Near the end of the music-biz bloom of the late '90s, goth-grunge performer Michael Knott, a contemporary-Christian music veteran, was asked at the seminal and sprawling Cornerstone Festival how he felt people should behave in the music business. The interviewer was aware that the artist and businessman had suffered much label exploitation, received finger-pointing abuse from conservative audiences, and endured spoiled relations with fellow creative egos out of control due to success (or lack of same). Knott's response was historically noteworthy; he wearily, exasperatedly offered, "Be nice to each other?"
It's no coincidence that this sentiment was uttered at a music festival. Festivals are great places to share the joy of music with fellow fans ("believers") and show your love of music and each other. That means you're sharing a belief in something bigger and more wonderful than you alone, and being connected to others should improve what goes on from you and around you, not frustrate or sour the experience for anyone else. Ubiquitous rants against organized religion in the music press to the contrary, the basic tenets of formalized religion are generally meant to improve things. Being nice—aka the Golden Rule, treating others as you wish them to treat you—is in every honest religion and transforming system of belief. Communion—sharing music, drink, and food—should hone everyday experiences among others. And yet there's often bitter competition among bands for tiny amounts of the door at packed and sparsely attended shows; among people squeezing in to see shows (the defensive placement of the body in context of the spectacle); and sometimes even in the ways musicians and front-line workers see each other's roles in the music scene.
"Just as easily as you can get an enormous charge out of being in a place with hundreds of like-minded folks who are all singing along to the same song, you can also totally suckle the energy from an event by sweating the little stuff, scuffling with someone about who was where first (or whatever the case may be), and sending forth that ripple effect of bad energy," says Matt Gervais of Seattle band Curtains for You (playing Reverb Festival on Saturday). "The second everyone starts being sweet to everyone else, you get that perfect concoction of shared experience through music and affirmation of humanity through selflessness and kindness."
We can still find many traces of organized religious "worship" in all sorts of popular music, even if we believe the music is strictly about rebellion. But those literal meanings behind lyrics or the origins of sounds are not as important as how people treat each other when listening to it and experiencing it together. The Golden Rule is too often neglected—especially at music festivals. And even by believers.