Stuff You Should Know About

There Are Very Few Reasonable Excuses for a Concert to Start Late

Ms. Lauryn Hill, the last time she did her thing in Houston.
Photo by Marco Torres
Ms. Lauryn Hill, the last time she did her thing in Houston.
Few things make you feel old like caring about set times at the concerts you attend. When you’re young, you’re a slave to the music, going along with whatever ride an artist has planned for you. Then one day you find yourself Googling set times from other cities and checking the Facebook event page for every scrap of info on when a show starts and how long the headliner is going to be doing their thing. It’s not that you don’t love the music or concert experience anymore, you just have responsibilities and a desire for the occasional good night of sleep.

And in 2018, most artists get that. Gone are the days where buying a ticket to a rock concert meant that you were at the whims of a singer who might be too busy partying to get out on stage when the show was meant to start. People bemoan the death of the rock star as a cultural avatar, but does anyone really think sitting around for an hour and a half between bands because a singer won’t go out until he’s had his coke fix is the height of fun?

Now sure, there are good reasons why a show might be delayed. Traffic is fickle, and sometimes people and/or gear arrive late. Humans get sick. Weather can delay an outdoor show. We as fans accept that chaos is a thing, and in those instances, we can be forgiving. We assume that no one really wants a show to start late, if only because that sort of thing is bad for merch and concession sales. But there are some artists that feel differently, and yes, that does mean we have to discuss Lauryn Hill.

Is there anyone who grabs a ticket to one of her shows that expects it to start on time? It’s hard to imagine that there’s anyone out there unaware of the fact that, from time to time, her shows do not get off to the most prompt of starts. It’s one of those things that happened enough times that rumors got started about just why it happens, but recently, while addressing a whole mess of other issues, Hill addressed that particular critique.

You should read the entire post over at Medium, as Hill has some amazing insight on what it’s like to be a woman in a system that doesn’t always respond well to smart, assertive women, as well as some important words about race in the modern age, but here’s what she had to say about the late starts to her shows:

“Me being late to shows isn’t because I don’t respect my fans or their time, but the contrary, It can be argued that I care too much, and insist on things being right. I like to switch my show up regularly, change arrangements, add new songs, etc. This often leads to long sound checks, which leads to doors opening late, which leads to the show getting a late start. This element of perfectionism is about wanting the audience to experience the very best and most authentic musical experience they can from what I do.”

Some people will read that and nod approvingly, happy that there are still artists out there that aren’t just going through the motions when it comes to their live performance. Others will read it and think, “this is like when someone asks you ‘what is your biggest weakness’ in a job interview and you try and turn a negative into a positive.”

And I’ll confess, I’m more the latter than the former. I think that it’s great that Hill wants to keep her show fresh, and I understand that there’s only so much time in the day during a tour. But there are plenty of artists out there who manage to do the same thing, year in and out, all while making their regularly scheduled appointments and show start times. Yes, adjustments to the set might keep things more interesting for an artist, and in turn, lead to better performances, but isn’t that what pre-tour rehearsal is for?

In Hill's case, those late start times are probably more of a feature than a bug, because if they were really hurting her bottom line she wouldn’t be out on the road because people wouldn’t be buying her tickets. But a word of warning to other bands out there: the game has changed. You aren’t Lauryn Hill or Madonna or Axl Rose, and until you are, keep your appointments. Don’t burn bridges just because you wanted to ride go-karts or have a fancy meal or get day drunk, because once you get that reputation, you’ll have all the time in the world to do whatever you want at home and not on the road.