Concert Totem Rhetoric

A new day, a new topic, a new mood board.


2012 was my first music festival experience. My friend picked the wrong time to use the restroom and had trouble getting back to me. I had a yellow rain poncho that I held up as high as I could for her to locate me. Since then, I’ve been interested in concert totems. The following pictures were all taken by me in 2015 at Bonnaroo:

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There are countless tutorials for creating a totem: from The Scene is Dead, DJ List, Complex, Insomniac.

This Guide to Bonnaroo is what I used when planning to attend.

For more concert totems, this is a list of the 10 Coolest Totems at Coachella. (after totems were banned)

The goal of most concert totems is to allow large groups to reconvene at different shows amidst huge crowds. The totems need to stand out from the crowd while being easy enough to carry and meeting the specific festival’s restrictions. The only totem I have created was to locate our tent (pool noodle shark, playing a banjo). It was effective for that use. The totem was deconstructed on day 3 and taken to shows (less effective, but it was fun). My friend took the pool noodle shark and ended up appearing in a video that was filmed for Mumford & Sons (precisely at the 1 minute mark). My cardboard banjo might be in it for a millisecond– I’m still not 100% sure that’s my sign, but I think it is. If you’re curious and would like to see the video montage my friend made of the many pictures and videos of her days at Bonnaroo, click here. It features additional totems and festival visual rhetoric.

I am interested in the design and construction as well as the affordances of concert totems. Additionally, the signs should fit the ethos of the festival and be employed according to concert etiquette. I do not know for sure what form my project will take.


5 thoughts on “Concert Totem Rhetoric

  1. I like this new idea. I think you will have fun exploring the creative and quirky within these concert totems; exploring the beliefs that accompany these totems would be one idea you could explore. I was thinking about the beliefs because I was struck by your comment that one place banned the concert totems–an unkind choice, I think.


    1. I am not sure what the vibe is at Coachella and I do not know the reason for the ban, but it could be to prevent the audience’s view from being disturbed or it could be to prevent corporate sponsors from being insulted or there could have even been injuries from previous years’ totems. A cursory investigation reveals that most insiders enjoy the truly random totems or totems from pop culture moments. In one of the pictures above, the Rodney Dangerfield head would’ve been more random and interesting than the Doge face which was perhaps a but overused.


  2. What an inventive perspective! Consider exploring ideological and iconographic mythos around totems historically to see if it ties in to the communal experience of music festivals/gatherings.


  3. I did a a little research, and I was thinking about how etymologically and anthropologically totems are tied to “spirit.” Might you tie the spirit of the occasion or the unified belief (you mention ethos) that rallies around concert-going?


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