Two Crowds, Pleasure Opposites

We didn’t officially plan it, but this past weekend my wife and I found ourselves among a crowd at the annual Algonquin Founders Day Festival. And we smiled and chatted in each other’s ear amongst the entertaining din as a heavy-metal/top 40 rock ballad cover band rocked the suburban crowd of mom, dads, clumps of carousing teenagers and toddler air guitar jammers; and they were all transfixed as if standing in front of a TV screen playing Guitar Hero.

It was very interesting to watch a crowd hoist up their plastic cups of soda and brew and mushy corn dogs, lighters and cell phones and salute the rock that could’ve been played in a more comfortable air-conditioned environment— like on their couch at home.

I initially wondered (as I have in similar suburban festival concert scenes) why come to a festival to hear a cover band when you could just be at home comfortably rocking to the break of dawn and avoid the crowds and the $5 to park and $10 cover charge?

But then I thought back to last weekend at Pitchfork as I watched 17,000 hipsters (of whom a fair amount also doubled as moms and dads with little ones in tow) enjoy the tunes of underground indie-rock for three days.

With those two very different crowd scenes in my mind, I took the crowd comparison down a different route and looked at both crowds in terms of how different the outward expression of pleasure was and then factored in what music was being played.

So what if a laughable version of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” blared from the speakers and was complimented by a roaring sing along chorus from the mouths of proud Algonquin citizens. They were all simply there to let loose, indulged in a bit of escapism and nostalgia and have fun, right?

For a moment as I studied the theatrics of the cover band lead singer and the crowd’s rousing response, I wanted to laugh and say something typical. But I held my metal-tongue and saw something that truly surprised me.

I watched the cover band crowd and was eventually convinced that they actually might be having a better time than the Pitchfork crowd. This may sound outrageous but in terms of just looking at the outward display of enjoyment; the cover band crowd was off the charts and practically jumping on the stage.

And remembering the Pitchfork crowd as whole, I recall a lot more folded arms and subdued introspective beard-twiddling per capita. And if someone were to take a picture of each crowd, compare them and make a call as to which crowd was outwardly having more fun (regardless of the quality of music that was being played), than I think I would have to cast my vote for the cover band crowd.

Let’s talk cover bands for a quick moment. I’ve always been leery of enjoying cover bands in general. And I have always tried to understand the concept of paying money to see a band play a whole show of songs written by other people and perform them at a level that is way below the quality of the original song. I also have been trying to understand what role a cover band has in the live music experience. I know that there are different levels of skill when it comes to cover bands and sometimes cover bands can evolve into regular bands i. e. Nirvana has its roots in a CCR cover band.

But what is it about the cover band crowd’s level of enjoyment I saw last weekend? And why did this cover band crowd seem to be having more fun than the Pitchfork crowd? Is it because it’s easier to have fun when reminiscing about the past than it is to enjoy the music of the present and future? Is it because looking forward musically (and all the emotions associated with it) is too hard and painful and just takes to much mental and emotional effort? Is the nostalgic lure of a cover band playing the top hits of the “glory days” that pleasurable and seductively addictive? Was it the setting and environments that made the crowds respond so differently? The Pitchfork crowd certainly paid more money than the cover band crowd so you would think that they would get their money’s worth, right?

Beyond my general thoughts on cover bands, I know that a large part of why I wanted to write this post is mainly the result of being a part of two drastically different types of crowds in back-to-back weekends. The crowds, the music, and the reason the bands were playing their music were so polar opposite that I had sort this out and bring it you Live Exhausters.

And with Lollapalooza tomorrow, I now have a deeper understanding of what it really means and takes for a crowd to be entertained, regardless of what type of music is being played or how good it’s being played. It’s a perspective I will always take with me from now on.

What are your thoughts on cover bands? If you’re a regular at cover band shows, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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