When I was in my 20s I bought general admission tickets for concerts. As I grew older, it was worth the extra money to pay for an actual seat, even if everyone stood up for most of the show. I recently attended a Sting and Paul Simon concert – a show for old people by old people – and was so happy to have a seat in a section full of people who had no desire to stand up for any part of it. It was bliss. However, between turning 40 and that Sting and Paul Simon show, I ended up back in GA for a number of shows, a few of which were some of my favorite shows ever – thanks to being in GA.
If your age doesn’t start with a 1 or a 2, the tips below can help you survive and even thrive if you ever find yourself in GA.
1. Be picky. GA can be painful (see #5, #6 and #8), so only do it for an act that’s worth it to you. For me, U2 is the band that will be worth it until one of us can no longer stand. I saw them twice in the summer of 2011 – once from a decent seat and once from GA – and the experiences were so different it’s hard to believe the shows were almost identical. When I was in GA I missed out on some of the cool lighting and effects like what I saw in Seattle.
But the energy in GA is amazing, and what lifelong U2 fan doesn’t want to be 30 feet from Bono?
2. Get in line early, but not too early. I did GA for three “big shows” within a period of a few months – U2, Foo Fighters and Adele – and I was within spitting distance of the stage for all three. U2 was in the University of Minnesota football stadium, I lined up three hours before the doors opened and I was around the 1,300th person in line – good enough to get me within 30 feet of the stage. Foo Fighters was in Madison Square Garden, I lined up 2-1/2 hours before the doors opened and I was in the 2nd row. Adele was in the Paramount in Seattle, I lined up 30 minutes before the doors opened and I was within 30 feet of the stage.
3. Make friends with the people around you. This is particularly important if you attend these shows alone, which I often do. Even if you’re with friends, getting to know the people around you can help, or at least give you some entertainment. At U2, I got to know the people in front of me in line – who lucky for me were on something like their 11th show of U2’s tour, so they were old pros. Once we got into the venue they showed me the best spot to stand as well as how to stand (more on that later). They also saved my spot for me when I took a pre-show bathroom break. At the Foo Fighters, the people around me not only saved my spot for the requisite bathroom break, but they also entertained me and protected me. The entertainment came from the Jersey Shore group next to me who may have had a few cocktails prior to the show. One of them very seriously told all of us in the vicinity that during a certain song we were all going to pick up their friend and pass her up to the stage. The entertainment also came from the woman in front of me, who I only remember as Debbie Downer because all she did was complain. The protection came from Vinnie, the dad from Queens who was there with his college-aged son. Several times when the crowd started to push forward during the show, he helped block me from the throngs, and whenever he wasn’t able to, he apologized.
4. Manage your fluid intake. The people I met at U2 had this down to a science, but their methods were too complicated for me to remember. I just try not to drink too much, get a bathroom break in about an hour before show time and let adrenaline take care of the rest.
5. Maintain a wide stance. Sort of like that politician in the airport restroom a few years ago, but not quite. This is another tip from my U2 friends about how to hold your spot once the crowd starts pushing toward the stage (which will happen regardless of the show – it even happened at Adele a little bit). Their advice was to stand with your feet a little more than shoulder length apart, with your knees slightly bent and weight slightly forward. Not the most comfortable position to stand in for five or six hours, but it actually works. It allowed me to (mostly) maintain my position despite the crush of the crowd.
6. Don’t wear open toed shoes or flip flops. Your feet will get stepped and jumped on, invariably by some guy who weighs twice as much as you.
7. Bring your camera, but don’t watch the concert through it. First of all, if you want to take pictures, bring an actual camera, not your phone. Almost every picture I’ve taken with my phone at a concert has sucked. Second, don’t try to take a picture when the crowd is pushing. At some point the crowd will stop moving and you can get a steady shot. For the first four songs of the Foo Fighters, the crowd was basically a single moving mass. Once things calmed down I was able to get this:
Finally, don’t watch the concert through your camera. I was guilty of this for about an hour of U2, but then a torrential downpour started and I put my camera away…and got a lot more out of the show.
8. Have Advil for the next day. You will be sore. Trust me.