Do You Remember Your First Concert Experience?

Last week Washington Post contributor Theodore Johnson reflected back on the first concert he saw when he was 9 years old (The Fat Boys). He noted that due to Covid restrictions, this summer would a delayed first concert experience for a lot of young people.

Lest you think that my posts advocate for some niche arts and culture insider philosophy, Johnson, a retired naval officer and adviser to the New America think tank, writes much the same as I regarding the value of shared, in-person experiences.  He cites studies that have shown how people value collective experience concerts provide which is all the more reason to lean into those themes in marketing messaging.

And aside from how technologically advanced a major concert is now, I’m most struck by the diversity of the crowds. Maybe there is some social and civic magic to be found in our return to shared, in-person experiences.

Social scientists have identified four themes that help explain the attraction of concerts and the significance of attendance. The most prominent is the experience, followed by the engagement, the novelty and, lastly, the practical reasons.


Engagement matters. Ours is a society that requires frequent positive community participation if it’s to be resilient against the forces pulling us apart. Scholars have explored the impact of attending concerts, and they’ve found such benefits as an increased sense of belonging and improved well-being. Concert audiences “experienced feelings of togetherness,” researchers report. Sharing a love for something facilitates a path to connection.

The Oral Tradition We Have All Joyfully Perpetuated

About a week ago, The Atlantic had an article that answered a question that has been nagging me for quite a few years – are kids still passing down the silly, nonsense jokes, hand clapping rhymes, jump rope chants, etc that we inherited as kids or has technology basically diverted their attention from those experiences?

Apparently I am not the only one who has thought this, because in the latter part of the article that exact question is addressed.

Adults, it seems, are in a perpetual state of worry that Kids These Days just don’t play like they used to, probably because of whatever technology was most recently introduced. Roud and Willett both independently brought this up to me and insisted that it’s not true. As Willett’s research shows, technology and media do influence kids’ play—but that doesn’t mean play itself is in jeopardy.

To be honest, I found myself surprised to care so much because my sister and her friends would drive me crazy repeatedly clapping out the story of Miss Suzy and her baby Tiny Tim. But as I got older I realized that these games are a tie that binds generations together. Cootie shots, cootie catchers, applying and peeling glue off the palm of your hands, sketching out that blocky S on your notebook, all comprise a type of oral tradition whose origins are difficult to trace.

Technology does morph some of the games and occasionally adds new bits of cherished lore. I am pretty sure my grandparents weren’t typing 5-8-0-0-8 into calculators and inverting the device to spell BOOBS. That is the first thing the article validates as a piece of cultural heritage. (Though knowing my maternal grandfather, that is probably pretty tame compared to some of the things he did.)

On the other hand, making up a game based on the Weeping Angels episode of Dr. Who shares similarities to games played at least 120 years ago.

Apparently, this is an aspect of our lives which perpetuates itself in a type of decentralized democracy:

Our nostalgia for our own childhood shapes what kids get exposed to. But Steve Roud, a British folklorist and the author of The Lore of the Playground, emphasized to me that folklore is by its nature not handed down by an authority. It is of the people, by the people—even if those people are children.

People Fund People Not Organizations, So Maybe Do That Even More?

Last month Marginal Revolution blog posted an excerpt of a piece by Adam Mastroianni about how grant funding is broken.  I immediately hopped over to see what he had to say. While his post was mostly focused on grants funding science and the Rhodes scholarship process, there were a lot of common elements that are likely to be familiar to all who apply.

One of the first observations Mastroianni makes is that it is very easy to hack the grant process thanks to relationships you have. This both confirms that people give to people and organizations and that groups that may really need the funding but lack access to guidance, resources and insiders often get locked out.

For instance, most Rhodes selection committees include a cocktail party as part of their interview process. This is a pretty bad way of judging whether someone is a good person, but it’s a pretty good way of judging whether they are pleasant to talk to at a cocktail party, and so Rhodes Scholars are often charming conversationalists and sometimes bad people (see: Bill Clinton, Bobby Jindal, noted anti-vaxxer Naomi Wolf).


For example, the Rhodes Trust probably hopes that by picking the most accomplished college seniors and giving them a super prestigious prize, they will encourage the youngsters to do lots of brave and risky things. Instead, the most popular destinations for my Rhodes cohort were top-tier medical schools, law schools, and PhD programs (guilty), as well as a handful of consulting companies––exactly where we would have gone if we hadn’t gotten the scholarship.

Generally, Mastroianni’s criticism is that most grant programs reward people who are already successful to the detriment of those they say they wish to help.

Mastroianni’s suggested solution is to take advantage of the flaws in the system to force it to reach into the underserved cracks and crevices. His system, which he refers to as “Trust Windfalls,” essentially allows one to provide a benefit to friends–but only once.

