There are many cringeworthy things that could potentially happen at any given live music show, especially on the local circuit. But perhaps nothing is more uncomfortable than watching an opening band load out and head out of the venue while the show is still going on, and sometimes doing it directly across the floor in front of the stage while the next band plays on. It’s happened more than a few times in recent years around Boston and Cambridge, and generally sparks some morning-after internet debate about show etiquette: Are opening bands required to stick around for the whole show? What about touring bands? What if it’s a week night?
At the Snooty Fox in the English city of Wakefield, located just south of Leeds and East of Manchester, all bands are forced to stick around and watch the other bands on the bill. No exceptions.
At the side of the stage at the 150-person capacity club, a sign reads: “Important Notice: All bands playing at the Snooty Fox have to stay and watch all the other bands. Failure to do this without good reason or prior notice will result in the offending band being barred from playing at the Snooty Fox.”
It’s a policy that’s been in place at the rock club for about 12 years, but has recently caused some online debate in various scenes around the world after a photo of the rule was shared on Facebook by Scottish metal band Attica Rage, and appeared elsewhere, including Local Music Of Central Florida.
“I didn’t put it online,” Snooty Fox owner Malcolm Shipman tells Vanyaland. “A band that saw it in the venue and said it was the best he had ever seen. It sparked off quite a big debate. I did answer, and one of the things I said was ‘You don’t have to play if you dont like it.'”
Shipman says that in the dozen years the poster has been up at the side of the Snooty Fox stage, “only one or two bands have moaned about it, 99% say they agree.” He adds: “If all venues did the same there would be no arguments, it’s called ‘support’ for a reason.”
David Virr, former booking agent of the now-closed T.T. The Bear’s Place in Cambridge, says this rule wouldn’t work as an official policy in at Boston-area clubs. “But you definitely take notice of the bands who leave right after their set,” he says, “as well as the ones who stick around, trade merch, and share beers with the other bands. Furthest I’ve gone was to post ‘no loading out during performances’ in the green room. Sometimes unwritten rules need to be written out.”
At the Middle East, where its 190-person Upstairs room is probably our area’s best comparable for the Snooty Fox, manager Clay Fernald says the policy demanding bands stick around is “cool idea” but not one he or his venue would ever implement. “We do have a load-out/load-in sign and policy that is adhered to as best we can,” Fernald says. “With more than four bands on a bill, this is pretty impossible to have the band load out during set change. We do our best to roll with load-in/out during set change.”
Of course that doesn’t mean the bands can’t just leave the room and head to the Middle East restaurant. An interesting note on the Snooty Fox sign is the demand that bands “stay and watch” the other performers. “Bostonians don’t like being told what to do,” says Fernald.
Alyssa Spector of local promotion and booking company Lysten Boston says that the rule isn’t “a bad idea,” but doesn’t think it’s necessary for the venues she works with. “It should be expected that bands stay until the end of the night,” Spector says. “I don’t think I’d go as far as not allowing a band who broke this policy to play one of my shows again, but it would change my opinion of their motive for playing the show. I view local shows as creating a community of people who support one another, and loading out and/or leaving after your set is just disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to the other bands, as well as the person who booked the show. If two bands in 12 years have complained about this policy at Snooty Fox, then those are two bands I personally wouldn’t want to work with.”
At a venue like O’Brien’s Pub in Allston, which has a capacity of around 70, it would be pretty brash for a band to load out during another band’s set, especially since the door is roughly a few dozen feet from of the stage.
“I would never do this at O’Brien’s,” says the club’s booking agent, Ryan Agate, about the policy. “Sure, there are times that I’ve wanted every band to stick around and support the other bands, but I sure don’t want to force people to watch something they don’t want to. The great thing about the small club scene is that the bands are generally interested in watching and supporting the other bands. Having someone grudgingly watch someone just because they have to would fill the room with weird vibes that no ones wants.”
Agate adds that while “very rarely” does O’Brien’s have this issue, “when it does happen, we take mental notes not to invite them back or I’ll say ‘Way to not be supportive, folks.” I don’t think the policy would work, but not sure why it would need to. It’ll burn the bands in the end anyway.”