The main purpose of this guide is explaining how one can get to the front at a rock concert and survive there with maximum comfort and minimum painful consequences – therefore, it focuses on queuing. However, the advice in it can be useful for show-going in general, as well as for queuing for tickets and whatever other situations involving prolonged outside queuing followed by a crowded event. All of recommendations in this guide are based on real live experiences of a by-now-somewhat-experienced queuer, and therefore, tested personally. That is not to say that I am inviting you to sue me if some or other piece of advice does not work for you. I AM , however, inviting you to contribute your own bit by pressing the ‘comment’ button down below.
If you’ve ever watched video footage of live rock shows, there is no way you wouldn’t have noticed the first few rows of the audience, going crazy even by the usual rock concert standards. To the even slightly initiated, this area is known as “the bar”, named after and defined by the barrier separating the crowd from the stage. Now, if you’ve ever been to a rock show yourself, chances are you’ve found that the area in question is practically impossible to reach if you show up by the time stated on the ticket as “doors”, or even an hour or two in advance. If that was not the case, you either had the misfortune of attending not a very good show, or the unspeakable luck of having a good show held in a place that doesn’t know how to appreciate it. In other cases, the bar is somewhere up there with the Nobel prize in terms of accessibility. If your moshing skills are up to scratch, you can probably count on making it to the third or second row, but even from there, any attempts to move forward will require a great deal of rudeness and earn you perfectly deserved jabs and kicks (and if there’s any justice in the world, you will not make it to the bar in the end).
So, why would anyone want to be at the bar in the first place? If that is your question, you’re reading the wrong article. If, however, your question is – how, then, does one get to the bar? – you may find some interesting tips further on.
Of course, if you already know what is so special about the bar, or even The Bar (or THE BAR!!!), you already know the basics of getting there, which boil down to: you show up as early as you can, and you queue. There are, however, nuances that may seem tiny and insignificant, but in reality, can make or break your concert experience.
If you’re a queuing pro that proudly displays a number under ten on the back of their hand and is at the front at every show, you may find this piece, at the very least, amusing. If you’re new to serious queuing, I promise you that this guide will be useful for you. And if you’ve never been to a show yet, or never made it to the front, but are dying to be there – this guide will be invaluable in making sure that the bar will remain ‘to die for’ only metaphorically.
You may find that I’m taking a fun event like a rock show far too seriously in providing such detailed instructions, but I myself am proud to say that smart queuing allowed myself, an overweight and not particularly athletic person with a history of near-fainting after prolonged standing-up in stuffy premises, to enjoy four club shows of My Chemical Romance (and one festival show). At three of those five, I was at the bar and watched plenty of fitter people being lifted out of the crowd halfway conscious. So, based on that, even if I don’t expect you to follow my advice religiously, I feel justified in saying that smart queuing is key to an awesome show, and I’ve learned the basics of it well by now.
This important piece of strategy aims to answer two questions – where to go and when to go there.
Being familiar with the area around the venue is important, and not only in terms of knowing where the stage door is, on the off-chance of autographs (although this is an extremely valuable piece of knowledge as well). If you’ve lucky to have a show in your hometown, chances are you already know everything you need to know. But if you are travelling from out of town, state, or, like myself, country – preliminary knowledge cannot be underestimated. You’re on a mission!
Look up the address of the venue before you book your stay and/or tickets. What you may innocently assume to be a city may turn out to be one of its suburbs, of a yet-unknown distance and ease of getting to.
Did I say ‘getting to’? That, in fact, is the lesser of your two transportation problems, because the worst that can happen if you take your time getting to the venue is getting there later than planned – but unless you’ve prepared your retreat in advance, you may find the ending of your otherwise fantastic evening ruined by a ridiculous taxi bill or even missed buses/trains/planes home. Let alone – the horror! – of realising you have to leave the show early.
To avoid such uncomfortable scenarios, make sure you know where you’re going and how you’re getting back. This also plays a part in selecting a place to stay (unless you’ve got friends in town) – you’re most likely on a budget, so instead of grabbing the cheapest room you can find, as the natural instinct urges you to, consider if a hotel within walking distance would be cheaper in the end, all travel costs considered.
Now that you know where you’re going, you must decide on the crucial issue of timing. It depends entirely on the popularity of ‘your’ band in the area, with an added influence of the time of year. Sometimes, even noon on the day of the show may be sufficient. Sometimes, 24 hours in advance may be too late. This is something you must decide for yourself, and temper the result with the degree of your own willingness to make sacrifices. For some, two days in a tent won’t be a problem, while some consider getting there in the morning a chore. In my personal experience, mid-morning of the day of the show has earned me three bar spots and one second-row place (that last one, in a country with a very committed fandom).
