Recently I responded to a Facebook post from a friend in the touring business who was anxious about an upcoming concert that he was taking his son to. He was – his words – freaking out at the thought of being in with the masses of fans. I was struck at how many people responded that they too were nervous about having to be in a crowd. The irony is not lost on us that our line of work – one that puts us smack in the middle of hundreds or thousands of people – save for a barrier and a laminate, many of us would faint.
I have that same condition in a fairly big way. There is a name for my condition and it’s called enochlophobia, which is not, as it turns out, a fear of spiders. I’m not afraid of spiders. Much. As you get older you tend to more easily (and gratefully) accept an official sounding, clinical diagnosis. But until recently all I knew was that whenever I would be in a situation where lots of people were gathered – usually, in my case, concerts – I got dizzy, anxious and off balance. Not quite a full-on panic attack but in the ballpark. Enochlophobia is a fear of crowds.
This condition has been with me, in varying degrees, for years. It is internally embarrassing and potentially debilitating. Outwardly I am pretty good, hiding it well, bringing the goods and doing what I love. I can hop up on the stage with gear, talk shop and be fine. The production folks who tour have become friends as well as colleagues and there is a comfort there that can mask my trepidation at the crowd situation. I have a great rapport with them and it helps immensely.
I know, though, that when those doors open and the crowd comes in I’m in trouble. Add the concert lighting, suddenly to black, strobes and yes, even the PA, and I become weak in the knees. Once in a while a well-intentioned tour manager provides me with tickets to seats – usually up front with, what I see as, no escape route. In those rare instances I sit and mostly look down at the floor until the show was over. Even then I have to wait until much of the crowd leaves before I feel comfortable enough to stand and walk out of the venue.
Early on, self-medication helped – thank you Hennessey Lounge among many others – but that’s no way to cope. Slowly I began talking about the condition to friends and family. They all knew that I hated crowds but I took things a step further and really laid out the deal to them. My wife, Claudia, has known for years and has literally propped me up but I needed to expand the communication. So, I did and it helped. A lot.
I also made the decision to, as much as possible, contain my show visits to sound check times. That’s where my work is and that timeframe works well for everyone. Every show is different but for the most part early afternoon is a good time for all. Once the show begins the crew and artist are doing their work and don’t need me hanging around.
I do have to relay one instance where being in the crowd was a real treat. I was invited by Darryl Woolfolk, drummer for the legendary Gladys Knight, to their show. He had worked hard for a couple tickets at the last minute and so, with my wife at my side, we made a date night of it. I was sitting in my seat as the band made their way to the darkened stage just before the show began, feeling a little lightheaded but safe. As the crowd was roaring, anticipating the entrance of Ms Knight, my phone vibrated with notice of a text message. I looked at it and saw this. “Yo, you OK? It’s Darryl. Wave to me.” Gladys Knight’s drummer sent me a message just seconds before kicking off their first song! I waved to him, he waved back from the drum riser and everything was fine.
I could find a job that doesn’t require interaction or involvement with large crowds (in small crowds I’m the life of the party), but that’s not me. I live for the very things that throw me such as the house lights dimming, the crowd roaring, and the downbeat to kick off the show. I’ve grown comfortable in being uncomfortable and that is OK with me. Actually, it’s better than OK. It’s great.