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.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Bill Bien on said:

    This is one of many reasons that I love Ashland Coffee & Tea – shows start right on time. And, for my wife and I, there are local venues we are reluctant to go due to their continual late starts.

  2. Mariane Matera on said:

    The audience for night music are the people who work night shifts — at restaurants, at stores in the mall, etc. — they are the only ones who can still be out and unwinding when the bars close at 2 p.m. Often they don’t get off work until 11 p.m. So the first band doesn’t want to play to an empty room, so they make their drummer disappear for an hour, and that throws off the schedule every night. Then the second band, on the crest of the crowd finally arriving, delays and sneaks in an extra song or two, moving them into the magic hour of 1 a.m. Richmond bands don’t know how to get on and off in 30-45 minutes, and tend to take consultation breaks between songs to deal with problems and ask what to play next, as if this was a practice. It’s a lot of unprofessionalism all around. And the venue owners don’t want anyone playing until the dinner crowd, who inevitably will complain about the noise, are safely gone.

  3. Richard on said:

    While I, too, grumble about the lateness of shows and have largely cut back on in-take of live music because I like to go to bed at 8:30, I think it is wrong to categorize this as a “Richmond thing.” Growing up outside of DC and basically living in the Black Cat and 9:30 Club from ages 16-22 (four of those years traveling from william and mary’s campus for shows many times per month), as well as attending shows up and down the east coast, shows routinely start late as a general rule. I think it is important to also think of this as an economical issue; the later the start time, despite whatever is posted, the greater the possibility for better drink and food sales. Venues need to make money in order to book the band’s we want to see. They have their overhead as well as the band’s fees (rightfully deserved). Keep the crowd there and they’ll drink. Everybody wins, except us old folks still into music who can’t truck with the lateness of the hour. Shows are a young persons game: venues know this, as do bands. They make up the bulk of the crowd and spend more money on booze. Still, if shows started earlier, I’d go to more, but I know I would drink far less than those 22-years olds around me.

  4. Andrew Cothern on said:

    I’ve been to shows in other cities too and you’re right, it’s definitely not a Richmond-only thing. It happens everywhere. I just focused on Richmond’s scene because I know it better than other cities’ scenes (And this being RVA News and all). Really liking this discussion!

  5. GP on said:

    Thanks very much for writing this. While I really like the acts that The Camel books and think its great that they had their zoning law changed, the fact that the acts there routinely start at least an hour late is maddening and has made me not attend (and pay the commensurate cover charge) more than once.

  6. Jeb Hoge on said:

    Can we throw crowd noise into the “knock it off” box while we’re at it?

  7. Lisa on said:

    I second the AC&T comment. Kay gets them on stage / on time. I was at a show once downtown, Shawn Colvin. She came out REALLY late, and apologized when she finally did. She said she’d been sitting back there ready for hours, but the venue wanted to sell more booze. I think that’s the case with many RVA venues.

  8. This exact issue has been around since as long as I can remember. As the person who prints and creates the day sheets at a local venue, it pains me when “show” time comes around and 1 of 2 things happens. Either the band doesn’t want to play because there “aren’t enough people here yet” or members have disappeared or are hard to wrangle up around the venue. I feel there needs to be a total mindset shift among venue personnel, bands, and fans in that doors time means when the venue opens, show time is when music starts, and we stick to it. If people start showing up having missed who they came to hear, they will begin getting there earlier.

  9. Mark Elliott on said:

    I thought this was de rigueur everywhere, not just Richmond, and that it was on purpose to sell more alcohol. It’s very frustrating, and it keeps old people like me from going to see shows, but after all, the venues don’t exist to hook audiences up with music. They exist to sell beer to captive audiences. I’ve always wondered if we couldn’t get more timely performances by just paying more at the door.

  10. John on said:

    There’s also the, “the opening bands blow” theorem, let’s just make it a point to only book bands who play good music.

  11. Shaky Smarty on said:

    Definitely not a Richmond exclusive thing. I always thought it was a ploy to sell more alcohol and merchandise to the people waiting around.

  12. BOPST on said:

    Dealing with bands is like trying to nail jello to a wall. And bands, no matter what type of music they play, are adult kindergarten. Something about playing music together lowers the group’s collective IQ.

    What you also have also to take into account is that the more people that are involved with something, the higher the possibility that things won’t run on time. Places that do have shows start on time usually are catering to older audiences with small bills (1-2 bands) featuring music of the subdued, best-heard-sitting-down variety. These types of shows are much easier to run.

    The underlying issue in Richmond is that venues (that aren’t craft breweries) have to be two things at once; they have to be a restaurant and a club. This complicates matters because running a restaurant and running a music venue are two entirely different things. If a venue could just be a venue, things would be able to run a lot smoother.

    Also, success in the music business is measured in pools of vomit. It doesn’t matter what type of music the band(s) are playing; If a band gets on stage and kills kittens and the bar makes a killing at the bar, said band will be killing kittens at the club with regularity. And yes, restaurant owners, even those that just serve food, make their living off the alcohol sales. Adding alcohol to the mixture of anything is going to hinder punctuality.

    Having said all that, live music will never be like going to the movies. I’ve been going to shows for 30-plus years. Sometimes they start on time and sometimes they don’t. That’s just how it is. As someone who books music, I do make very effort to have shows run on time, but as the old saying goes, shit happens.

    If you have strong feelings about how a show should be run, start booking bands yourself.

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