Don’t Drink More than Your Share:
Rules of Backstage
- Katie Dwyer -
- 10.12.13 -
Through a series of unexpected events, I have found myself attached to a music photographer. I’m not exactly the last person you’d expect backstage, but ‘nerdy as the come’ and fresh from my second master’s degree I’m not exactly ‘the type’ either. But because of my connection with said photographer, I suddenly find myself in the midst of the music scene pretty regularly.
Backstage with the band is a semi-mythical place for a music fan. But once you actually get there, you might find either an inspiring and hilarious mix of personalities and energy, or witness tired people catching up on email. It’s larger than life, or just as dull. It turns out that, even in the lawless realm of rock and roll, there are unwritten rules of behaviour. Here’s my attempt to write them down: guidelines based on my observations of how to behave should you ever end up backstage.
If you screw this stuff up too badly, you become a story the band will tell down the line, and not in a good way. I’ve heard about fans backstage trying to steal stuff, telling half-hour epic sagas about their neighbours’ cats, and even being aggressively mean to members of the crew. I’ve witnessed centre-of-the-room bitching about not being allowed to smoke, or the quality of the beer they’ve been offered. All I could think was…seriously?
Don’t be the girl who has to be taken out by security for trying to seduce her way onto the tour bus. Don’t be the drunk guy peeing in the backstage shower. Don’t be the fan who walks in on band members changing backstage…and then doesn’t leave. Don’t make yourself a ridiculous horror story to be joked about later.
The most important rule is to do nothing to embarrass the person who invited you there. If you’re backstage, someone has vouched for you. That means they can get in trouble because of you, and that you can quickly eliminate all chance of being invited again.
- Act like you’re a guest.
- Don’t get in the way.
- Offer to buy people a drink. That’s pretty much universally appreciated.
- Offer to help move equipment, pack merchandise, or with anything else that needs doing. They’ll probably say no, but it’s nice to offer.
- Talk to the crew. They’ve got the best stories, and know the band better than anyone.
With that in mind, here are some quick don’ts:
- Don’t gush. Be appreciative of a good performance, absolutely. But don’t go on and on, and do read their body language. If you’re making them uncomfortable, then keep it to “Thanks for the great show.”
- Don’t be backstage right when the show ends. Give them space.
- Don’t shove your camera in people’s faces. They’re probably tired from rocking your face off for the past two hours. Don’t bug them.
- Don’t force yourself into the center of attention. If you’re fun, people will talk with you. Read the room.
- If you happen to be in a location with a smoking ban, do not light up a cigarette backstage. Don’t assume you’re just ‘so rock and roll.’ If the band is smoking, then smoke away.
- Don’t complain about being backstage. Is the room too crowded? Don’t like the lighting? The seating? You’re backstage. Just count yourself lucky, and if you’re really so miserable, just escort yourself to complain elsewhere.
- Don’t grab for more. This is not a lifetime membership: it’s a one-time opportunity.
- Don’t ask for free T-shirts or merchandise. That’s how touring bands make most of their money. They might give you something, but more than likely they don’t even have free shirts for their girlfriends’ parents. Just pay for one if you want it.
Do not EVER under any circumstances report on stuff you hear backstage. If you hear a juicy bit of gossip, then just have the private satisfaction of witnessing something interesting. Never put this stuff on your blog or your Facebook or anywhere else.
There have been times backstage where I suddenly feel that sense of “I’m not sure if I should be here right now…” If you ever get that feeling, then just excuse yourself. Go get a drink and give the band time to de-stress or work out whatever is going on. Just be considerate: if you are seeing something and you think “maybe they don’t want me here…” then scoot out.
And finally, THE rule: don’t drink more than your share. Ever. Don’t assume that the “free” beers (which are part of their deal for playing the show) are there for your consumption. Maybe they want to share, but always ask first. Never drink the last of anything. Nothing will destroy the backstage atmosphere faster.
None of this is to say that you have to be on your best behavior. Just be the best non-annoying version of yourself. Don’t be afraid to be who you are. Example: one time I was invited to feel the weird lump on the back of a lead singer’s head, and I remarked “you have a well-developed occipital bun.” Nerd, remember?
The fact of backstage is that, more often than not, it’s a bunch of high-energy but tired people all sitting around and looking at their phones. They’re done entertaining and are trying to wind down before facing a long day/night of travel and another high-demand show. Performers are at their best when they are performing, not when they are sitting around. All the fame aside, rockstars are people, after all.
Despite this, every once in a while backstage means being present for a bit of band magic when no one but you is watching: unexpected jam sessions, banter, story-telling, and general fun and friendliness. I’ve witnessed songwriting, internal disputes, romantic intrigue, food fights, and situations so hilarious I was in convulsions (including a “wedgie” fight that actually ended in someone’s underwear being ripped off over their head).
But mostly I’ve witnessed road-weariness and stories about obnoxious backstage behavior and wondering who drank all the beer. Don’t be that story.
When she's not hanging out backstage, Katie is a college advice blogger. You can find her at www.mycollegeadvice.org