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Why You Need to go to a Concert ASAP

A couple of months ago, I was talking to a friend’s mom about a concert I was planning on attending. She responded with something along the lines of, “Aw man, I’m jealous. I need to go to a concert soon. I haven’t had that feeling in a while.” My first thoughts were (1) Cool mom, and (2) I knew exactly that feeling she was talking about. It struck me as odd that I understood what she was talking about with minimum description.

When I arrived at the concert, I paid particular attention to “that feeling.” The best I came up with was complete and utter freedom. But it seemed as if everyone else was right there with me. Everyone knows the words, the melody, the rhythm. Hands move up and down to the same beat and lips move in synchronicity. You look to your left and become best friends with someone you’ve never seen before as you bond over your favorite song. But the next morning, when I was grabbing a cup of coffee, I saw tons of strangers, so why didn’t I feel the need to link arms with them and sing along to the song that was playing in the coffee shop? I felt insane, but I knew there had to be some reason behind why people act differently at concerts. Or sporting events, or rallies--at any event including a crowd, honestly.

Collective effervescence: “it’s that glowy, giddy feeling where your sense of self slackens, yielding to a connection with your fellow, synchronized humans,” according to New York Magazine. This is a psychological phenomenon that tends to occur in large crowds. The term was introduced a century ago by French sociologist Émile Durkheim to explain the revitalization of religion through a sense of togetherness. Studies of live music performances replicate Durkheim’s findings. Granted, no one says, “I need my desire for collective effervescence to be filled.” This basic human desire can be fulfilled simply by being a part of a large crowd.

It has been proven that when one experiences collective effervescence, psychological health benefits follow. Using a metric called the Tendency for Effervescent Assembly Measure (TEAM), sociologists have been able to demonstrate that people who rate higher on the collective effervescence scale tend to have a greater sense of meaning and to feel lonely less often.

A student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor wrote a thesis on this topic. He attended six music festivals by himself and conducted interviews with friends and family from his home and also with students at the university. After each interview, he categorized each subject as having either low or high effervescence. Those with high effervescence scored almost 25% higher for a feeling of “high community,” approximately 60% higher for a feeling of “high spirituality” (not necessarily religiously affiliated spirituality), and, surprisingly, about 20% lower on drug use during the music festivals. I will definitely be presenting this data next time my mother is hesitant about letting me attend a concert.

In extreme cases, people have recalled having out-of-body experiences during periods of collective effervescence. Deadheads, the name given to Grateful Dead fans, have cited the process of entering a concert venue as a metaphor for leaving their ego at the door and becoming one with the crowd. Speaking of music venues, most concert-goers will that agree small, intimate venues are better. They prefer no seating and a full crowd, as long as there is room to move around.

In one interview, a man described his experience of collective effervescence as euphoria, bliss. He said that at times he was either so moved, happy, or overwhelmed, it brought him to tears. This made me feel better because it is not uncommon for me to shed a tear or two when I hear a favorite song performed live.

Another interviewee simply said, “It feels good, man.”

- Ada Cohen '18