A Concert Tradition in a New Light

By James S. Granelli, Times Staff Writer

Cellphone users can surf the Web, watch TV and send pictures to friends.

Now, the ubiquitous glowing gadgets have all but replaced cigarette lighters to set the mood at concerts.

At Monday night's Hollywood Bowl performance by James Taylor, for instance, the audience lighted up during the folk singer's classic "Fire and Rain."

As smoking wanes and cellphone use skyrockets, "the cellphone has replaced the lighter," said Janette Baxa, spokeswoman for the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City . "It's pretty incredible when you look around and see thousands of people light up."

At last year's "Sound of Music" sing-along concert at the Bowl, most of the 18,000 patrons lighted up their cellphones as they sang and swayed to "Edelweiss," venue spokesman Mateo Velasco said.

"It's better than lighters because you see blue and green and other colors glowing," he said. "And it's safer."

Although most concert organizers ban cameras and recorders, they can't do too much about cellphones, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of concert trade publication Pollstar.

"Unlike the record industry, which sued over free downloads, the concert industry did not use draconian measures to stop cellphone use at concerts," he said.

Singers such as Bono of U2 and Chris Martin of Coldplay take advantage of the trend.

Bono urges the crowd to send text messages to support relief for impoverished areas of Africa . Martin asks those with phone cameras to take a simultaneous snapshot, creating a strobe of flashes and a glow of screens.

The use of candles, then lighters, at concerts reportedly began with folk singer Melanie, who played at Woodstock in 1969 and was inspired to write "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)." The song became a top 10 hit the following year and spurred fans to light candles at her shows.

Cellphone companies point out that handset features typically carry options to keep the backlight on. Kathleen Dunleavy of Sprint Nextel Corp. noted that using the video feature could produce a much brighter light.

It was only a matter of time before companies cashed in.

For $2, MauiGames Inc. in Hawaii sells "Encore … Encore," a program that puts an animated flickering flame on cellphone screens.

But it works only on certain Nokia handsets sold mostly in Asia and Europe , MauiGames President David Fradin said.

"The flame will last as long as the battery lasts," Fradin said.

Times staff writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times


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