Fun, Strange Rally On The Mall

A fun and definitely over crowded day on the Mall for Stewart and Colbert. Their demographics are astonishing. Jammed in the Metro we met teenagers who drove in from Philly this AM, other college students who drove ten hours overnight, to soccer moms, Volvo dads and everyone in between. All contagiously upbeat and polite.

Once on the Mall, we were amazed at the crowd’s size. Most of the crowd only saw the back of someone else’s head: the Jumbotrons way too few and distant. An anemic PA system couldn’t deliver the copious dialogue despite initially pleading chants ‘louder, louder’. Even the music came across like a small AM radio. People still had fun. Wherever we went, the crowd gave up trying to hear the program and happily chatted amongst themselves and friendly strangers. People caught highlights on the wind – Cat Stevens, Ozzy, R2/D2, etc.

So some observations. Lesson One: always bring more PA than you think you need. You can always dial it back. Jagger, Townshend, Page and Gilmour learned that 40 years ago first playing stadiums.

Lesson Two: there’s a reason that comedians don’t do stadium shows – it doesn’t work. Much of comedy must be seen, ‘felt’ as well as heard. No matter how funny something probably looked to viewers watching TV, for those who can’t see the stage/a Jumbotron and hear only every third word, a 10 minute routine turns into a unintelligible, endless drone. Skits simply don’t translate to mass standing audiences, packed like sardines. Even with a working PA and more Jumbotrons. And there were too many.

Lesson Three: successful stadium rocker vets know a massive crowd assumes a unique organic identity. Carrying a show over to large audiences requires completely different considerations re pacing and careful building to/easing from crescendos.

Still we and all we saw enjoyed the day. People seemed content just being there, knowing Jon Stewart and Colbert were somewhere in the crowd doing their thing. All around us the audience stayed happily to the end. If Stewart’s closing monologue veered into meandering ‘Jazz Odyssey’ territory at times, he recovered (as did the PA, a bit). It’s odd to galvanize a mass audience to gather from across the nation and close with a plea to be reasonable. Stewart himself admitted he is confused by the purpose. Most stadium acts aim for a more specific emotional release.

The organizers wisely closed with the always terrific The Staples Singers’ I’ll Take You There. Hard to beat that. Time well spent.