Pit etiquette: Unspoken rules of self-governed rock-show rowdiness

by DGO Web Administrator

Mosh pits, holy shit. To a casual onlooker, they look like a lot of jackasses beating the snot outta each other on primo floor space. But there’s a method to pit madness. Recently, Reverend Horton Heat came to Durango. I knocked through the pit to dance by the stage, occasionally getting bashed from behind. My pal stayed closer to a wall away from the fray. The next day, he asked me what the heck all the punch-dancing and shoving was about. So, here goes a brief explanation of pits and the unspoken rules that guide ’em.

There ain’t a wrong or right way to watch a rock show, but I get the most out of live music when I’m stage-front, dancing close to the tunes, or in the pit. When I balcony-stand or back-of-the-room it, I’m watching the music. When I’m wrecking the pit, I feel a part of the music. People pinwheel into the pit for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s being fully immersed in the present. Others want a raw release of aggression in a controlled setting. Many people who identify as female find satisfaction at subverting the expectation of the use and capabilities of female bodies. There’s also a helluva lotta folks who join a pit because there’s a sense of community not present in most daily settings, i.e. if you fall, there’s someone to pick you up. Also, straight up, humans have danced together for thousands of years and modern music requires fresh forms of movement. An added bonus: a pit is so chaotic that no one judges you based on how you rhythmically connect to the world.

Different genres of music have different pits. Big ol’ pop music fests have massive amounts of people who press together and sway like a flesh-wave. Ska shows have skanking pits. Hardcore crowds have less bounce and more floor-punching, windmill arms, spin-kicks, and outlaw-style handkerchiefs across faces. Metal pits range from individual headbanging to slam dancing to a “Wall of Death,” where an organizer faces off the crowd and the sides battle-run at each other full-force. Punk shows sometimes have circle pits where people shove around in a circular manner or they turn into WTF free-for-alls of pogoing and banging about. Even these are only loose guidelines; the only thing you can count on is if yer in the pit, yer gonna get hit.

Most pits are full of good folks more about unity and communal energy than annihilating one another. When the music amps up, someone middle-of-the-room-ish starts shoving, the crowd parts, a pit is formed. Here’s the unspoken rules of that self-governed riot:

Pit formationAre you stage-front grooving to the band? Don’t get irked when you inevitably get shoved. You are the front of the pit. It ain’t personal. Usually, no one is purposefully jostling you. Also, hey new kid, don’t deliberately, full-flailingly thunder into the frontline. It’s like hammering a handcuffed hamster. Those folks are watching the band, not the pit.

The edges of the pit are still the pit. If you’re on the direct sidelines, have an arm up for fortification, a firm stance, and don’t get pissed if someone accidentally whams into you and/or your drink gets spilled.

Pit drinking is dumbSpeaking of drinks, don’t be the asshat who brings one into the pit. It will spill. You will cause people to fall until the floor stickies up.

Pit eating is even dumberDon’t eat in the pit. Who brings cornbread into the pit? Rude. Weird. Stop it.

Throwing crapDon’t. Half-full beer cans soak an audience and hurt. So do shoes to the back of the head.

Know the crowdIf you’re at a punk show and everyone’s got a studded jacket and mohawk, you’re gonna get punctured. Deal or don’t dive in. Or, for example, you’re in a metal pit – be ready to bash against ginormo metal folks.

Moshing doesn’t mean gropingIf you feel someone up in the pit, you’re gonna get effing hit. A lot. Then kicked out. Then, hopefully, banned from the club.

Pick ’em upIf you see someone fall, stop and help that person up. If you happen to see glasses, a wallet, or a phone fall, pick ’em up. If you can’t get the item back to the person, pass it to a safe edge of the stage.

More crap to leave outta the pitDon’t wear your backpack, satchel, or purse – it can become a handle to swing you by or spill everywhere. Wear contacts or have a friend hold your glasses. They’ll get knocked off and inadvertently stomped, or if you pocket them, one body wallop later and they’re smashed. Also, tuck your longass necklace in your shirt so it doesn’t get busted. Got a wallet? Hope there’s a chain on it or you have deep pockets.

Don’t be a douchetrollIf you accidentally elbow someone in the effing throat, help them out of the pit. Say sorry. Make sure they are OK. Similarly, don’t kapow all over the crowd and try and engage folks not interested in the ruckus. And, seriously, pits aren’t fights. The golden rule in any of this is to slay the space but make new pals while doing it.


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