attend concerts with. For me, this person is my dad, and he is the sole reason I have become such a big Dave Matthews Band fan. 

Attending concerts with our loved ones makes for memories that become more than just seeing our favorite artists live. It often makes the experience so much more meaningful. 

Sophomore marketing major Kaylee Frey described a spontaneous decision she and her friend made to attend a Brothers Osborne concert. They bought the tickets the day of the show, not knowing many of the band’s songs. It ended up being one of the most memorable nights of their lives.

“We sang our hearts out, lost our voices and made the memories that will last a lifetime,” Frey said. “We didn’t have the best seats, we didn’t even have the best singing voices, but we made the most of it.”

Sometimes, however, these memories are made special by people other than those we showed up at the venue with. Concerts give us the opportunity to meet people we might never see again after the stage lights go out, but sometimes we’re lucky enough to make these individuals a permanent fixture in our lives.

On my second annual trip to Dave Matthews Band’s three-night stint at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, my dad and I decided to step out of our comfort zones and purchase pit passes for the final night. 

This is how we met Caitlyn, a New York City resident who has quickly become the big sister I never had. While the root of our friendship lies in our love for the band, I feel beyond lucky to have her support in every aspect of life, and I only wish she had come into my world sooner. 

In addition to the level of intimacy concerts create — both with the artist and with other audience members — live music gives us a chance to connect with ourselves. 

Concerts are an escape from reality, an opportunity to take a break from the stresses of our daily lives and a chance to do something that makes us happy. Frey noted this escapism as a reason why she enjoys concerts so much.

“Going to a concert is like being high on life,” Frey said. “You find yourself forgetting everything that is going on around you and just sing your heart out.”

Hearing an artist perform a song that holds meaning for us also presents an opportunity for reflection, and it can even be healing. These songs allow us to revisit an emotion — whether that’s joy, lust, sadness, regret or anger — and to process it in a therapeutic way

What we tend to forget is our opportunities for connection and reflection are how our favorite artists make a living. Cutler Armstrong, a senior lecturer in the Pulliam School of Journalism and Creative Media, explained why artists have begun to rely heavily on touring as their source of income. 

“CD sales declined starting around 2001 and really took a dive in 2017,” Armstrong said. “In 2018, for the first time, revenue from streaming eclipsed revenue from CDs. For people in the industry, this was not a good thing. It didn’t mean that people were making lots of money from streaming, just that they were making more from it than CD sales, which had plummeted … Prior to the 2000s, people toured to increase LP or CD sales; now, they tour out of necessity to make a living.”

From an industry perspective, this is likely why concerts have bounced back so quickly post-pandemic. Although many artists turned to and continue to explore virtual concerts and live streams, Armstrong explained that these digital platforms fall short of emulating the concert experience both for artists and for fans. 

“While many things have gone digital and social media routes, the live entertainment experience … has yet to be fully captured or eclipsed by these formats,” Armstrong said. 

Although live music is largely back post-COVID, attempts to return to a level of normalcy have not been seamless. Armstrong mentioned a few of the obstacles artists and the industry in general are facing with the return of live music. 

“In terms of concerts returning post-COVID, they are largely back, but not without issues,” Armstrong said. “From outbreaks within touring groups causing canceled dates to bands and crews not all agreeing on being vaccinated — leading to some touring members being replaced — to supply chain issues, to some smaller venues closing, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.”

As a fan, I’m guilty of forgetting the music industry is exactly that — an industry. At the end of the day, artists, managers, concert promoters and venue owners are all trying to make money and make a living, and like any business, there will be challenges. 

Nevertheless, the music industry continues to persevere, in part because it provides a service that is completely unmatched. 

Whether it’s 6,000 fans screaming Noah Kahan’s “Stick Season” or 26,000 singing Dave Matthews Band’s “Grey Street,” there is power in live music. As a unique and unifying method of communication, concerts have the potential to transform and to make you feel in a way little else can. 

I hope everyone has the opportunity to see their favorite artist live. Whether you’re in the nosebleeds or the front row, I hope you get chills when they sing your favorite song and when the crowd sings it back to them. I hope you are able to connect with others and with yourself. I hope you are able to escape, to reflect and to heal. 

I hope live music changes your life.


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