Back in 1984, when Rush announced a stop in Wichita, Kan. for its Grace Under Pressure tour, I and a group of like-minded high school friends eagerly spent every penny we had to buy tickets to the show. We were stoked beyond belief at the thought of seeing the group perform “Tom Sawyer,” “Spirit Of The Radio” and other hits. Secretly, though, I was terrified. The concert was general admission, which meant, in my mind, a homicidal stampede to claim a spot nearest the stage. The Who’s 1979 Riverfront Coliseum disaster, in which nearly a dozen fans were crushed to death, came to mind, as did this scene from Pink Floyd’s 1982 film The Wall (scroll to 5:50).
The night of the show, when the gates burst open, we all sprinted to the stage … where we stood silently looking around at a mostly quiet, empty coliseum. It was the most anticlimactic concert rush (see what I did there?) you could imagine. And, for a while, it seemed I’d gotten through my first general admission trial without the slightest inconvenience. Eventually, however, the pit in front of the stage did fill up, getting more and more packed until I could barely move or breathe. I came to learn that I don’t much care for that kind of proximity to my fellow humans and eventually threw in the towel, pardoning my way through the crowd until I found a clearing in the nosebleed section.
You have to balance comfort and convenience with any desire to have an intimate, up-close moment with the bands you love. These days, when it comes to massive shows, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer a nice, civilized, seated arrangement, even if everyone really ends up standing for the whole concert. For smaller acts at clubs, I’m fine lingering near the back where I can sip a drink without worrying about someone knocking it over and where it’s easier to get away from chatter. But if it’s someone I really want to see up close, my preferred spot is tucked in one of the corners of the stage, even if it means being right in front of an enormous amp. The key is a really good pair of earplugs. This is also a pretty easy place to inch into if the place is already packed up front.
But even if I see a hundred shows in a year, I’m a mere novice compared to the amount of bands Bob Boilen goes to see. I asked him if he had any secrets or strategies when he’s out at the 400-plus shows he’ll go to in a year. “I used to place myself sort of in the center of a space for the best sound,” he says. “But what I’m after at a show isn’t only the sonic experience. As a journalist, I’m trying to suss out the talent and band chemistry. I love nuance, so these days I try and get right up front. I want to see eyebrows raise when band mates surprise each other with inspired moments or mistakes. I want to see if the musician cares. And I glean much of that from the face.” Bob withheld his secrets to getting up front without spilling his beer.
But how about you? Where do you stand or sit to see shows? Do you have a strategy for navigating the crowds?