When did we start saying "rock concert"?

And when did popular bands stop giving shows? It’s like this: looking over posters, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia from the first ten years or so of rock and roll, you see that they didn’t do concerts, but rather shows. It might be the Buddy Holly Show or the Elvis Presley Show, and I think it was the same for R&B performers as well. I think the Beatles’ performances were still denominated “shows” in this way. I don’t know if that’s how the fans actually referred to the events, but that’s how it was in the publicity and advertising.

According to the Google Ngram viewer, the usage of “rock concert” begins in earnest sometime in the year 1964 and spikes up thereafter like the end of a hockey stick. For me, having been born in 1958, “rock concert” has always been the standard form, with the shorter form “concert” applicable to pretty much any kind of musical performance.

How did this change come about? I do remember that there were a few years around this time when performers and fans preferred the term “rock” to “rock and roll”, presumably because the longer term connoted hokey images of greasily pompadoured guys spinning their poodle-skirted girlfriends around the dance floor. Elvis Presley was rock and roll, but Eric Clapton was rock. “Shows” were show business, like Dean Martin or Bing Crosby, but “concerts” were for serious music, or music with a message. So perhaps there was a conscious effort to elevate the image of rock by adopting some of the phraseology used with classical music?

Or something else?

I was born in 1969 and most of my prime concert-going years was during the 80’s and early 90’s. We still talked about them as ‘shows’ rather than ‘rock concerts.’ That was a term that was certainly around, I just remember it as more something my Dad might say, rather than any of my siblings or friends. I’m not saying it was a particularly bad or dismissive term, it just wasn’t something people who went to ‘rock concerts’ would use. They’d say “Rush is coming to town! Oh dude, I’m totally going to that show!”

This is just a guess, but I think in the earliest days of rock & roll, the ‘establishment’ tended to refer to R&B, pop & rock concerts as ‘shows’ as a form of snobbery. Historically, a ‘concert’ denoted a high society cultural event such as orchestral, or classical music; while a ‘show’ was something low-brow and lewd like Vaudeville. Rock & roll was not considered real music by many adults. Probably a lot of folks refused to call rock & roll performances as ‘concerts’ because that would give it an air of legitimacy they refused to allow.

FWIW, I know that Bill Graham referred to all the ‘shows’ he produced at the Fillmore Auditoriums (East & West) as concert. Janis Joplin had a posthumous live record called "Joplin In Concert’ In 1972.

I had a friend on Facebook post that she was heading to a Dave Matthews concert and another friend, a guy in his late 20s, corrected her and told her it was a show, not a concert.

I recall the term ‘Beatles Concert’ being used in the 60s. It was as if the Beatles were the first rock band good enough to have a ‘concert’. I was pretty young though, I could have easily missed any earlier references.

1967, according to Wikipedia:

"Preceded by several precursor events in the San Francisco area, the first two rock festivals in the US were staged in northern California on consecutive weekends in the summer of 1967: the KFRC Fantasy Fair & Magic Mountain Music Festival on Mount Tamalpais (June 10–11) and the Monterey International Pop Festival (June 16–17)."

Okay, that’s “festival” and not “concert,” but close enough.

You missed your chance to jump in with, “Actually, it’s neither. It’s a hacky-sack convention with some unobtrusive background music.” :stuck_out_tongue:

The term was certainly used in the 60’s. My memory was that a “show” featured multiple acts receiving more or less equal billing, each doing a couple of songs, with the evening held together by a host/master of ceremonies, while a “concert” focused on a headline act (maybe with an opening act or two) that took up the majority of the performance.

There were also “festivals” (Monterrrey, Woodstock, et al), a term pretty much reserved for multi-day, outdoor events.

And this poster doesn’t add anything to the discussion, but you have to admire any promoter that would build a show around Jackie Wilson and Jerry Lee Lewis!

Weren’t artists billed as being "In Concert"in the years prior to “rock” being a thing? Once the term was in popular use, wouldn’t “Rock Concerts” be a natural name for them? (I have no cite, that is only my theory)

This is pretty much as I remember it. A “Show” was multiple acts, equally billed, touring together. Often, there was a band playing accompaniment for the solo singers or singing groups. A "Concert was a starring act with a warm up band or two. And a “Festival” was a multiday performance of major and minor acts who only gathered for that one festival; they weren’t all touring together.

They’re definitely still “shows” in punk/metal/etc. Last year a cop pretending to be a punk was exposed partly because he said “concert.” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2013/03/boston_police_catfishing_indie_rockers_cops_pose_as_punks_on_the_internet.html

I think “rock concerts” mainly applies if it’s stadium rock with a seated audience. I’m 27 and go to shows.

Is it somehow connected with with groups becoming bands, which I think happened around the same time (in Britain, anyway). In the '60s, and well into the ‘70s, pop, and, later, also rock (as we came to make the distinction), was played by groups. Bands were the ensembles played the jazz and swing that your dad listened to (and perhaps only the larger ones at that: I rather think just a handful of jazzers playing together might often have been a group, or maybe a combo, rather than a true band). The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Doors, The Jimmi Hendrix Experience, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin, … they were all groups. So too, I think, in the '70s, were Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Yes, Mott the Hoople, and T. Rex, and Journey, and … . (There was The Glitter Band, in the early '70s, but I have the feeling that the word “band” was being used there in a slightly ironic or camp way - Og knows they were plenty camp - and that most people, despite the name would still have referred to them as a group rather than a band.)

As I recall it, the word group (used in this way) went rather rapidly and decisively out of fashion in the mid to late '70s, about the time of the rise of punk, or maybe a bit before. Suddenly, you sounded like an idiot if you referred to rock or pop (or whatever) groups. Almost overnight they all became bands, playing concerts, and have been ever since.


Also, a more directly on-topic data point: Paul McCartney still thought he was putting on a Rock Show, not a concert, in 1975. (I note that that Wikipedia article repeatedly refers to the shows referenced in the song as concerts, but Paul does not.)

The one that has always bugged me is seeing solo standup comedians billed as “In Concert!” Perhaps it’s entirely correct usage, but my brain wants to reserve the word “concert” for musical performances.

I’ve been playing “shows” for 20+ years, and on opening the thread I wondered when I could graduate to “concerts”.

heathen earthling’s answer makes me think that I’ll never graduate to 'em, because I play mostly bars, to mostly punk rockers of some variety. Any event that draws more money in alcohol than ticket sales is probably always going to be a show, and not a highbrow “concert”.

But, njtt’s answer contradicts that, because I’ve never been in a “group”, we’ve always called it a “band”, any other noun would have been assumed a joke. So, I might have been unknowingly playing concerts all along. It’s possible. I’ve tried to put as much art into the show as I thought could be accepted.

Ranger Jeff’s complaint may hold the answer, though. I bet those comedians were playing in theaters, with chairs. I bet it’s the chairs that makes it acceptable for a bunch of people making noise on a stage for other people to be called a “concert”.
Hmm, I think it’s probably the alcohol (or other non-musical) sales that decides it. When the patron is probably going to spend more at the ticket booth than the snack bar or merch table, then it starts getting called a “concert” - but I bet most concerts have chairs.

Ha! I play gigs (preferably while wearing a black beret and dark glasses).

The link I posted was specifically about a crackdown on punk shows in houses, though. Those are often BYOB events.

The Rock Concert Company in Bayonne New Jersey really messed with my attempt to find early uses in Google Books (that and all the contemporary books for some reason labeled with old years; no, I don’t think that book mentioning rock concerts in the Super Dome was really written in 1879).