How to have the best time at a concert
Having been to over a dozen shows just this past year alone, I think it's safe to say that I'm somewhat of a pro when it comes to attending concerts. You might not think it at first, but there's definitely at strategy to the game. Sure, some of the enjoyment-level for that evening might involve the consumption of alcoholic beverages. But there are a number of other factors to consider. Let me walk you through some important things to keep in mind before going to your next live show!
1. Do your research ahead of time.
This is kind of a no-brainer, but make sure that the band/artist you're going to see is worth the money that you're paying. If you are already a loyal fan, then this isn't really a big thing to think about. But if you're bored one Saturday night, and are choosing a concert at random, do a little bit of digging beforehand. If you have Spotify, I highly recommend browsing the band's discography. Check out some live performances on YouTube - Can they actually sing? Are they entertaining? Do they at least sound like they've rehearsed before? All good questions.
Some other key things to look up before the big night ::
- Is the show all ages, 18+, or 21+? You might not think it's important (and sometimes it isn't), but it will give you a good feel for the crowd and what to expect ahead of time (for all you fellow planners out there). In my experience, all ages or 18+ shows tend to be a bit more rowdy (hormones and such). The 21+ shows are usually more relaxed (people can actually handle their alcohol) and personally, I feel less like the random old person in a sea of kids. But the genre of music can determine a crowd's vibe as well.
- What is the venue layout? Is it one big open area? Or is it simply just a small room behind a bar? Are there multiple levels? Is it outside? This will help with your plan of attack for being able to actually see the band, which is why you're there in the first place.
- Is your ticket for General Admission or are you buying an assigned seat? Local, smaller venues (and outdoor fests) are almost always GA (aka standing room). If you're going to a theater or an arena, you probably have the option to buy an actual seated ticket vs standing with the rest of us commoners. This is important to know, not only for the cost factor, but also for your arrival time.
2. DRINKING IS FUN (& OPTIONAL) - BUT DO SO WISELY.
If you're of age, enjoying a cold beer or drink at a show is a nice little treat. I mean hey, you ventured outside of your apartment. You took a bus and the El to get across town. And now you're standing in a room full of strangers, probably for multiple hours and pretty late into the night. I think that you deserve to enjoy a beverage while waiting for musical bliss to start. Getting a drink is probably the first thing that you should do (again, only if you're 21+, of course!).
I go to a lot of shows Han style (ahem, solo)...sad, but true. I don't really mind it though - it's nice to do things just for yourself sometimes. But anyway, my first course of action after arriving at the venue is to get a drink in hand. It gives me something to do while I start on Point #3 (see below), and let's be honest, it loosens up the mood. But be warned! If you drink too fast during the openers, you'll have to take a bathroom break right around the time that you should be establishing your location for the headliner. And if you're alone, sadly, you'll lose your spot. If you drink too many, well, then you'll just be drunk and will miss out on the music, which is why you went there to begin with. Also, you don't want to be that drunk kid who yells out , "I love you, man!" during the emotional acoustic song, right? It works best if you can plan your drink intake so that you either hit the loo midway through the openers (so you can still make your way back to a good location), or else sip on one drink and call it a night.
But all that being said, if you're with a bunch of friends...then I say, go for it! They'll hold your spot (and your hair back, hopefully). You only live once, right?
3. Location, location, location.
OK, so you've scored tickets to a great show. And you've secured a drink (or two or three). Awesome! Now comes the tricky part. If you're short (like me), listen up. Getting a good viewing spot is KEY. Unless you really don't care about staring at the back of some tall guy's head for 3 hours.
If you had the option to choose a seat at the time of purchase, then you're pretty much all set (see: Chicago Theater, SPACE, United Center, any large arena venue, really). Choose wisely, based on that little virtual seating chart - how much are you willing to pay for a decent seat? Sometimes it's worth it to spend a little more, if it means you don't have to watch the whole concert on the jumbo-tron. In my experience, being towards the front on a second level is better than being on the floor but way towards the back. Stadium seating is your friend! [And if you get the chance to sit in the Loge section, do it.] Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
If the whole place is GA (see: Schubas, Lincoln Hall, The Throne Room, Aragon Ballroom, Metro, I could go on forever..), then your location for the night is crucial, and pretty much locked in by the time the penultimate band comes out. Remember: half the battle is knowing what the venue layout is like (refer to point #1 above), but the other half depends on what you do once you get there. Which leads me to my next point in the struggle that is General Admission...
4. Know What You Want and Have a Plan of Attack.
First and foremost...
Can you see the stage? This potentially fun-destroying issue can be managed by a few things :: a. arriving way early, or at least by the time that doors open, b. bringing a friend/friends, or c. locating yourself near a landmark like the FOH mixing booth. Let me further explain...
