Re: Are Tall People Obligated to Stand in the Back at Concerts? / by Tenley Garrett

I normally don't feel compelled to respond or react in writing to articles I come across online. What's the real point, anyway? Sitting here tip-tapping my fingers across my keyboard from the comfort of an air-conditioned high-class Starbucks nestled in posh little Geneva Switzerland, convincing myself that anything I say or do from behind the protection of a screen will have any impact.

That's why I've accepted that this article is serving no greater purpose outside of a selfish one; that indeed, the reason for writing this in the first place stems from a single-minded human instinct to make myself heard. Here goes.

Stephen Thompson of NPR is responsible for curating a music column called The Good Listener, which to me, sounds like the dream job. He wrote an article a couple years back titled, “Are Tall People Obligated to Stand in the Back at Concerts?” Really, that’s the title that I read when I came upon the article's page. But what appears at the top of the tab is actually “Do Tall People Have to Stand in the Back at Concerts?”

The wording is only slightly different, but the tone takes on a new personality in each.

I think tall people do indeed have a social obligation to minimize the obstruction they create; to avoid front rows, stand against walls (or, even better, in front of pillars), and otherwise forfeit premium positioning between band and audience.
— Stephen Thompson, NPR


I think Stephen brings to the spotlight a common grievance that has been shared by a wide community of concert-goers who find themselves roughly in the middle percentile of the height spectrum. It’s true, us 6-foot-somethings are outliers. We disrupt normalcy and infringe upon the world around us– a world which is practically incompatible with those who require extra legroom, higher ceilings and longer pants.

He recounts a specific incident where a man significantly taller stood directly in front of him, obstructing his line of sight throughout the entire set as Stephen tried hopelessly to sway back and forth and catch brief glimpses of the action.

Reading this made me cringe– which, admittedly, may have prompted me to respond.

I cringe because, as a 6-foot-2 woman, I am made aware every day of my towering presence. Whether it’s a stare, baffled remark from a stranger, or walking into a concert myself, I know I stand out like a sore thumb. I know that, by standing in a room full of people, I run the risk of taking away from someone’s experience by the simple fact of being present.

I know because I am taller than all of my friends. In almost any social situation, it’s me who’s the basketball or volleyball player, the Scandinavian mail-order-bride, and the backdrop for any group photo. And if I ever find myself in a police lineup, I expect I’d hear something like, “There! That’s the girl who blocked my view at the 1975 concert!”


But I know things are equally difficult for those on the opposite end. Those who, to society, get the “shorter end of the stick” (I can’t resist a good pun when I see one).

I’m not sure why we’ve come to view physical height as an indicator of our own personal success, self-worth, intellectual value and potential.

If I ever complain openly about something I feel has hindered me as the tall person I am, I’m quickly shut up by people who think I’m being unfair to shorter people who perhaps struggle with an inferiority complex or feelings of inadequacy in social or professional settings. Or just not being able to reach the top shelf in a grocery aisle (truthfully, I cannot empathize and therefore cannot pretend to understand that daily frustration).

But Stephen, here’s where you’re wrong. Your solution in this world of highs and lows and in-betweens is that one outlying group should make concessions at personal expense in order to alleviate the grievance of another, a grievance which has resulted, objectively speaking, from nothing more than chance in a genetic lottery.

Tall people didn’t choose to be tall, just as short people didn’t decide at their conception that they would forever have difficulty at concerts and grocery stores. The fact is, this is life.

I am often hyper-sensitive and hyper-aware in such settings as concerts, and this is why I automatically stand toward the back or off at the sides. I try always to minimize my hindrance and occupy the least amount of three-dimensional space, because I hate to think that I’m burdening someone behind me. At every show, I’ll turn around and ask the people beside or around me, “Would you like to stand in front of me? Are you able to see?

I think this is the courtesy and consideration that Stephen didn’t receive during his incident, which perhaps gave him the impression that tall folks are out-of-touch with their realities.

But can we blame short folks or tall folks for creating this misunderstanding and headache?


Why don’t we instead look at what music venues are doing to react to this phenomenon? Are there venues that have looked into raising floors in the front or back to counter the height imbalance and provide shorter people higher ground from which they can view the set at the same level as their taller peers? Or, conversely, a section toward the front which is lowered so that taller people and shorter people alike can enjoy the show up-close?

I’m not sure why we need to pin the blame on anyone. If your view of the show is being blocked by one of us tree-dwellers, be a decent human being and ask kindly to move past us in order to not have spent $30 on an experience you could get back home with Spotify and some surround sound. 

I speak for myself here– and not at all on behalf of everyone over 6-foot– when I say that, chances are, I will be just as understanding of your height struggles as I am of my own.