A useful thing to do would be scouting the venue area the night before. Not only will it give you a feel for the time it takes to get there, but you’ll also get the idea of the hardcore degree of the local fandom. Rule of thumb: if more than ten people are camping overnight, the degree is ‘pretty damn hardcore’.
This means both the stuff you wear and the stuff you take with you. Careful thought is needed for both of these categories.
Whatever your show costume is, several important issues must be considered:
– Shoes. Probably THE most important part of your attire. It falls to them to keep your feet warm while waiting, toes intact while in the crowd, and ankles whole when jumping. Whatever the weather is, flip flops are out the window. So are most heels. Your sprained ankle won’t give a damn if your Victorian Gothic costume called for heeled shoes. Boots are a good choice, but go easy on the hobnails and metal-capped toes – some venues actually warn that they don’t allow those in (and some shun flip-flops as well). Converse-type trainers or running shoes are probably your best bet. My own pair of old and battered Adidas, marker-painted to fit my costume, has taken me through five shows, and my previously-sprained and normally sensitive ankles haven’t complained once.
– Coat/jacket/something with sleeves. If it’s anything but summer, you’ll need to bring one to keep warm. If it’s summer, you’ll need to bring one to avoid sunburn. Here’s a useful tip for first-timers – if you need to wear a jacket (and I just explained you should), don’t just wear any. This is neither cinema nor theatre, folks, so don’t expect an opportunity to use the cloakroom without saying goodbye to a front row place earned by a hard day’s queuing. In my experience, I saw one and only one venue where one could dump their coat without losing their place, but it was an beautiful example of hitherto unseen venue organization, and an exception rather than a rule. If you make it to the bar, you have a hope of dumping your coat on or in front of it, should the security allow (they don’t always). The rule of thumb is – if your jacket doesn’t have sleeves long enough to tie around your waist, make sure it’s also one you don’t mind becoming a trampled heap on the floor. Because that’s what it’s most likely going to end up as. Fragile and/or valuable things in pockets are probably not a good idea.
– Hand gear. Fingerless gloves are great for several reasons – they protect your hands when you’re holding on to the bar, your palms when you’re clapping hard, and you from being unrecognisable in any videos you may want to find of the show. If your costume allows, invest in a pair.
– Bag. There are only two places where your bag can be during the show – on you or underfoot. So either way, make sure there are no breakables in it. A bum bag (fanny pack for you US lot) is a convenient article; so is a neck pouch. A backpack, while comfortable for you, will not be appreciated by people behind you, or appreciated by them far too much as they help themselves to something from it. If you’re going in sans bag, make sure that whatever’s in your pockets can’t easily fall out if you jump and/or fall.
– Gear. You are most likely bringing a camera along, or intend to take pictures with your phone. Either way, a neck or wrist strap is an absolute must. Without it, your precious gadget and even more precious pictures are only one enthusiastic shove away from becoming a heap of plastic on the floor.
General advice on gearing up: be nice and practical. I’ve already mentioned shoes in that respect. As far as jackets go, leather’s good, but studs are not. Neither is anything that can catch in people’s hair, skin or clothes. This includes hairpins. Headbanging with long sticks poking out of your head, you will present a danger to everyone around you. Your hands will be up in the air and often in people’s faces, so any bangles and rings you wear should be free of any sharp bits.
The desired degree of comfort is another thing you need to decide on ahead of time. Are you going to show up with nothing but your ticket and camera/phone and slum it for the sake of not worrying about any stuff? Or will you bring enough stuff to open your own B&B for the duration of the queue? Depending on the weather conditions and the time you’ve chosen to wait, the choice may be made for you. Turning into a frozen husk after a night camping out at near- or below-zero temperatures without proper warm things is perhaps not the best way to show your dedication.
The choice of things to make your queuing time survivable and not too uncomfortable is, once again, up to you, but I can give you one universal piece of advice – bring a blanket. Seriously, bring a blanket. In any climates with daily temperatures under +30°C (86°F), nights and mornings are cold, sitting in one place for a long time is cold, pavements are cold. In any climates with daily temperatures higher than that, the sun will burn you and the pavement, and the pavement will burn you too. Not to mention that having something to sit on gives you a sense of temporary ownership of the bit of pavement you’re occupying, and is a useful place marker when you leave for a bit.
Some people tend to buy cheap blankets that they dump before going in, turning the outside of the venue into hobo paradise. Those who can afford to make a trip back to the hotel and dump the stuff in their room can be more sustainable.
A wonderful compromise of comfort, convenience and sustainability is a space, or rescue, blanket. Sold in tourist stores for as little as a couple of euro, they don’t weigh anything and fit into a pocket when folded (which means that even if you don’t want to hang on to it forever, you can take it into the venue to use after the show, if your plans include waiting out for the band). They also tend to look like metal foil, and being wrapped in them makes you feel like an alien, or a jacket potato.