But isn’t it unfair that a bunch of money should go to my friends? Also yes. That’s why, if I was an Agent, I should only get one turn at awarding Windfalls. Then I’d have to pass on the responsibility to someone very different from me who I trusted to give out the second round. If I did it right, Trust Windfalls would eventually find their ways into corners of the world that conventional grants could never reach. Just a few trusted links away from me might be a Botswanan ichthyologist or a trucker smuggling medical supplies into Kiev––people who may not speak English or know the right things to say on an application or even realize there are grants they could apply for in the first place. Making Agents temporary also prevents the Trust Windfalls from being hacked: once people know you’re an Agent, every interaction with you becomes a grant application.

If people hate conventional grant funding so much, why haven’t they tried something like this? Honestly, I think it’s because trusting people seems a lot scarier than it really is. Funders have to trust Agents. Agents have to trust their grant recipients, and they have to trust the person they nominate as the next Agent. (We should maybe call the organization that oversees all this the Trust Trust.) Anybody could betray the trust put in them, which would be a huge shame and very embarrassing.

While this is an interesting idea in theory, I think it is overly idealistic in terms of thinking that people will pass the baton on to people outside their own peer group in any great numbers. Funds may be sent to a biologist studying the ecology of a Latin American country or an aid worker in Ukraine, but is the money going to a life long resident of that country or the sister of a person the Trust Agent went to college with who is working for a university program or an NGO with roots in the US? Certainly Mastroianni alludes to the fact something like this could happen.

I think the structure he suggests has a better chance at providing an equitable distribution of funds than the current system. I like the idea of leveraging the problems of current practice into a solution. But the funding source would probably need to be plugging detailed data into relationship mapping software to ensure that the 4th or 5th recipient in the chain not have multiple common ties with the 1st and 2nd people in the chain.

I guess the fact I can identify a flaw and potential solution so easily indicates it is possible to refine his proposal into something workable.  Take a read of his proposal and see what you think.

Can Annotated Press Releases Be A Good Communication Tool?

Last week Aubrey Bergauer made the following post calling the attention of arts organizations to an annotated press release put out by the financial company Ellevest announcing their success in raising $53 million.

While there were some silly annotations like calling Bankrate “smarties” for naming Ellevest “the #1 mission-driven investment offering,” on the whole the annotations were used to provide deeper perspective on the effort that went into raising those funds and telling Ellevest’s story.

For example, the annotation stating Ellevest is funded by 360 women and underrepresented investors revealed:

“I get the game on these raise announcements. I know what the narrative is “supposed” to be: that institutions were throwing money at us to invest in Ellevest.

What really happened: As we began our raise, we had dozens and dozens (and dozens) of meetings with potential investors, and they were going … fine. Fine to good, in fact.

And then … the women showed up.

Caroline Lewis, of Rogue Ventures, heard about our raise and contacted us. … Then, so did Jesse Draper at Halogen Ventures. And so did Jenny Abramson at Rethink Impact. And so did a number of others.

This opened up our funding round to these underrepresented investors — for them to support us (by funding the company), and, we hope, for us to support them (by working hard to deliver a strong return and build their track records). …

The annotation quoting Caroline Lewis saying there is a need for financial products that serve women stated:

“Like, actually serve women. Not just market to women. And not just be a pinkwashed version of your father’s financial advisor…”

The annotated format serves multiple purposes. For those that just want something formatted for publication to quickly copy and paste, there is the surface text. For those that want the deeper story about the challenges and process, the annotations provide threads to follow. The format opens up all sorts of possibilities.

A release about a milestone anniversary of your organization may list all the people who performed for you over the years, but an annotation on some of those artists might note that the trumpet player in the band met his wife at a performance, settled down in the community and now their daughter is the executive director.

You may send out a release acknowledging that dozens of people worked thousands of hours over the course of a year and a half to implement your equity and diversity policy and practices. You may not be able to list everyone in the press release, but you can include them in an annotation.

Obviously, the biggest issue is that an annotated press release is only available on a web format. You can’t squeeze all that into a PDF or Word document emailed to a media outlet. On the other hand, people are getting their information from traditional media outlets less and less frequently so there is a good chance to get eyeballs on your press release by linking to it via social media posts.

People are able to consume as much or as little additional information as they may like. That way you can keep the details short and sweet for people with passing interest or short attention spans, but let those who are really invested and interested in your organization feel like they are in the know by digging into the tidbits in every annotation.

If I recall correctly, it is relatively easy to include annotations on a number of web and blog platforms like WordPress. I thought my blog had that option so I could illustrate, but since I didn’t use it much I suspect it disappeared during an update years ago.