Live Review

Sturgill Simpson's Fighting Fan Problem

Sturgill Simpson on November 13, 2015

In September of 2014, I saw Sturgill Simpson play in the most idyllic setting imaginable at Chinook Fest outside of Naches, Washington. Saying someone played a show in the middle of nowhere is cliche, but this time the shoe fit. There were about 150 wonderful people dancing barefoot in the grass while drinking four-dollar drafts of really great beer. Everyone got along, and afterwards my wife and I chatted for an hour with Simpson's ridiculously dexterous Estonian guitarist, Laur Joamets, who makes Dickie Betts seem like he plays on Lithium.

Things have taken a violent turn since, as Simpson's popularity has soared. In February of 2015, Simpson had to stop a show to break up a fight. He did the same thing earlier this month--during a fucking cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying" at the Ryman. A week later, he halted his show so that a fight would be broken up in Utah, land of peace and full-body underwear. And those are just the brawls that have been reported (multiply by five). Last night, at Seattle's Showbox SoDo, I narrowly averted two rumbles myself during a stellar show with songs that didn't come within a whisker of promoting aggro behavior.

Simpson's got a fan problem, and I wish I could help him out in terms of how to solve it. It's not like the guy performs Nickelback covers; he plays bluegrass for the masses, which should affect his fans in the manner that it did in Naches. But judging from the amount of selfies taken last night, I suspect what's going on here is that music non-fans who are two steps behind the pioneers are marching in to claim Simpson as their own. It's a really awkward transition as an artist graduates to bigger rooms. Last night's show was spectacular from a musical standpoint, but I'm now thinking Simpson needs to shake the shitheads by devoting his next tour to obscure Oingo Boingo covers.

 

Exactly right, and sad. This reminds me of the Robert Earl Keen frat-boys days. They ruined every concert. I was at the Ryman show the night before the infamous fight night. Although there were no fights, the yahoos all showed up, drunk and stupid, talked and yelled throughout every song, the entire night. I had warned friends that this would happen, but they still seemed shocked and admitted to me that they did not believe my warnings, but now understood. Artists like Sturgill must take a proactive stand, from the stage, and tell the dumb-asses to shut the hell up and let people enjoy the music. Maybe when Sturg is 50, and the yahoos have all died-off, I will go see him play again. Until then, I avoid yahoo-land.

I'll go see him again, for sure. Didn't want to leave the impresssion that idiots in the crowd negated the incredible show Sturgill and his mates put on. But, by the same token, his crowdmembers' behavior represents a disturbing trend that was worth pointing out. I wish I wasn't at such a loss for how Sturgill might proactively remedy this.

I'll go again too...he's great...and I'm not sure what he can do beyond what he's doing either.

Only commented once, but the site posted it twice, with no way to 'delete'. ?

Well if you are taking a poll...I saw Sturgill recently at the Ace of Spades in Sacramento. A standing room only, sold out show. Wow, what a "Wrangler's pressed tight, Tony Lama" crowd...remember this is Sacramento! Lots of drunks, pushing, shoving, hollering, chick whistling, verbal challenges, bullxxxx! I left halfway through the show before the fights started. Great guitar player...I couldn't hear the singer. Gotta' fix that crowd with some LSD laced Koolaid!

I'm with you here Mike...ther first time I saw him, there were some dudes doing some type of stomp dance thing (I don't mean Jesco White's "Appalachian Tap Dancing", but some kind of steroid fueled aggression dance)...didn't turn into anything else as there were only a few of those yahoos, but they were the same people you are talking about here...I hate this, because he's great live, but who wants to deal with that?...Ramcey's comment above is true enough...these folks can ruin your show...the only thing good that came of Keen's frat boy days is Todd Snider got a whole song out of it.

Some readers may recall my comments on this subject some 8 or 10 months ago.... I think the term I used was something like "Yahooing Numbskulls". I saw evidence of this at the Sturgill Simpson show that I caught when he played at The Magic Stick in Detroit. The mouthbreathers just don't know when to shut the hell up and let the guys with the mics and amps do the ennteratining. The group I attended that gig with included my eldest daughter and several friendsof mine, none of whom had ever heard Sturgill prior to that evening save a couple of You Tube selections I had pointed out to them in emails leading up to the show.  

We stood at the front of the crowd directly in front of the stage, as the set was wrapping up, people who behind us for the entire show thought that they would change places with us because well,,, well just because I guess. One or two got by me and a few got elbow shots or hip checked as I saw fit. I'm no tough guy and I dont go looking for fights but I rarely back down when my personal space is invaded. The hell of it was though is that I became more concerened with stopping the onslaught than I was with the last few selections that Sturgill played. All in all I think that the  artist on the stage has not only the job of entertaining but, when they see the social fabric ripping before their very eyes; helping calm the crowd (as best they can) when required.  

That may not do a lot for the artists reputation in the eyes of those being told to cool their jets or to shut the hell up... but who gives a rats ass about the opinions of disruptive mouth breathing knuckle draggers that serve no other purpose but to interupt the show.

