Musicians, Just Say No to Wearing Shorts on Stage!

Teenage boys pick up guitars, drums and the like in hopes of achieving one attribute.


Wailing with your voice or an instrument in the sleek attire of the bad boy can make any nerd desirable.  There’s three-quarters of a century of evidence in the history of rock-n-roll to prove it – spanning from Jagger to Justin Timberlake to Jack Antonoff.

wearing shorts bobby musicians
The many shorts of Bob Weir

But now that summer has arrived, some musicians are compromising their sexy status and marketability by caving into the high temps and humidity and committing the ultimate performer music fashion faux pas…

They are wearing shorts on stage!

The shorts-on-stage trend dates back to the middle “Me-Decade.” From my not so scientific observations, I believe it all started with Jimmy “Margaritaville” Buffett and his hard-partying Parrothead fans.

Buffett is the ultimate anti-airs rock star.  On the surface, he is the wonderfully unassuming everyman schlub wholly dedicated to sharing good times, the guy most likely to buy underage kids brews at a 7/11.  His fans come to his shows to cut loose – to drink, smoke, sing, spaz dance, puke and pass out in a joyful heap.  As a survey of his many businesses and $500 million in net worth demonstrates, he’s also probably one of the most financially savvy of all popular musicians.

With those dollars, he can basically wear whatever the hell he wants, just like Bill Gates.

A congregation of Buffett and his Parrotheads is not a night at the opera, so the tuxedo is out. For Buffett’s crowd, it’s the cargo shorts that are the below-the-belt uniform. Why? Mainly for their capacity to contain all your party essentials in their many securable pockets – the saltshaker, lime, sunblock, hacky-sack, rolling papers, roach clip, Visine, bail money, etc. etc.  And for Buffet and his Coral Reefer band, it’s the same uber casual uniform – cargo utility and comfort topped with a splashy Hawaiian shirt, one worn without the slightest hint of hipster irony.

wearing shorts musicians

The pictures here are just the tip of this wide stylistic depravity, the plague that breaks out on festival and concert stages whenever the warm weather arrives. 

The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Eric Clapton, Eddie Vedder and even Metallica’s he-man bassist James Trujillo are just a few of rock’s cargo short wearers.  Donning these baggy atrocities (or Weir’s ‘Bobby Shorts’) makes all hints of cool and sexy go out the window, in the image of the musician and the music that emanates from him when he is so lamely attired.  How can you play the blues in Docker cut-offs Mr. Clapton?  P-Funk’s late great guitarist Gary Shider, who was known as “Diaper Man” for the  giant one he wore on stage, cut a far sexier image than Clapton in his cargos emoting “Have You Ever Loved A Woman?”

wearing shorts clapton musicians

You won’t be lovin’ any woman any time soon in those shorts, Slowhand.

The cargo dilemma is most prevalent in the jam band circuit with the likes of Dave Matthews, with mega-selling stars whose improv laden performances are largely free of any showbiz theatrically, especially the sparkly wardrobes prescribed by professional stylists.

But more appalling are the multitude of classic rockers of the past who chose to perform in jeans shorts. 

The cut-off jean shorts for men trend emerged in the early-70s and was mercifully snuffed out by the middle of the next decade. But in that time, everyone from Def Leppard and The Eagles to Lemmy and Willie Nelson had been captured in performance photos in their Levi’s short shorts, ones that live forever on the Internet.  And unlike their cargo brethren whose formlessness made the sexy vanish, a pair of tight jeans shorts on a rocker left way too little to the imagination.  They were a neon Times Square billboard for a rocker’s trouser snake and his delusions of his sexual prowess, an overt visual assault of all five senses from a far less P.C. time.

The 80s also gave us two more offending shorts to contend with – the Richard Simmons-styled slit-leg running/aerobics short and the ghastly Spandex. 

Sting and his peroxide-locked band, The Police, frolicked in the former in the video for their hit, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” And as for the Spandex, it was a favorite performance attire of Bon Jovi, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinsin and a whole host of other metal mavens.

This story would not be complete without a visit to the short-short sins of The Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

One of the most famous images of Brown was caught when he was performing wearing hot pants at a 1974 concert in Zaire, one that took place before the Ali-Foreman fight.  Combined with his cop-like fu Manchu moustache and his Conquistador boots, this artifact completely sums up the over-the-top, anything goes fashions of the mid-70s.   All is forgiven when you consider the greatness and longevity of Brown’s 1971 hit, “Hot Pants” and the even more outlandish 11+ minute jam, “For Goodness Sakes, Take a Look at Those Cakes!”

wearing shorts musicians

But when it comes to wearing shorts on stage, there is but one rocker who gets a pass: AC/DC’s eternally young Angus Young.   

Now 67 years old and still rocking his Aussie schoolboy outfit with shorts, Young first started wearing the attire in April 1974.  The shocked and delighted reaction of the audience was one reason he kept wearing it.  The other was that it helped him move fast on stage to avoid the bottles being thrown at the band in the pre-Platinum-selling days.

Musicians, the hideously wretched Nancy Reagan told us all to just say no to drugs.  I’m telling you to just say no to shorts on stage this summer, even as global warming is pushing the temps into the triple digits.

Just. Say. No.

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