I went to a couple of shows recently where I found myself thinking about how much venue choice impacts the audience, which in turn impacts the musician's performance.
First show in question: The Holmes Brothers played The Barns at Wolftrap. The Holmes Brothers are friends from my days working at their management/booking agency Concerted Efforts. I used to do advance work on their dates, traveled with them when they went to Singapore, and I'm a fan as well so I go whenever they're in town - to say hello and get my musical fix. They're a blues/gospel/R&B trio known for their three-part harmonies, a killer take of Amazing Grace, and a style that zigzags between sacred and secular. The Barns is a beautiful, great-sounding, converted barn in Virginia not far from DC that holds 300ish in a seated room. I'd never been there before because it's not accessible by public transport.
The key word in that description is seated. The more concerts I attend and put on, the more I believe there's no better way to kill the energy in a popular music performance than to make everyone sit down. Even if you can have a drink in your seat.
Of course, whether the venue is seated or general admission is only one of many factors that go into which venue an artist plays: which venues are available, how big are they, where are they, is the date standalone or part of a longer tour, how is the tour routed, who else is playing in town that night, how recently has the band played the area, what's the ticket price, who's the intended audience...and hardly least of the factors: how much does the venue want to pay the artist.
The second show in question: I saw Yeasayer at the 930 Club a few days later. Yeasayer is the "it" band of the moment and the show had been sold out for weeks in advance. (I scalped a face value ticket in front of the club the night of the show.) The place was packed with people who wanted to dance. But there was no room to dance because it was too crowded. This isn't strictly the club's fault because some government third party sets capacity on a performing space, but have you noticed that club capacity according to fire code is always so much more than seems possible?
So much of live music is about the exchange of energy between musician and audience, where each feeds the other to create a unique experience. Which is why I get annoyed when people are forced to chair dance because dampening that exchange of energy doesn't serve either artist, audience or venue.