 

Just my two cents on the matter.....   

With you on that, and glad to see you back WEB...I went to a Todd Rundgren/Utopia show once back in the late 70's and some yahoos down front started fighting...they stopped in the middle of about a 20 minute avant guard Utopia piece (inspired by Sun Ra) , Rundgren cut the band off, yelled "Hey Stop!"...the fight stopped, security came and got them and he counted it down and they went right back to where they were...took control immediately...Mike listed several links where Sturgill has stopped fights, so these clowns are everywhere apparently...Utah, the Ryman...

I remember your earlier post WEB...some foreshadowing...

Sadly, this isn't Sturgill's fighting problem, it's country's fighting problem. I don't usually go to "country" shows, but went to Sturgill's in KC last summer at an outdoor venue. We were standing close to the stage (maybe 2-3 in) when the music started. No sooner had the music begun than people around us starting wooting and making noise. As I said later, Simpson hadn't even had a chance to earn that yet. After 3 songs or so we decided the music was too loud up close so moved to right behind the sound booth, where we felt we'd have the benefit of good sound and a decent view. Ended up that at that spot a bunch of guys were standing around drinking beer and talking like they were at a high school reunion, which was very distracting from the show. After scouting other places to stand where we wouldn't be able to see, we left, making it the first show I've left early in years. More recently I went to see Jamey Johnson in KC because I'd heard he had a fabulous band (he does) and I'd seen the live-stream of his set at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass so really wanted to see them live. As we were waiting between bands near the front of the standing crowd, one woman was obnoxiously demanding that a security guy go get her the setlist from the band that had just finished. People around us were drinking beer and talking loudly, being pushy to us, basically self indulgent. I talked to the security person a little bit, sympathizing about the obnoxious woman, and he told me that country audiences are the worst he does security for, worse than R & B or anything else he could think of. Once Johnson's band came on, at least half of the audience whipped out their cell phones, held them up without concern of obstructing anyone's view, and started videoing while singing all the words to his songs, even the quieter ballads. The other people present were talking loudly amongst themselves. Johnson's band was great, although I couldn't help wishing he would take command of the audience and ask for a little listening and respect. Again, I left this show early although this time I would have loved to have stayed, but I left because it was late on a weeknight and Johnson showed no sign of letting up, something I see far too little of. 

Very interesting...but I disagree with the assertion that Sturgill plays "bluegrass for the masses". There are no Telecasters in bluegrass! Also not many drum kits or electric bass.

There's a lot of what I might call "Roadhouse Country" in his music, especially live. That's bound to attract some roadhouse types, guys (almost always guys) who come to get drunk and aggressive instead of listening to the music. I saw the same thing many years ago at Waylon Jennings shows. Waylon didn't like it, and I saw him stop playing and call out the offenders. Sturgill needs to do the same.  

In fairness to Sturgill, he stopped during the "Crying" fight the other night to call out the combatants. I'm thinking maybe even a pre-emptive reminder during each show might get people thinking about keeping the peace before things get dodgy.
 

The other two links you provided indicate he's stopped at least two other shows to call people out for fighting too...TommyLeeNot Jones (so is that the Motley Crue one?) is probably right about the "Roadhouse Country" type of music bringing out the animals, but if stopping the show and calling people out isn't enough, I'm not sure what else you can do, and it sucks for everyone else...anyone ever think about hiring the Hells Angels as security?

Seriously, a pre-emptive reminder might work, but the folks we are talking about are looking for a fight anyway...so I don't know if that helps at all...it's just depressing...a few people really can ruin it for everyone, and he's so good live...

Some professional security would help, but I never see those guys any more.

It's usually an untrained bartender trying to keep an eye on things, which is asking too much of them.

 

 

You are right about that, and he was playing very small places until fairly recently...There's been plenty of security at the two shows I've seen, and no fights, though the roadhouse types have been present and visible...funny that a few people here have mentioned that it isn't just Sturgill, but country artists that appeal to a certain demographic...I didn't think about this till just now, but the place I first saw him is a place I go to all the time for shows...they had considerably more visible security for Sturgill than I normally see there, and they host all kinds of shows, from Sturgill to Todd Rundgren to Lake St. Dive to Parliament/Funkadelic...I can remember thinking they had a lot of security, but didn't really think about it being due to a type of artist.

This is EXACTLY right, Mike. Artists AND venues can make announcements before the show starts. Turn your damn phones to vibrate or better yet, OFF. Be curteous to your neighbors and fellow fans, and DO NOT TALK during performance. Step outside to the bar if you want to talk. If you fight, you'll be thrown out, and banned from the venue for at least a year, etc. etc. ----------- Will this preempt work perfectly? Hell no. Does anything work perfectly when you're dealing with ignorant and drunk people? BUT IT HELPS TREMENDOUSLY. Artists feel uncomfortable doing it (although I believe that Sturgill would not) and venues/announcers are afraid of "offending" people. That's idiotic, but that's what I've been told directly, by both parties. There are a few great "listening" venues across the country that make such announcements before every show, and then enforce it. You must have someone that can politely go to a table of drunks and tell them that they cannot talk loudly for the entire show, or that they need to step outside. After awhile, the talkers just stop going to those venues, which is great for the rest of us. You'd be surprised how fast drunk idiots can get the message if someone will just call them out on their behavior. But nobody does, so for them, it's normal. Party, dude!