- If you get there early enough, you'll probably be able to get pretty close to the stage. Or at least you can maneuver your way closer to it. I recommend this if you're short, if you LOVE the band, if you aren't afraid of possibly being pushed against the stage, or if you won't feel awkward making eye contact while you place your phone or camera right up in the band's faces. I don't usually go for this spot - depending on the stage height, one might end up very close to breaking the personal space barrier, and that's awkward for me. But if you really want to be close enough to possibly get sweat dripped on you, by all means, go for it! Arriving early can also give you the best pick for balcony seating. Venues like Concord Music Hall, Metro, Lincoln Hall, Aragon Ballroom, and The Vic all boast balconies, which are first come, first serve. But be forewarned - while you'll be able to see everything (great for picture taking), you also might be removed from the energy of the audience. It really depends on what kind of mood your in and what kind of artist/band is performing.
- There are many advantages to bringing a friend or friends with you to a show. Obviously, you have the companionship. And someone to share in the awesome experience. Another great, often overlooked, benefit is that you have someone to hold your awesome standing spot if you need a bathroom break, or if you need to get another beer! Both equally important, in my opinion. Of course, there are some downfalls - for instance, you have to worry about all standing and staying together, which limits your maneuvering abilities. But generally, it's more fun to see a show when you have someone else with you! And then you can tag-team the bathroom/bar breaks.
- Most venues have the FOH mixing booth - aka the sound guy's little box - towards the back of the room. But sometimes it is in the middle (Aragon Ballroom, Lollapalooza..). If you failed the first two points above (got there late and came alone), then your best bet might be to stand near, against, or in front of, that darn booth. You can lean against it. You don't have to worry about being moved around when people walk by. Usually, there aren't too many people around if it's in the back. It gives you that wallflower security without actually being against the wall. This spot is particularly good for places like Concord Music Hall, Schubas, and Bottom Lounge, especially if it's a sold out show.
What are the people like who are standing near you? If you're short, look for equally short people to stand behind. And try to stand just close enough behind them so that Shaquille O'Neal can't squeeze his way in between you two. If you're there alone, pick your concert-neighbors wisely - if they seem like they'll end up bothering you, then you should probably move. Do you really want to be standing right behind the tallest guy there and his PDA-loving girlfriend? Are you maybe too close to the group of teens who are going to start a circle pit soon? Is there a creepy looking guy who keeps trying to make conversation? Are the bros behind you really drunk and keep touching your hair unsolicited? Sometimes, your neighbor isn't your friend, and then it's time to move to a new, less annoying location.
Do you have enough space around you to feel comfortable?Sometimes, being bumped and pushed and packed in like a sardine might not be worth it, and at this point, it could be more enjoyable to stand towards the edge of the room or further away from the front. That small window of space where you can actually see the stage might not be worth it if someone's touching your butt with their purse all night. Plus, what if you get the urge to spontaneously break out in dance? You need room to groove, my friend.
Choosing where to set up camp is so important, especially if you care about being able to see whoever is up there on stage, and it has to be done pretty quickly before the whole place fills up. I think the only exception to this rule is if you're attending an EDM show....then there's really not much to see. My best advice - when you get to the venue, test out the vibe of the crowd as soon as you can. By knowing the kind of music that you're in for and observing the crowd mix, you'll be able to feel your way to the best spot in the room, whether it's on the balcony or towards the wall or as close as you can get to the front. And once you're there, stay there!
5. Be in the moment and have fun!
Obviously, right? If you've chosen to spend your hard earned money on tickets, you probably already care enough about the artist and the music. Now you're there purely for the magic of the live performance. Unfortunately, one thing that can get in the way of this experience is the cell phone and/or camera. Granted, I spend a decent portion of a show taking videos or photos in order to supplement my reviews and share little pieces with you. And I use my phone to take notes on the show and setlist. But it hurts the overall experience, and I try as much as I can to watch the show with my eyes, not through a lens.
Enjoy where you are and lose yourself in the moment - you're in the company of talented musicians who are bearing their passions and feelings to audiences night after night, in an open and honest way. The people around you are having fun and making memories, and you're lucky to be hearing some truly great music. I can't tell you how often I go to a show and halfway through, I get this feeling of pure happiness because the music is just that good. It runs through my soul, and it makes me so excited and happy to be a part of that moment. While there's power in being a musician, being in the spotlight and reaching millions of people with your music, there is also a power in being a fan, and appreciating those who can put into song what others are feeling. Every musician is a fan of someone else, has looked up at someone else's stage, and was inspired in just the same way. Live shows have the power to connect an artist to an audience, and vice versa, and that's really what it's all about.