'World-Class Creeps,' Stormtroopers and Clueless Moms: When the Audience Becomes the Show

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Stagecoach
Music fans are seen during day 2 of 2014 Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 26, 2014 in Indio, California.

People go to concerts to see the performers, of course, but watching the audience can often be every bit as entertaining. For the stars looking out from the stage, it’s often like giving and getting a show at the same time. Eric Church has talked publicly about his fans sometimes having full-on sex right in front of the stage. And who can forget the viral video from November 2014 of a fan throwing up right after Dierks Bentley pulled her up onstage to sing with him in Pa., or this clip of a stage diver at a Montgomery Gentry show in Alabama that ends with him being hauled off on a stretcher by paramedics?

Earlier this month, Columbia Nashville’s David Friedman posted a hilarious photo on Facebook of a fan in the front row at a Steven Lee Olsen show balancing a china-plated steak dinner on the edge of the stage and eating it while watching the show. “Thought I’d seen it all... until I saw this guy,” wrote Friedman. Unfazed, Olsen reportedly suggested to the fan that he might add some healthful greens to his dinner.

For industry members, fan watching is often a show within a show. Dave Logan, PD of classic country Twang 106.7 Fort Myers, Fla., saw a fan get turned down after proposing to his girlfriend during a concert. Kris Rochester of the syndicated Tony and Kris radio show says two women chased him down at a Kenny Chesney show, begging for backstage access. “When I declined, they both flashed me and kept trying to block me,” he says. “When they realized it wasn’t working, I heard one of them say, ‘Come on, Mom. He’s not going to get us back[stage].’ ” And Country Weekly’s Tammy Ragusa spotted “two hippie chicks” in a Winnebago with a sign in the front windshield that read “Will fornicate for Garth Brooks tickets” at Country Jam in Eau Claire, Wis., a few years ago.

Tom Scott, now PD at B107.5 and US 96.9 Binghamton, N.Y., recalls an early-career Taylor Swift concert in Charlottesville, Va., attended by primarily tween and teen girls, plus one “60-plus gentleman who arrived solo and stuck out like a sore thumb. He spent the show [in] the side seating just a few feet from the stage staring at Taylor with binoculars. Guy was a world-class creeper.”

But label promotion reps like Friedman and Mercury Records’ Sally Green have literally seen it all. Green recalls how early in Easton Corbin’s career, a radio station asked him to perform at the city’s new hockey arena open house. The arena was attached to a convention center that happened to be hosting a Star Wars convention the same day. “Not only did the hockey mascot decide to hop onstage to join Easton mid-performance, uninvited,” says Green, “but there were dozens of Storm Troopers and Darth Vaders sprinkled throughout the audience. At one point during a song, Easton and his guitar player looked at each other and just started cracking up.”

Green also remembers being with Lauren Alaina at a radio station show in a city park. Near the end of the show, a little girl approached the stage by herself. Alaina took her hand and sang the rest of the song with the child dancing beside her. When the song was over, no parent came to retrieve the girl, so Alaina did her next song with the girl still dancing happily onstage. “As Lauren was about to sing her final song -- and her tour manager and I were contemplating what to do -- we saw a woman with a toddler on her hip walking toward the stage,” says Green. “Relieved that the girl’s mother was finally coming to get her, imagine our surprise when she didn’t remove her little girl, but instead tried to hand her toddler over to Lauren! Lauren was a total pro and ended her show with a little girl, a toddler and a completely clueless mother all dancing around her onstage.”

Other fans are just intent to get their licks in, sometimes literally. Thirty Tigers’ Stephanie O’Donnell remembers covering a Tyler Farr show in Tulsa, Okla., while she was filling in at Columbia Records. “There was this rather loud, boisterous woman -- wearing a ‘Your Trailer or Mine?’ shirt -- in the front row, screaming things at Tyler like, ‘I’m going to lick your face,’ during the entire show. I kept my eye on her during the autograph line after the show. Just as the photographer was about to take the picture, she turned her head and stuck her tongue in Tyler’s ear.”

Billy Currington seems to be a magnet for eager fans. Mercury’s Charlie Dean, who says she is always amazed when folks bring their babies to shows, can’t forget the fan who had a sleeping toddler in her arms in the front row of a Currington show in Milwaukee. But “that didn’t stop her from trying to grab Billy whenever he went near her.” At another Currington show, says Dean, “a man thought it was fun to expose his girlfriend’s breasts every once in a while. She finally slapped him and made him stop.” Green also has video from the time a fan sent an Elvis Presley impersonator back to Currington’s bus to sing “Viva Las Vegas” for him for no apparent reason.

Sometimes the “crazy fan” turns out to be a radio station employee. Curb Records’ Lori Hartigan remembers working a Carrie Underwood show 10 years ago when the road manager ran up and urgently informed her that “a naked man” was in the meet-and greet-line. Turns out the “naked man” was KNIX Phoenix mascot Barrel Boy, whose costume is a barrel balanced on suspenders and a pair of cowboy boots. He was asked to don a shirt before meeting Underwood.

Label and radio reps also have stories about their own unintentional concert mishaps, like K102 Minneapolis morning man Chris Carr. Swift’s mother was giving him a tour of backstage sets at one of the singer’s shows when he tripped and broke the turret off one of the superstar’s castle props.

“I felt just awful,” he says. “I found some tape and put it back together the best I could. I fixed it just enough so when the show finally started, [co-host] Maverick said, ‘Well, it looks like they made some renovations and added a window to the castle.’ I am mortified to this day.”

Blaster Records’ Bob Reeves also shares an embarrassing story from his days at Epic Records when taking a then-brand-new artist named Miranda Lambert to a station show in Frederick, Md. At the singer’s request, Reeves was charged with taking photos of her set. While he was perched on a side-stage staircase, he dropped his phone, and it landed under the stage.

“A curtain was covering the trussing of the stage all around it and the show was full on, so it was both dark and loud in the room,” Reeves recalls. “I stuck my head under the curtain to see if I could spot my the phone … and began to reach down… and suddenly fell under the stage in the pit, about 8 feet down! I landed Superman style, so I jammed both wrists when I hit and my legs got caught up on the supports, so it was a struggle just to get upright.

 “Now, I’m completely under the stage,” he continues. “The floor is 2 or 3 feet above my head, and the only way out is straight out the front through the 2-foot slit between theater floor and stage. I tried a number of times to jump up and pull myself, but the space was so restrictive that I couldn’t get enough leverage. On probably the fourth or fifth try, a guy sitting in the front row saw me struggling and grabbed my arms and dragged me out into a heap right in front of the stage while Miranda and the band kicked out ‘Kerosene!’ ”

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.