Being a musician and avid concert-goer, I was worried that when my kid came along, both pursuits would be curbed if not brought to a bloody end. Sure, when my little one was a brand-new baby, I made very few treks to the local clubs to see my favorite bands, and my number of gigs as a drummer dropped significantly. Of late – well, in the past two years, let’s say – I have found myself in an enjoyably awkward situation. After losing my day job, what was once a way to earn supplemental income and a method of expressing myself became my full-time job. In other words, I became a working musician.
This, of course, meant I would be back in those local concert venues two, three, four times a week, usually till 3 or 4 a.m. Then up at 7 with the kid to get her ready for school and begin either freelance writing or teaching drum and guitar lessons. The upside to all this is my child gets to see me doing what I love for a living. And she’s now at the age at which I can take her along to various concerts I long to attend.
This can be a daunting challenge for some, as parental concerns sometimes trump the desire to see the Devo reunion show or to attend Coachella for the weekend. But there are ways to make it happen and, in the process, turn your kid on to the experience of listening to music in a group setting, which teaches lessons all its own.
My first concern is ear protection. As a longtime sufferer of tinnitus, I am literally painfully aware of the damage loud music can do to young ears. (I have had loud ringing in my ears since my early college years.) Ear plugs are great, but sound-attenuating headphones are even better. Either way, don’t skimp. Even at what you might consider a low-volume concert, if you are attending with baby, block those developing ear drums. She will thank you for it.
Another bugaboo for this dad is smoking. Any indoor venue has the potential to become a smoke-filled hellhole. I always try to choose shows that are either at non-smoking venues or are smoke-free shows. (Lisa Loeb is famous for demanding her shows be smoke free. Even one of my favorite bands, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, demanded a smoke-free show when the violinist, Carla Kihlstedt, was pregnant.) You may have to make a few sacrifices when picking concerts to attend with the family or attend these shows by your lonesome. Of course, at outdoor concerts, this is rarely a concern. Sure, some jackasses will light up in a crowd, but smoke dissipates quickly outside, and I always use these moments to talk to my kid about the dangers of the habit. Dad’s not a prude, he just thinks smoking is really, really stupid and, at best, impolite in crowds.
A lesser concern of mine, but maybe a big one in some parents’ books, is the behavior of the crowd. Drunken buffoonery can be entertaining for an adult to witness, but children might not understand why the giant, obnoxious beardo is pounding the face of that smaller, obnoxious beardo. Or why the crowd is yelling profanity in unison at the urging of the lead singer. Or why the guitarist is smashing his … GUITAR!
I usually don’t make a big deal out of these occasions. They are rare, and when they do occur, why point it out as taboo or “bad?” I answer my daughter honestly if briefly, then direct her attention back to the music. My disinterest in the ugliness of such behavior will, hopefully, encourage her to be similarly disinterested. If a physical danger presents itself, of course, we head for the door, but I can’t remember a time that has happened.
Now there is always the possibility that the child will fall asleep or lose interest in the band you have so carefully chosen. When this happens, despite your undying love of said group, it’s time to go. One could justify allowing the child to continue sleeping, but bed is the best place for a kid who’s zonked. If the kid is about to enter Meltdown Mode because she can’t possibly take another moment of this crappy band, then pack up and head home. Better to leave when she is still relatively manageable, than to turn her off of the concert-going experience altogether.
All of this should be balanced with a healthy respect for her musical interests. Attending kid’s concerts is the perfect way to get her interested in seeing shows in general, and you can totally geek out at a Yo Gabba Gabba show. It also introduces her to the idea of respecting the comfort of others. Sitting still, being polite and listening to the band are rules we all must — or should — follow. Unless, of course, your kid is a Slayer fan. Then it’s family time in the mosh pit.
Bring a helmet – and some ear plugs.