It's become commonplace for bands at the end of their shows to exit the stage, with fans cheering for their return and the night finishing with a few more songs. But where did the act of the concert encore come from? You might be surprised to find out that it predates the rock era. In fact, it dates back a few centuries.

Where Did the Concert Encore Come From?

According to the U.K.'s Gramophone, the concert encore dates back to the early 18th Century, when audiences used to take in Italian opera concerts in the U.K. WQXR closes in on the exact start even further, tracing it to the Baroque days, where there was some evidence of an encore taking place as early as February, 1712.

As WQXR adds, the big difference though, was that this particular mention of an encore wasn’t one with admiration. Instead, it was used in a satirical comment in The Spectator, a British paper unrelated to the modern magazine of the same name. According to Grove, the comment read: “I observe it’s become a custom, that whenever any gentlemen are particularly pleased with a song, at their crying out encore or altro volto, the performer is so obliging to sing it over again.”

An early definition of "encore" was the "repetition of a piece that has just been performed." This often comes with the vocal demand of a reaction from the audience, but was often seen by the performer as a nuisance.

In fact, for the first performance of "The Creation," Haydn printed a request stating that while he was always flattered by the approbation of the public, if the audience was kind enough to approve of his new work would it kindly show its appreciation by not asking for encores so as not to interrupt the work’s continuity.

Over time, the audience request for an "encore" got so out of hand, that by the end of the 19th century, at some of the great choral festivals, it was the custom for some exalted individual, usually the bishop, the dean or the mayor, to decide whether an encore should be given and which it should be. By the 1900s, many concert halls took to printing ‘No Encores’ in programs or even displayed huge placards making the declaration.

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So When Did Encores Come Back in Style?

Ennui Magazine notes that Broadway played a role in encores coming back in the 20th century. Audiences would call actors back to the stage after a performance concluded, which then carried over to the rock music world in which encores now came at the end of a performance as we know them now.

Encores Weren't Always So Strategic

As the rock 'n' roll era evolved, encores became more commonplace. But that wasn't always the case. In fact, a number of big name acts used to balk at the idea. Elvis Presley, at the suggestion of manager Col. Tom Parker, wouldn't play them. That led to the famous line, "Elvis has left the building," as screaming fans were often left wanting more as the singer exited the venue after playing a full set.

The Beatles, who were also prone to screaming and mobbing fans, also notably avoided encores as a way to escape the venue before their fans could catch up to them.

Who Popularized the Concert Encore for Today's Rock World?

As Ennui Magazine notes, that honor is often accredited to Bruce Springsteen, who was known for his epic performances capped off with the concert encore. Washington Post columnist David Segal in a 2004 article noted,

“It was the Boss who transformed the rock show into an iron-man event, playing four-hour marathons, staggering back to the stage with the E Street Band time and again, their sweat and stamina part of the spectacle.” Spingsteen would play three hours before starting the encore. “You left a Springsteen show drained, and you assume he left on a stretcher,” added Segal.

Over time, other acts started delivering multiple encores, leaving fans with plenty of high notes to end their show. And it became a sign of success to include them, so more and more acts employed the encore as not to be viewed inferior to their peers. But with the spectacle becoming bigger and bigger, the spontaneity of having the crowd cheer them back faded as bands built the encore as a scheduled part of their shows, now catering to special production queues and venue curfews.

What's in an Encore?

As stated, the spectacle has become a bit tired over time. Part of that is due to the encore becoming quite expected. Most fans will be able to tell you when the band walks offstage which notable hit has not been played, knowing that it is probably coming up when the group returns to the stage.

In today's rock world, with setlists often accessible with a trip to, it's only when an artist adds something truly unique to that show that the encore seems fresh to audiences. This could be the debut of a new song live or a rarely played song returning to the performance after an extended absence. Otherwise, encores are often reserved for one or two of the biggest hits, finishing out on something the fans have already made popular.

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Gallery Credit: Lauryn Schaffner

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