Crowd dynamics, music, and magic at Fenway

Effect Measure alerted me to this very touching video, which shows the crowd at Fenway coming to the rescue of a kid who starts to lose it while singing the national anthem. Revere’s set-up first, then some thoughts of my own:

I don’t know what’s going to happen with swine flu. I do know that if there is a nasty flu season we’ll all get through it better if we help each other, not run from each other. It’s national independence day in the US, so I thought this clip of the crowd singing the National Anthem (hat tip, Paul Rosenberg at Open Left) at Boston’s Fenway Park (home field of the Boston Red Sox baseball team) was appropriate. It was Disability Awareness Day and to recognize it the anthem was being sung by a handicapped youngster. When he got nervous, the entire ball park came to his rescue:

And indeed they do come to his rescue.

I don’t want to indulge in too much Fenway gush, even though it’s an incredible ballpark. I resisted the Red Sox Nation thing a long time after I moved to Vermont. I figured I was masochistic enough to deal with the weather here, but not masochistic enough to be a Red Sox fan. (I was also turned off by what seemed a racist ownership by the previous owners, and one ugly experience back in the ’80s when a Sox fan was abusive to Jim Rice and called him the N word. Then again, a HUGE white guy two rows in front of the harassing fan finally had enough, stood and turned toward the harassing fan, and said, viciously, “You leave Jimmy alone!” He did.) But this current team and ownership won me over.

Last year I had the good luck to attend a splendid game on Aug 29, when Dice-K shut down a hot White Sox team. The game was great. But the stunning treat came in the middle of the 8th, when, as happens every night at Fenway, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was played over the PA system during the team changover. I knew about this and thought it cute: They’d been playing this for a few years when, a few years back now, the crowd started singing along with the chorus every night. “Sweet Caroline” became a sort of theme song.

I knew this, but wasn’t prepared for the experience. That ballpark creates a wonderful group experience anyway, and especially so on a beautiful late-August night when the team is winning a taut and important game. But the power of song from so many voices, sung with the delight of being part of this huge social force — Red Sox Nation — was extraordinary. I started grinning, and singing along, as the chorus started its slow, steady rise in pitch and volume — “Hands….. touchin’ hands … reaching out … touching me, TOUCHING YOUUUU.. SWEET CAR-O-LINE!” It’s a perfect song for 35,000 people to sing together, and the rising sound simply swept you up with it. I was laughing. Everywhere around me people were grinning and laughing, some near tears with the sheer improbable wonder of it.

And then the coup de grace: The sound people had at some point had the genious to mute the three-note horn blast after the “SWEET CAROLINE!” … with the spectacular result that the crowd completely took charge of those three notes. “BUM BUM BAAAA”

Good times never seemed so good. I would never have imagined what an impossibly infectious, joyful thing singing a hokey song with 35,000 other people could be. It was the most incredible large-group social event I’ve ever been a part of. I want to go again.

This crowd is used to singing together. I can’t help but think that came into play during the signing of this National Anthem.

Here’s Sweet Caroline from a recent game:

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