A few years ago, I interviewed Graham Dugoni about his new invention, Yondr, a pouch you put your phone in while attending a concert. The pouch remains locked until you leave, or even if you just have to go to the lobby to check with the babysitter. But while it’s in that pouch, you can’t use the phone at all — no calls, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Facebook, and no camera.
At the time, I didn’t understand why Yondr was such a game-changer, until I read about standups who like it because it means people in the audience can’t record their sets in comedy clubs or theaters, sometimes capturing material that isn’t quite right yet and still needs some work. Musicians like Yondr because it helps them keep live performances unique and worth the price of admission. If everything they do on stage is caught on video and posted to YouTube, fewer people will pay for the experience of seeing it in person.
The first time I saw Yondr was at a Chris Rock show, and I was happy to see that it didn’t slow down the entrance queues too much. As you walked in and had your ticket scanned, you’d slide your phone into the pouch, an attendant would close and lock it, and then you carried the whole thing with you in your own pocket or bag, so it was always in your possession. On your way out, you simply tapped the pouch on the Yondr unlocking device, pulled out your phone, and went on your way. Really simple and smart.
Since then, I’ve wished the use of Yondr was mandatory at every show we’ve been to, because far too many people are marring the concert experience by holding up their phones to get video of the performers. We were annoyed by this trend twice in the last month alone, both times at River City Casino.
At Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot, the woman in front of me had her phone on and recording all evening, effectively creating a video bootleg of the entire concert. It also meant she viewed the band through a tiny 4″ screen, instead of watching them cavort around the big stage in front of us.
That’s a shame because Setzer is an electrifying guitarist and seemed to be having as good a time as the rest of us. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since I first played the Stray Cats hits “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” on the radio and saw them onstage at the old Agora Ballroom in Hartford. Setzer still puts on quite a show, backed by Mark Winchester on bass, Noah Levy on drums, and the versatile Kevin McKendree on both guitar and standup piano. In addition to wailing on his newer rockabilly tunes and a couple of Stray Cats classics, Setzer did great covers of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Dick Dale’s “Miserlou,” Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky,” and others, too.
The other show was Justin Hayward, the longtime Moody Blues vocalist/guitarist/songwriter who I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several times but never saw in concert. Now 72 years old, Hayward retains his beautiful voice on Moodies classics like “Nights In White Satin,” “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” and “The Story In Your Eyes.” He also did a couple from his latest album, “All The Way,” and even dug back into the catalog for “Forever Autumn.” I was especially impressed with the flautist who accompanied him, Karmen Gould, as well as Julie Ragins on keyboards and Mike Dawes on guitar.
One of the best aspects of seeing a veteran like Hayward, with a career of more than fifty years behind him, is hearing him share stories about his music between tunes. He doesn’t bound around the stage or have a big light show or dancers with him. It’s all about the songs and an audience that’s known them for decades but still appreciates hearing them performed in person.
Unfortunately, yet again, a least a quarter of the crowd had their phones raised at all times, their brightly lit screens serving as such a distraction that at the end of the night, I felt as if I’d suffered the kind of eye strain one gets from hours in front of a laptop. Aside from the rude distraction to everyone around them, there’s an attitude of entitlement from many of these people. I heard one woman justify her video recording thusly: “My best friend loves Justin but had to work tonight, so I’m recording it for her.” Whatever happened to, “Oh well, too bad she’ll miss it”?
It’s unmannerly people like that who are ruining live music for the rest of us. I wish every venue and performer would force all attendees to use the Yondr pouch to keep those phones locked up and let us enjoy the unique experiences we pay for.