The Good Listener: Can I Deflate The Beach Balls At Concerts?

One letter-writer's nightmare scenario. (iStockphoto.com)
One letter-writer's nightmare scenario. (iStockphoto.com)

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the package shipped Next Day Air but addressed to the guy who moved out of our house eight years ago is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: deep thoughts on beach balls at concerts.

Margaret H.W. writes via email: "Why do music festivals seem to hand out beach balls to drunk, high 19-year-olds? If I would like to listen to music WITHOUT beach balls, what are my anti-beach-ball options? CAN I DEFLATE THE BEACH BALLS?

"Can I just passively refuse to pass the beach balls back up until they collect around my feet in one incriminating pool? How coldly can I glare at the people who try to resurrect the beach balls I've silently condemned to the ground?

"And what, generally, can one do to bridge the generational gap between Old Youngs like myself, who attend music festivals to get a bargain deal on seeing eight favorite bands in one fell swoop, and the Just Plain Youngs, who appear to be there MORE to smoke the world's smokiest pot and hurl beach balls accompanied by a raucous musical soundtrack?

"Is there a way to satisfy us both, or should I just never attend Boston Calling again?"

Not gonna lie: Roughly 90 percent of my reason for picking this email is that I just like reading it, over and over again, sometimes as I fall asleep at night. I've thought about printing it out, just so I can tuck it under my pillow and have it there when I wake up each morning.

To address the specific issue of projectiles — speaking as someone who, generationally and aspirationally, falls more into the category of "Young Olds" — I don't recommend deflating the beach balls, lest you end up outing yourself to the world as a Sourpuss Killjoy Who's Also Possibly A Narc.

But I also share at least a small fraction of your outsize hatred of ... well, any hurled objects at concerts. For me, beach balls and other flingables inevitably draw my eyes away from what I'm there to see. I already live in a constant state of assuming I'm about to be pelted with something, so I find any erratic flying thing distracting and thus feel your pain.

The solution for you, beyond merely accepting that any large crowd is bound to contain a certain number of goobers, probably lies in a combination of 1) choosing your festivals carefully; and 2) giving yourself as much freedom of motion as possible. If you're strongly and adversely affected by beach balls, or smoke, or mosh pits, or 6'8" dudes in cowboy hats bobbing their heads from side to side in front of you, then you'll want to avoid festivals with, for example, strict assigned seating.

This is part of why I'm not partial to laying down a blanket at a music festival: It's too likely to pin me to one spot, and I vastly prefer to drift around peripheries in the pursuit of momentarily perfect surroundings and sight lines. If Boston Calling's fine spring lineup is tempting you, beach balls and all, then I recommend hanging back from the fray a bit. Come join the Young Olds near the back; we won't bite! Then, when a stray beach ball bounces its way back to us, we'll still have the collective strength to spike it as far away from us as physics will carry it.

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