 

 

I've seen Sturgill three times in the UK, each time at bigger houses as his success and fan-base has grown.

Each gig has been brilliant, in particular the last one at Islington Assembly Hall in London (though reading my review back now I note that the noise in the room for the excellent Joe Pug was unacceptable, so go figure...). At no point have I seen anything like Mike has described here, so it's difficult to assess. I know the propensity for mobile phones has made gig going in the UK a bit of a lottery, but generally someone makes it clear how ridiculous it is to spend money on a ticket to share in a live experience and then record the whole damn thing , your face behind a glass screen. I'd like to think someone would man (or woman) up and tell fighters to go do their thing on the street, but we're a reserved lot on this side of the pond generally so maybe not. 

It's a shame. Sturgill is superb live; Islington was intense and the musicianship excellent (Jomets is amazing). I'm not sure it's his responsibility to break up rowdy ticket-holders - isn't that what the security guys are for? If the star turn has to mother his or her audience, the show becomes something other than an entertainment. Doesn't it?

 

Very strange.  I've seen Sturgell a few times and Drive-By Truckers at least a dozen times.  They have in common progressive fans who get the lyrics, and redneck fans who don't.   I've more than once overheard a drunk audience member yelling for Patterson Hood to fuck off when he's getting a little political between songs, as he's wont to do.  You'd think that with all the fights at Sturgell's shows, I'd have seen a few scuffles at DBT shows, but I've never even observed a single glaring stare-down. (I'm excluding one night at La Zona Rosa in Austin when my wife and I thought DBT was impoding in front of our eyes—they looked like they were either going to start throwing shit at each other or spontaniously combust from playing so hard.)    

I'm not sure it's a Sturgil or even a country problem.  Rude concert behavior seems to have been on a steady upswing for a while.  The chatter and selfies are maddening, and it seems to be worse the bigger the venue.  Someone always has to let out a yell during a quiet moment, try to engage the singer in a dialogue between songs, etc.  Some artists are better at diffusing the nonsense, Tweedy and Patterson are two I've witnessed dress down an obnoxious fan.

There's always a few people who go to the shows to be seen.  Envious of those of you who have gotten to see Sturgil... 

True enough Mike...the fighting hasn't been present at most of the shows I've seen, but the selfies and recording of live music and picture taking is at a level where it is hard to tolerate...I saw Jackson Browne recently from the second row...there were people two rows behind me shooting live video and taking pictures, not just on phones but on a rather large tablet...it went on the whole show.  Same venue, same situation for Hall and Oates and Ryan Adams...it is maddening.

Dont let all of this deter you from going to see Sturgill...I'd go again in a second...great artist, great band, as someone said above, Jaomets, the guitar hero of Estonia, is amazing...as good as his studio records are, live is a different, much better deal...

I agree that rude behavior is now happening at a wide range of concerts.  I was near one side of the large outdoor stage for the Tedeschi Trucks show this summer and some twenty-somethings were talking through the whole event, with a beer in one hand and their phone in another.  Wonder why they pay the big bucks when they could do the same thing at a local bar with no cover charge.   I'm sure part of the draw for the younger crowd for this event was Derek's Allman Brothers connection and they may not have even known who Susan Tedeschi was.  At concerts like this I just wander around a lot until I find a quieter place even if the visibility is not as great. 

But on Wednesday night, Simpson didn’t just rave against Nashville’s musical tastes. He raged against its political homogeneity too, taking a direct shot at President Donald Trump in the process.

“He’s a fascist fucking pig,” Simpson said. “And I’m not afraid to say that because at this point, anybody that’s still supporting that guy can’t be anything in my mind other than an ignorant fucking bigot.” 

With an open guitar case at his feet and a tongue-in-cheek sign telling passers-by that he was a “struggling country music star,” Simpson pledged to donate any tips he received to the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Simpson also broadcast his performance on Facebook Live, and while he told viewers he wouldn’t take song requests, he let them know he’d answer any questions they had “because fascism sucks.”

When one commenter asked him to give a mock acceptance speech as if he were on stage inside Bridgestone Arena, Simpson launched into a diatribe against guns, homophobia and racism.

“Nobody needs a machine gun, coming from a guy who owns a few guns,” Simpson started. “What else? Gay people should have the right to be happy and live their life any way they want to and get married if they want to without fear of getting dragged down the road behind a pickup truck. Black people are probably tired of getting shot in the streets and being enslaved by the industrial prison complex. And hegemony and fascism is alive and well in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you very much.”

Read more here (Huffington Post)

Sturgill isn't afraid to let you know what he thinks...he had some pretty pointed comments for Ferguson, Missouri one of the times I saw him...nice post Mr. Mutt..