Why doesn’t live music in RVA ever start on time?

There’s a disturbing tradition in Richmond’s music scene that’s been around since the dawn of time: Live music shows are always starting late. And this needs to change!

OK, Richmond music scene, let’s talk.

I’ve been supporting you for years and going to see shows every chance I get. But there’s a disturbing tradition that’s been going on for as long as I can remember.

Shows are not starting on time. Not even close.

Most shows in Richmond fail to start when they say they will. If it’s scheduled for 8:00 PM, you can count on it being at least until 9:00 PM before someone starts playing. Usually the posted time is when doors open, so about an hour after that should be when the music starts, right? Hardly. Many times I’ve arrived at a venue and waited upwards of two hours for a show to begin.

It’s become my biggest pet peeve about going to see live music. I have a day job, I’m old, I’m tired by the time shows are in full swing, and I don’t want to be finally seeing the headliner start playing at 12:30 AM when the event told me to be there at 8:00 PM.

I understand that not every show can start right at the scheduled time. Sometimes it’s a late arrival, technical issues, or faulty equipment that pushes a show back. I understand that and am perfectly OK with it. But other times it’s pushed back to wait for a bigger crowd to show up or sometimes, unfortunately, it’s the egos of someone involved with the show (I’ve never experienced this, but have heard stories).

Starting time issues vary by venue and band. Some are sticklers for time and adhere to the schedule while others are notorious for starting late. For example, the now-defunct Listening Room series always made it a point to start their shows on time. It became the norm that if you showed up at 8:01 PM, the music would already be playing. On the other end of the spectrum, there are certain bands and venues I just won’t go to anymore because of their inability to be punctual.

People show up later because they know that the show won’t start on time…This is a vicious cycle that needs to end.

I try to be supportive and not get bent out of shape when this happens. A 15-20 minute wait for a show is not the end of the world. But when a band starts playing an hour or more after the scheduled start time, it throws everything off. Not only do you have to wait for an unknown amount of time for a band to take the stage, the other bands on the bill are pushed further into the night. As a concertgoer, I pay money and support music to see a show, not wait around.

I ask people why Richmond shows are like this, and I get the usual “That’s just the way things are,” and “It’s just ‘Richmond Time.’ Everything always starts late.”

But why does Richmond have its own timetable?

The biggest reason? It’s because people aren’t showing up on time.

“So many times it’s that the audience doesn’t arrive on time–or never comes at all,” says Tracy Wilson of Positive No. “The promoter or venue will push the start time so the band plays to more bodies.”

“It sucks to be the opener (or sometimes the closer) when people show up late or leave early,” says PJ Sykes of Hoax Hunters. “We used to joke that my old band was the band that no one ever saw.”

Richmond loves to be fashionably late. Sometimes they have other things going on or just want to catch the headliner.1

Or maybe they just know that shows won’t start on time, so they show up later.

“I feel like some of the larger venues do keep to the schedule, but when it comes to a lot of RVA’s popular venues, everyone knows to come late to see the headliner or direct support,” says Against Grace’s Johnny Hunter. “I can’t tell you the amount of shows my friends showed up late, missing most of our set, even after I specifically told them what time we take the stage.”

People show up later because they know that the show won’t start on time, which doesn’t because people don’t show up on time. This is a vicious cycle that needs to end.

Late-to-begin shows are disrespectful to everyone. Not just the concertgoer, but everyone involved.

“When shows don’t start on time, it’s a huge disservice to all members of the scene, at every level,” says artist Nelly Kate. “Every artist who opens a show ought to know that they are often going to be warming the room to set the tone for the rest of the bill and the listenership. That’s a huge opportunity to gain genuinely interested followers. For bands that are new to the scene, this should be low pressure, and that’s why it’s so appropriate that it start on time rather than when the second and third acts’ people have arrived. But when openers wait for the room to fill, the show tends to go late and the crowd begins to fade less than halfway into a headline act, if not sooner. Furthermore, anyone who has to work the next day who’s staying out late is less productive on the job, which is not sustainable. If the precedent is that shows will not start on time and will run super late, ultimately, there’s no meaningful synergy and respect between the artists and the community at large because there’s an embedded message at work–one’s time is less valuable than another’s. This should not be so.”

So how do we change this? Is it the responsibility of the artists? The venues? The promoters? The audience? Or does everybody have a part to play?

“For me, it’s all about consideration,” says Shannon Cleary, member of the band Clair Morgan as well as promoter for the annual Commonwealth of Notions Presents concert series. “Every moving part needs to be considered and needs to be proactive in making sure everything is running as efficiently as possible. As a guy in a band with seven members and who curates/organizes a multi-day festival, I do everything in my power to make sure everything runs on time as much as possible.”

The easiest thing right now for bands, venues, and promoters to do: post set times and stick to them. Have music venues run like movie theaters. For the concertgoers: show up on time or expect to miss a band if you’re late. Make “Richmond Time” a thing of the past.

“I think the best way to do things now is just post the set times on the Facebook event, Twitter, etc.,” Sykes says. “If people miss your set, they miss your set.”

The good news is that it’s beginning to change. More shows lately have made it a point to start by the posted time. This won’t happen overnight, but at least Richmond’s music scene is headed in the right direction.

“I do think there are more instances where shows are running on tighter schedules and that’s at least a positive sign,” Cleary says. “Now, change as a whole can probably only start when people disassociate the norm with being against punctuality at shows.”

  1. I’ve never understood why people do this. Many times, the opener is just as good, if not better, than the main act. 
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Andrew Cothern

Andrew Cothern is the founder and editor of RVA Playlist, a music site that showcases events, concerts, album, show reviews, and opinion pieces that focus on the vibrant local music scene in Richmond.

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