A major concert in the modern age contains all the bells and whistles: booming sound, an incredible light display, nostalgic fans… and a sea of blueish screens, all positioned on the artist to amateurly document the whole scene and blast it out on social media. But one folk legend is among a growing number of artists to hold back the tide and announce a “phone free” experience at his shows.
- Brantley Gilbert
When Bob Dylan plays at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater on June 27, he’ll be the first artist at that venue to require a phone-free environment. Instead of standing on tiptoe to rise above the blue-phone sea, attendees will see those phones tucked away in cases designed to help people hearken back to the old days, when one had to find a phone booth (and maybe wait in line) to call the babysitter.
Once, before the word “selfie” was a thing, this was just the way it was.
Millennials and Gen Zers, your friends of older generations assure you that you’ll get through this.
How it works
The entry process at Hayden Homes Amphitheater already comes with a few hoops: Scan your ticket (yes, from your mobile phone), have your (clear-plastic-only) bag searched, get wanded with a metal detector. For this show, there’s the additional step of grabbing a storage pouch from Yondr, the company contracted by Dylan’s team to deliver phone storage.
Having a sea of phones at a live show “bleeds the energy out of a room,” Yondr’s founder Graham Dugoni told CNN Business in 2020.
At a show or other event serviced by Yondr, attendees pop a phone in the pouch and close it, which locks the pouch until it’s waved over an unlocking device at the exit. Attendees who need to take care of phone business during the show will have a designated area to unlock it and do their thing before heading back to the show.
This being the first time the amphitheater has had this type of policy in place at the request of an artist, its team is still working out the details of where the phone area will be located and how big the area will be, said Beau Eastes, marketing director of the Old Mill District and Hayden Homes Amphitheater. Still, the process is fairly basic, and doesn’t involve some complicated form of coat-check.
“When you leave the venue, you go and unlock it and you’ll give that pouch back,” Eastes told the Source. “Your phone stays on—you have your phone in your possession the entire time.”
But while it’s new for Bend, it’s been a growing trend over the past decade—especially for big-name artists in the comedy and music scenes.
“This is something that will be new to us, but The Lumineers have done this. A lot of comedy acts—Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock have done this before. Donald Glover performing as Childish Gambino has done it at his shows,” Eastes said. Weddings are another place where a phone-free experience is a trend in 2022. It seems a growing number of people are waking up to the realization that being present in the moment might require checking out from that thing that dings, whistles and is otherwise designed to pull one’s attention away from anything but its glowing screen.
Yondr, the phone-pouch provider, sees it as offering a “haven.” Yondr’s founder started the business in 2014, when he would make the pouches himself and bring them to shows and even schools. The unique idea eventually caught the attention of entertainers including Chappelle, who became one of its investors, according to CNN Business.
“In our hyperconnected world, we provide a haven to engage with what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. In physical space and real time,” reads a description on Yondr’s website.
“Like seeing a show in the ‘90s”
From the concert-goer perspective, it may take some getting used to.
Ashley, a music lover in Bend who asked to remain anonymous, said she’d attended a no-phones Jack White show in Portland in 2018 and appreciated the ability to be more present with the music. Her only complaint, she said, was the inability to link to SoundHound during the show to identify some of the songs in the pre-show entertainment that she wanted to recall later on. In an announcement ahead of his 2018 tour, White told reporters that he wanted fans to enjoy a “100% human experience.”
While representatives for Bob Dylan did not respond to our request for comment, Dylan himself made a stand about people’s phones during a show in Vienna, Austria, in 2019, saying “Take pictures or don’t take pictures. We can either play or we can pose. OK?,” as reported in Stereogum. Dylan then reportedly left the concert.
The bigger the artist, the higher likelihood that they’ll have such a policy in place. If you’re Beyoncé or Prince, for example, you hardly need more publicity by way of people sharing your show on social media. Beyoncé has reportedly lightheardtly admonished fans for “taping” during her shows instead of watching the action. The late great Prince began enforcing a no-phones policy as far back as 2013. Alicia Keys, who has used Yondr pouches at her shows, said you’d have to be famous yourself—someone like Queen Latifah—to be able to buck the rules, according to a story in The Washington Post. And Bruno Mars, the funky R&B star, encouraged fans to dance and enjoy the show “like they did in the old days.”
The 1990s, apparently, are those “old days.”
“One of our production guys has been a part of a show elsewhere, and he said it was like seeing a show in the ‘90s,” Eastes from Hayden Homes said. “I think it’s gonna be pretty cool. I hope that people have no reservations about it. I hope they give it a chance.”
That may be a less-than-appealing prospect for anyone who wasn’t even alive in the ‘90s, but when it comes to the artist on stage June 27, who’s been kicking out some of music’s most iconic tunes since the ‘60s, it’s his show, and he’s earned the cred to make such a policy.
You got this.
According to information from Statista, there were some 280.54 million smartphone users in the United States in 2020—making the U.S. the 4th-highest country for smartphone “population penetration,” covering 79.10% of people. (The U.S. falls behind the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and Mexico in this regard.) Thus, we know the policy is going to blow some people’s minds.
What will you do without that appendage that dings, whistles, vibrates or otherwise gets you to look at its face every few minutes? I don’t know—I guess listen to music.