In short, whether you choose to be a hobo benefactor or an alien potato, stop pretending to be tough and bring a damn blanket.
You found the venue, you got yourself the softest bit of pavement, you got your number or perhaps started the numbering yourself, and now you have anywhere between eight and forty-eight hours to wait. There are some things to keep in mind.
Food. What you eat doesn’t matter, provided you don’t go around getting food poisoning (and I imagine that anything overly loaded with smelly substances like garlic may get a few appropriately stinky looks in your direction once you’re in the crowd). The two things that are important, however, is that you do eat, and when you do so.
You don’t want to go inside either starved or stuffed, as neither fainting nor vomiting is likely to enhance your concert experience. Having a moderate-sized meal, preferably including protein and smart carbs (hint: sweets are NOT) some three hours before ‘doors’ time is best. If you feel hungry after that, carbs of the lower IQ range make a good pick-me-up. If you’re dieting, contemplate making today an exception. This particular day is not about healthy eating, but about making sure you body doesn’t bail on you unexpectedly. Of course, ultimately, only you know your own body best, so choose whatever eating method works for you.
Drink is extremely important in any weather. If it’s cold, keep warm (if you plan to dump your things in a hotel, consider a thermos, as it can make one warm drink last hours). If it’s warm, keep hydrated. You’d normally never hear me saying this, but go easy on the caffeinated drinks (this includes coke and energy drinks). While caffeine has different effect on different people, its impact on the bladder is pretty universal. A large cup of coffee just before the show – and right by the time the main band is up, your focus may start shifting from the stage to the bathroom.
Alcohol deserves a separate note. While responsible drinking is encouraged normally, its importance in a concert setting is paramount, because lack of responsibility with it can ruin your evening ridiculously easily.
There’s nothing wrong with having a drink while queuing. In colder climates, a little alcohol can help you keep the blood flowing (Irish coffee, anyone?). The keyword here is ‘a little’. Whatever you do, don’t get drunk before the show. Even if you’re not wasted enough to get in trouble with the security and be denied entry altogether, dehydration, which is the ever-present friend of alcohol, doesn’t make a good aperitif for the Rock Show Cocktail, prepared with liberal amounts of heat and exercise and very little fresh air. If you think you can drink in the afternoon and sober up by the evening, don’t forget our second friend, the hangover, which will have had just enough time to set in by the time you’re inside. Imagine queuing all day, just to go and throw up a few songs into the show. It is both embarrassing and likely to be taken the wrong way by the band.
At the sake of sounding boring, I have to point out that plain water really is your best friend, both in queue and in the venue. Make sure you have enough left for the actual show. Many venues won’t let you take water bottles inside, in the name of the band’s safety and their own bar’s gain. Unfortunately, buying water is not really an option if you’re headed straight for the bar. Some venues are nice enough to hand out water at the front during the show; some are not. Therefore, smuggling a bottle in may be your only way to ensure your having enough to drink during the show. Bags are often searched, so hiding a bottle under your clothes, if costume allows, is a viable alternative. Try your damnedest to get some water inside, as your well-being during the show depends on it.
Other people. Even if you’re extremely antisocial, making friends in the queue is invariably useful and often unavoidable. Hanging out with other crazies like yourself makes time fly and turns the wait into fun, while a helping hand is always welcome – even for something as simple as watching over your stuff while you make your way to the nearest bathroom. And for the international crowd, exchanging contacts to cooperate for future events is about the most fun bti of networking I can think of.
With the traditional ‘doors’ time being seven, commotion around the venue entrance tends to start from four onwards. A significant portion of people who arrive around this time are not quite dedicated enough to have been queuing since morning, but would still like a good place. Yes, you got it – freeloaders. The unity of the original queue is very important here. Stand your ground and accept no excuses. Don’t be rude, no matter how much you may want to use a series of four-letter words in the newcomers’ direction; but stand your ground nevertheless. If you have any plans to leave your stuff in a hotel, do so now, as leaving your place later may very much lose you said place.
Due to the ‘doors’ time approaching and the new arrivals, somewhere between four and five is when the queue turns into an actual queue instead of just a bunch of people hanging out. By six o’clock, everyone is standing in their places, and the amount of people is approaching the venue capacity. Again, be steadfast and don’t hesitate to go Gandalf on any encroaching freeloaders (they shall NOT pass!).
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for, the time written on your ticket and the highest point of the emotional rollercoaster so far. The degree of organization at the entrance fully depends on the venue, but whatever it is, stick with the people you had queued with (holding hands or even locking arms may be necessary if the crowd behind you gets too pushy), get past the ticket check and security, and head for the front as fast as you can without hurting yourself. Grab the bar and allow yourself a moment of pride – you made it (even if you’re not at the bar itself, chances are you’re among the first few rows, which is nothing to be sneered at, either).
