Silent Disco Headphones: The Antidote to Boorish Behavior?

Photo courtesy of Mandi Nulph

Photo courtesy of Mandi Nulph

Just wanted you to know I am going to get rich starting a new business, based on Silent Disco technology.

Never been to Silent Disco? They are held in urban areas with noise ordinances and at music festivals late-night. There are DJs, performers, and/or bands performing, but there are no amplifiers or speakers. Instead, each Silent Disco-er gets a headset with two controls: one for volume, the other a toggle switch to access to separate channels (often two performances at the same time; you get to pick or jockey back and forth).

So I want to repurpose those. One the one hand, people could wear them instead of earplugs when the music is too damn loud.



For those looking not to damage your ears, that might be a plan. But that’s not really what I have in mind.

Before I joined MusicFestNews, I was publishing on my blog (and I still do), Tie Your Shoes Reviews. I know some people have seen the back of my shirt (and some people have one themselves!).

please talk louder

So I realize I am fighting a battle that can never be won in today’s climate. There are people at music events who don’t give a damn whether you want to listen to the music or not. This issue started coming to a head for me a month or so ago. Here was the situation:

A friend had handed us a wonderful gift: two tickets to see Steely Dan and Stevie Winwood. I had never seen either and was truly pumped. It was, as you would expect, a big shed show. I’ve been trying ever since to figure out how to write about this experience, because there were astounding highs and apparently unavoidable lows.

I was so ready for Stevie Winwood, and he put on a brilliant show, all the more so because his guitar player was out ill. His voice sounded as amazing as it did 50 years ago, and the song selection was incredible, including “Glad,” “Had to Cry Today,” “Low Spark,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Gimme Some Lovin’.”

The majority of the crowd talked loudly through the entire set. Some young people (I’m ancient) sat down next to us several songs into the set and chattered incessantly. At one point, Winwood played “Higher Love,” and the young man next to me exclaimed, “Hey, I know this one!” He listened for at least fifteen seconds before returning to his conversation.

It was so sad. I know people talk too much at almost every kind of show, but I can usually get away from them. Here I was trapped, and there was nowhere to escape in any event.

Then Steely Dan hit the stage. I had the same experience I had when I saw Ray Charles and when I saw B.B. King each performing with a big band: the bands were so amazing I would happily have listened to just them. Same with the band that Becker and Fagan had assembled for this show: as phenomenal a band as I have ever heard. They were magnificent.

What really differed for me was that, unlike our jamband expectations of jamming and constantly changing setlists, this was a show where the fans wanted to hear the hits, exactly the way they sounded on the radio. And, to the band’s great credit, the band played them better than on the radio. Female background vocalists, horn section, keyboard player, guitar shredder — all got to highlight their remarkable talents while keeping within the context of each tune.

And still people who had paid big money to attend talked throughout the show.

But the pot, so to speak, boiled over Saturday night at a show in Tampa (and I will write a regular review, because it was brilliant). Two regional powerhouses with the talent and capabilities to go big-time were at Skipper’s Smokehouse. Flat Land, from Gainesville, was opening for Come Back Alice (St. Petersburg). CBA was doing an all-Led Zeppelin set.

Which is why the many, many in the crowd came out — the Led Zep part. That was awesome for both bands, as the Skipperdome was at capacity (I’d venture to say over), so both groups had the opportunity to gain lots of new fans.

Except that it was packed like sardines, and people were talking. Yelling. Screaming. And lots of them paid no attention at all. Once you found a spot, it was next to impossible to move, and it didn’t make any difference, because the talkers were everywhere.

A couple of dudes near me kept up a running conversation the entire three and a half hours of music. Seriously. And they had company. Often so loud you actually couldn’t hear the music very well. It was really odd watching some folks with their backs to the stage almost the entire time. Checked-shirt Boy shrieking “JIMMY F**KING PAGE” at his friends repeatedly was a treat.

If you think this isn’t really a problem, I’d suggest you go to YouTube and listen to some of the bands you love playing in small clubs. You may be one of the lucky people who can block out the incessant talking. I am unlucky.

John del Signore wrote a brilliant essay on the same subject titled “Why Can’t You Ever Shut Up During A Concert?” lamenting the “epidemic of People With Enough Disposable Income To Ignore The Event They Paid For [PWEDITITETPF].” Now that is positively genius right there.

I will never be king (*sigh*) where I can decree that people should have respect for musicians AND for those who wish to listen. That navy has sailed.

Photo courtesy of Mandi Nulph

Photo courtesy of Mandi Nulph


Imagine if those who actually did wish to listen and didn’t want to say STFU to the guy on his seventh beer… could have a pair of Silent Disco headphones that would drown out most if not all of the talking around you! You could adjust the music level to your liking, AND it would probably be a pretty good mix, regardless of where you were in the venue, balance-wise.

So obviously I’m going to make fat stacks with this idea.

Unless, of course, I become king.

Thanks to Mandi Nulph for the Silent Disco photographs.


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