Counterpoint: It’s Time to Kill the Encore
It’s 10:50PM and an artist you’ve spent 80 minutes screaming for has just walked off the stage without a bow, a "Goodnight!" or a mention of his biggest hit song. The lights stay dark. The crowd wants more. Thirty seconds pass ... Stagehands bring a stool and microphone stand center-stage. We pretend not to notice.
Like “God bless you!” after a stranger’s sneeze or tipping 18 percent, the concert encore script has become so engrained in the country culture that we’ve forgotten what it means. A few jaded fans may sit during this break, sarcastically mumbling, “Is this what you want?” as they clap with the enthusiasm of someone stirred from a nap. It’s the equivalent of telling the emperor he has no clothes on. When you don't play along, you look like a tool.
Within a minute, the guitarist and drummer "sneak" back to the stage and then — with varying fanfare — artist. The lights flash for two more songs and the show wraps a hair before 11PM, because that’s what local sound ordinances demand and no band in any genre wants to pay that fine.
If a roller coaster stopped before the final thrilling descent we'd worry it had broken. If the waiter took away your dessert before you forked that final satisfying bite, you'd consider a 10 percent tip. Next time you and your lover are enjoying a moment ...
“You’ve been a great audience, I love you,” Artist shouts as fans begin to pour toward the gates.
Once upon a time, encores were something an audience earned. The stomping, shouting and pleading would reach such a fever pitch the artist had no choice but to return once, twice or even three times. The band would improvise. The crowd would improvise. Have you ever seen old concert footage from the 1970s? Watch the Woodstock documentary. Fans celebrated the individual nature of these songs as individuals. A third encore was something to be proud of — something you talked about for years to come.
Those days are long past us. We now sing in harmony, wave our hands back in forth like we’re being paid and put up with cliches like the cutesy hand wave, the obligatory bass solo and, sadly, the encore. It’s time to kill the encore (we'll save the cutesy hand wave for another Point/Counterpoint).
Frankly, it serves no purpose other than allowing said artist and his band time to sip some water or change clothes. There’s other ways to build this break into a set that doesn’t disrupt a concert while signaling to those looking to beat traffic that it’s time to make a break.
Who loves the encore? We all love the idea of the encore, and collectively agreeing to kill it would leave a hole at the end of concerts for a few years. But who loves an interruption during something great? If a roller coaster stopped before the final thrilling descent, we'd worry it had broken. If the waiter took away your dessert before you forked that final satisfying bite, you'd consider a 10 percent tip. Next time you and your lover are enjoying a moment, walk out of the room just as things are reaching a fever pitch and let us know how that goes! (Not really. Seriously, that was sarcasm and we don't want your filthy stories).
Artists would love to have their two biggest hits back, because right now they're tied to the show's final minutes, played before a crowd that's just three-quarters of what it was 80 minutes earlier. True artists know it's a sham, as well, but no one says anything because like complaining about fees and taxes on tickets, it'd upset an invisible establishment. Playing along is best for everyone ... and no one.
Once in awhile you'll find a unicorn like Eric Church who seems play for an eternity, or Kenny Chesney's last Nashville concert. For the most part, when the artist says, "We're gonna party all night!" he means "We'll get you home before Jimmy Fallon starts writing his thank you notes."
Sound ordinances aren't going away. Set lists shouldn't go away. No one is asking for a shorter show, we're just begging that when an artist has crowd at the peak of feels, don't walk away. Close, and then if the fans won't quit screaming your name, pay the dang fine.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on April 20 for another installment.
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