Rock concerts can get wild. Hundreds or even thousands of sweaty bodies writhing and moving together can seem untamed, even orgiastic. In truth, though, it’s usually just people communing together, enjoying being wrapped up in the moment and each other’s company.
So, it’s no real surprise when people start making similar hand gestures. But, just what are the many hand signals used at rock concerts? And what do rock concert hand signals mean?
We’re going to look at some of the top rock hand signs to show the stage. These are hand signals people use to communicate their feelings or desires and also act as a great way for the crowd to give feedback to the band rocking out. Because texting isn’t really going to work at a rock concert.
The Peace Sign
The peace sign is one of the earliest rock concert hand signals and also one of the most legendary. This simple gesture is surely one you know. To do it, you make a fist and then extend your index and middle fingers up and out to make a V shape.
It didn’t start with the Hippies in the 60s…
This symbol was first used during the Second World War and was called the “V for Victory” sign. It was used by many different peoples because “V” represented victory in English, victoire in French, and vrijheid in Dutch.
Since a victory could signal the end of a war and the beginning of a time of peace, this sign became the peace sign that it is known as today. It was flashed at concerts, especially during protest songs, and so it became wrapped up in Rock and Roll. Now, you can find it on hippie-inspired rock t-shirts.
But be careful!
In most places, it doesn’t matter which way your hands are facing. But in the UK, making this hand signal with your palm facing you and the back of your hand facing the person you’re signaling is offensive. This is also called the “V sign” and is equivalent to giving the middle finger to someone.
The Devil Horns / Rock On
The hand signal you’re going to see most often at rock concerts these days is probably not going to be the peace sign. Instead, the devil horns, also known as the “Rock on” or “horned hand signal,” has taken over.
Out of the many hand signals used at Rock concerts, this one is the most famous Rock concert hand gesture.
This gesture also starts with a raised, closed fist. Then you raise your index and pinky fingers both straight up, so it looks a bit like horns, hence the “horned hand” name.
Where did this hand signal come from?
It turns out that no one knows how it got into rock culture. This is an old gesture that has many different meanings in different cultures around the world. In Italy, it’s used to counter the evil eye, sort of like crossing your fingers for luck. Over in India, it represents a lion. And, in Wiccan tradition, it’s a sign of the Horned God.
Ronnie James Dio is often credited with inventing the “Rock on” sign, although he denies it. He replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the singer of the legendary Proto-Metal band Black Sabbath.
Ozzy used to salute the audience with two peace signs, so when Dio took over, he actually thought he should have a sign, too. He used the horned hand, which he may have borrowed from the dark psychedelic band Coven.
Wherever it came from…
This popular rock concert hand sign quickly became associated with Metal. Since lyrics were often brutal or even satanic, many people thought this was a salute to the devil and called it the devil horns.
But, in reality, this sign means “Rock On” and is a way to tell the band, “I am enjoying the rock music you’re playing!” These days, you can find it now plastered all over rock t-shirts and posters galore.
The I Love You
There’s a lot of confusion between the I Love You and the Rock On signs, and for good reason. The only difference between them is the thumb.
In the Rock On sign, the thumb is closed in, but for the I Love You sign, the thumb is extended out like the index and pinky fingers. Only the middle and ring fingers are left closed.
Where did this sign come from?
Well, this is one I can easily answer. It’s also known as the “ILY sign” in American Sign Language (ASL). It combines the signs for the letters I, L, and Y, hence the name.
This is a sort of slang or (ahem) shorthand used by many deaf people, and it’s a lot broader than just I love you. It can show appreciation for anything, including great Rock music.
So, you’re often going to see people doing the ILY sign shoulder to shoulder with people doing the Rock On sign at concerts. That’s just how it goes.
The Heart Variations
In the last 5-10 years, hearts have really taken off with audiences. I don’t mean real hearts – I mean hand and arm gestures that look like hearts, of course.
There are at least three ways to show a heart, which of course, sends an “I love you!” message to the band you’re rocking out to. The first two are similar.
With the first one, you can open your hands and curve them like a circle with your fingertips touching and thumb-tips touching too. Then bend the fingers in even more but keep the thumbs straight, making a heart shape.
In the next variation, you do it upside-down…
You hold your fingers down and touching with the fingers straight and curve your touching thumbs, so they make the divot of the heart.
The third variation uses the whole arms. You can hold your arms up and then curve them back down to meet at a center point on the top of your head. Sure, you’ll look ridiculous, but you’ll get your cutesy message across.
Our final hand signal used at Rock concerts needs a prop. Lighters Up is just what it sounds like (and also a Lil’ Kim song).
You hold a lit cigarette lighter up in the air and maybe sway a bit. This is a cool way for the audience to interact, and from the stage, it looks like a beautiful sea of glimmering lights. This became a big thing back in the 80s as a way to tell rockers, “My heart is blazing in tune to yours.”
Of course, these days, smoking inside is a thing of ancient history. And, since everyone has a phone in their pocket, a replacement is done with flashlight apps on or just lit-up screens. A little less romantic, if you ask me.
Interested in Rock and Roll?
Also, you need to hear those jams. So, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Noise Isolating Earbuds, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best iPhone Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Plus, don’t miss our handy guides on How Long Do Concerts Usually Last and Music Festival Style – What To Wear To A Music Festival for loads of useful tips and advice.
The Many Hand Signals Used at Rock Concerts Explained
So there you have it, the main hand signals used at rock concerts. We got to look at the history of the first real signals, like the peace sign and the Rock On. There’s also the I Love You, which was borrowed from sign language, and different hearts that mean the same thing. Finally, lighters (or phones) up rounded off our list. These hand signals are a way the audience can interact with the band on stage when the music is crazy loud.
They show enjoyment and engagement with the music and encourage the band to keep on rocking. You can also be sure of one thing – hand signals aren’t going anywhere, and there will be new ones to come in the future.
Until next time, Rock On, and happy listening.