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How safe am I at metal shows?

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The Door Guy is a veteran of countless clubs around town. People say they've seen it all, but he's seen more. Write to him for everything from live advice to life advice.

Dear Door Guy:

I live in Sioux Falls. I have been sick for several years now. Haven't gotten out in a very long time and a pair of old friends have invited me to go to an awesome metal show in Minneapolis this week. I'm on my own feet, but am worried about moshing, pushing, and shoving. I look healthy enough to take a hit, but a stiff breeze would blow me over. I'm all for a great show, but frankly am afraid of getting my ass kicked.

What sort of crowd should I expect at a thrash show in your neck of the woods? Is it possible to get fairly close to the front without much of a problem, or should I choose a wallflower position in back? I'm an old metalhead and my 15-year-old son loves this band as well. Over time I have gained a huge collection of signed memorabilia. He expects me to come home with souvenirs for him. I said I might be lucky just to get out in one piece haha!

— Don't Want My Head Banged Headbanger

Dear Banger:

Dude, the pit is gonna be sick.

But seriously: Venues come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years, I've worked or seen shows in plenty of them, all around the country. They all have their quirks. I've seen places where you could see the stage from every inch of the room, where a balcony spot was as good a place to watch as the middle of the floor. I've also seen places where people were better off watching the show at home on a live internet feed. I've worked shows in places that used to be bowling alleys, I've worked shows in places that were still bowling alleys. Old warehouses? Check. Old dive bars? Check. Old bus stations? Check.

But no matter what, the crowd dictates the show. This is more true now than ever. When I first started my much-longer-than-my-mom-would-have-guessed life as a Door Guy, venues had, to some degree, a core group of clientele who would come out for pretty much anything. Sometimes it was because the venue was the only game in town. Sometimes it was because they loved a particular place so much (the staff, the vibe, the history, etc.) that they made it their second home, no matter who was playing. (After all, if you didn't like the band, you were still in your favorite hangout.) Sometimes it was because the shows booked there were so seminal, so right for the times, that the venue became a rock 'n' roll epicenter. In any case, the rock show regular was as much a part of a venue's image as the staff.

It was a mutual relationship, and as much as the venue defined the crowd, the crowd defined the venue. This isn't the case as much anymore. Of course, regulars still exist, because people who are that passionate, whether it's about a staff, a place, or cheap booze, are eternal. But think about how much easier it is for your 15-year-old kid to get into music than it was for you. I mean, back in the day we had to work for it. Our version of Spotify was seeing some metal band's logo carved into a picnic table and trying to figure out what the fuck that meant. When music is accessible as it is these days, people are able to decide what to get excited about without spending a dime or putting out much effort, so they see the shows they want to see and skip the shows they don't.

So you know what this crowd is going to look like. It's going to full of metalheads like yourself. The vast majority of metal dudes (and dudettes) I've ever seen at a show all share a certain care for each other — there's a kindness to the perpetual heavy metal underdog that always makes me happy and puts a smile on my face. Still, the fact of the matter is that there's going to be dancing, pushing, and shoving. There's going to be a front row of people packed together uncomfortably and when a pit breaks out people are going to get pressed forward.

In general, people here know how to take care of each other, pick each other up when they fall, and show each other some basic decency. But if your health problems are as significant as you indicate, all it takes is one knucklehead getting out of line while you're trying to have a safe time rocking out up front to ruin your entire night.

But here's a dirty secret: The very front, right by the stage, isn't even the best place to listen to the show. I shit you not. Although the sound quality from venue to venue differs significantly, fact is that every place has a sweet spot where it sounds the absolute best, and that spot is usually somewhere in the middle or further back. It's never right in front. Up front you always have a ton of the band's stage volume, but nothing properly mixed. Some things you miss almost entirely, especially the vocals, which are coming out of big speakers directly above you and pointed everywhere in the room where you aren't. It might be awesome to be so close to a band that you can almost touch them, but frankly, it usually sounds like shit.

So good luck, Banger. Play it safe and get out in one piece. Most big places where I've worked shows are on the ball enough to have security keeping the pit in line, letting everyone else enjoy themselves without much risk. There should be plenty of spots where you can feel reasonably safe without having to commit yourself to being a metal wallflower. I'd advise finding a good sweet spot in the middle and then seeing what feels right to you.

If you really want to get as close as possible to one of your all-time favorite bands, make sure your buddies are with you to help you out if you get in a jam. I guarantee that people up front won't be politely standing still. They might be nice about it, but they're still going to run into you or get pushed into you. You already know it might be a risk, that's why you're asking the question. But I understand why you might not be able to resist. 

Got a question for The Door Guy? Email [email protected]