A word of warning – while being at the bar may not be for the faint of heart and ribcage (for squashed you shall be), it is actually easier than being in some of the rows immediately behind it, as you have something to hold on to and brace yourself against when pushing back becomes necessary (it will).
This moment of victory can be used to get a breather and make some last-moment preparations for the show.
If you’re queuing for a place at the bar, you probably need little telling about the way rock shows go. But if this is your first time (and you even made it to the bar, well done!), know this:
– you will be squashed, pushed, shoved and otherwise bodily impacted. I am 5′ 9″ and pack a weight not to be tampered with, so I’m not normally easily pushed around – yet it took even me several goes to learn how to protect myself in the crowd;
– there will be jumping. That means that your feet and everything that may be around them (your bag, your coat, whatever you may have dropped) will be trampled thoroughly;
– it will be hot. Whatever the weather outside, however well-ventilated the venue, it never fails to get hot at the bar.
Based on this, there are several things you’re advised to do:
– Keep breathing. This is something easier said than done, but do whatever it takes to make sure you’re not too squashed to breathe. If that means bracing yourself on the bar and pushing back with all your weight, do so. Ensure yourself breathing space, because there is no measure to the amount of disappointment that is being at the bar and then not lasting the show;
– Drink. This is exactly why I was recommending balancing hydration with bladder capacity while in the queue – once you’re in, you will and must drink all water that’s placed in front of you, and if you’re forced to get out and use the bathroom, there is no return to your place. If you managed to smuggle a bottle of water in, more power to you. If you didn’t, your best hope is that the venue organizers are kind enough to give some out during the show. Remember that the importance of water in this situation is secondary only to air, so if you find yourself without any, beg some off of the people next to you, plead with the security guards – use whatever means you can to get some. If you’re at the bar and without water, you can be either shy and squeamish, or conscious, but rarely both. The good news is that that you don’t need to worry about the bathroom at this point anymore, as everything you drink will end up on your forehead and back as sweat very quickly. Pouring water on yourself is also a good way of cooling off, but be careful with this method if you need to go out into the cold afterwards. Pneumonia is no fun at all.
– Stretch. It may be the last thing on your mind during the show, but if you’re not accustomed to spending a lot of time on your feet and/or jumping, your leg muscles will avenge themselves by making sure they are the first thing on your mind during the night. Use every opportunity to stretch the muscles at the back of your calf (the hamstrings) – before the opening act, after it, even between the main band’s songs if you can remember. It is easily accomplished even in squashed conditions – all you have to do is brace your toes against the bar and put your weight on the back of the leg you’re stretching. If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel tension at the back of the calf and will NOT feel the agonizing pain that is leg cramps, later that night. Stretching some more right before sleep is also a good idea.
– Stand your ground! There are two ways you can lose your place – the direct one and the subtle one. The first happens if someone less resourceful than you decides they deserve a place at the bar without earning it. You know what to do with this kind of people, but please stop short of the actual violence (tempting though it may be). The second displacement way is more difficult to prevent, because it takes longer to notice. As the crowd accumulates and sways with jumping and/or moshing, it tends to acquire a centrifugal force. As a result, you may find yourself being gradually forced out to the side. Take note of where you are (i.e. directly in front of a certain speaker) and stay there – grab the bar if you need to (in fact, grabbing the bar with one hand while jumping is a good way of landing where you started, not to mention the extra vertical leverage it provides).
With this in mind, I have nothing more to recommend than – enjoy the show! And if you love the band so much that you’ve been queuing for the bar, I know you will.
There is only one piece of advice for this. Whether you’re planning to wait by the stage door or head to wherever you’re spending the night (or the bus/train/plane heading back home or towards the next venue), the one thing you MUST do after the show is keep warm. Put your coat on as soon as you leave the venue. Whatever you do, don’t delay with that until you feel cold. If you’re planning to wait for the band, that space blanket I’ve been recommending will come in handy, too.
Someone who has never been at the bar and has just read through this guide may have been put off the idea of even trying, given the amount of preparation and inconveniences I have described. Nevertheless, I will encourage that you try at least once. If it’s a band you feel strongly about, being at the bar creates a unique feeling that you and the people on stage are the only ones in the room, and the rest of the crowd does not exist (despite their shoving being conclusive proof to the contrary). I have attempted to describe the effects of a really great show spent at the bar elsewhere, but it must be experienced to be fully understood.
And if you’re lucky enough to be up front and catch that vibe that turns the whole world into a small private universe containing only you, the band and their music, you will also try and fail to describe it to the uninitiated. There’s only one thing you can do to explain it to them. If you think they’ve got what it takes, bring them along the next time you’re queuing (as you will be).