Attend a Huge Concert

As a child of the ’80’s, I was developing my musical tastes in the age of the mega-show: the US Festival, Farm Aid, Monsters of Rock, some of the largest concerts in history happened in ’86-’88 (Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Madonna, etc…). I had dreams of seeing my then favorite band, Van Halen, play during their 1984 tour. Alas, is was not to be. I’d have to see Michael Anthony swinging around the stage with his Jack Daniels bass on TV like all the other plebeians.

Sometimes dreams do not come true

Not sure what the biggest concert I’ve ever been to has been. I saw Metallica at the Cow Palace (16,500 capacity) and a few sold out shows at the Hollywood Bowl (17,500 capacity). But crowds make me nervous. Like, really, really, nervous. In a physical and emotional way.

At that aforementioned Metallica show, my buddy Luke and I drove down to see them (he drove, I didn’t have a license yet). We got there early and waited in line in the parking lot. There was some sort of motorcycle club event happening, a memory etched into my brain after listening to hours of car alarms being triggered whenever a hog rumbled by. It was a general admission show, so we ran to the front crowd fence as soon as we got in, all smiles shared with our other early attendees. Best spots in the house. Center stage left. High-fives all around. I take it back, sometimes dreams DO come true.

The opening band was Queensrÿche, a prog-metal group who never quite got onboard the hair metal bandwagon for. I couldn’t get into the operatic vocals. But they were undeniably good musicians. Plus, the drummer used welded chains as cymbal stands, which I still find impressive. That was enough to keep my youthful enthusiasm peaked. I was in the very front row of a Metallica show!

Remember, we’d been there for HOURS. Arrived early, waited in the parking lot, into the venue as the doors opened. Endured that agonizing time between doors and showtime. Grinning through the opening band. Once the opener ended, there was another long pause as we waited for the main event. The size of the crowd grew. A lot. Lucky we got here so early!

After what seemed an eternity, the lights dimmed. The crowd exploded with yells. A low tone grew, swelling along with the excitement of the crowd. In my memory, the opening song was “Blackened” (this was the “…and Justice for All” tour) and the lights blasted the arena as the opening drum hits felt like a punch to the chest. It was so loud. So, so, very loud. But worse, the moment the lights dimmed, the entire stadium pushed forward, trying to get closer to the stage. Several pits opened-up and the surrounding people smashed forward even further. I found myself crushed into the fence, the wall before the security moat. It was taking all my effort to keep room enough to breathe. My excitement turned to panic. At some point I achieved some amount of equilibrium as I stayed there for a song or two, but I was no longer watching a show, I was struggling to survive. Another high-intensity song started and the crowd swelled once again. I was in trouble. My chest was compressed against the fence and I was having trouble breathing. I needed help. Just on the other side of the fence was the line of security guards. I yelled at the closest one, trying to get his attention. It wasn’t working. I started yelling obscenities at him, but he stood stoically scouring the audience. I seem to recall people around me noticing I what I was doing and they started yelling and waving, too. Eventually the security guy saw me, leaned forward with an inquisitive look. I tried to explain, but he could probably see the story written on my face. With what seemed like no effort at all (this guy had seen it all), he placed his hand on my chest and pushed. I could feel myself being swept away as bodies closed-in to fill the gap I left. I was awash in a tide of humans. My feet were lifted off the ground as I continued to be swept back. Not entirely sure how that even happened, but the crowd was pushing me back via some sort of group capillary action. Eventually my feet touched the ground and I was able to move back on my own, snaking my way through the dense crowds until I could find open air. For the rest of the show, I wandered the vast Cow Palace, taking in the sounds and view from all angles.

All of this is to say in the longest possible way that there is a reason large crowds make me nervous. Nearly being crushed to death as a teenager is bound to have some negative effect. It’s more than that though, I’ve been to plenty of shows where I didn’t nearly die. I just don’t enjoy the big shows as much as I enjoy small venues. The parking lots (and fees), the lines, the security, the jostling to see, all nightmares. Plus that thing where you see certain types of people at large shows that make you embarrassed that you enjoy the same music. I’m sure the Germans have a word for that. I went with some friends to see a band at the Wiltern (1,850 capacity) and spent the entire show hating everyone around me. Including the band we went to see.

These days I mostly go to small venues to see small fanbase bands. The largest venue I’d ever go to (in a perfect world) is something like the Echoplex (780 capacity), but I’d frankly rather see groups upstairs at the Echo (350 capacity). So, naturally, I find myself asking, “what would it be like to see a concert with 200x as many people?

List Item: Attend a HUGE concert

My friend, Tahni (Smith, though PROBABLY not related), loves the Rolling Stones. Like in a borderline unhealthy way. But her love of the Stones is something that keeps her going, so who am I to cast… stones? Besides, I’d put, “Paint it Black” (and maybe even “Mommy’s Little Helper”) in my top 20 best songs of all time. Maybe in the top ten, depending on the day.

February, 2020. As things turned-out, the Stones announced their “No Filter” tour and will be playing the SDCCU Stadium (70,561 capacity). Tahni was working at the time tickets were going on sale, so I volunteered to wait in a virtual line and purchase tickets (if at all possible). While I rapidly climbed from “2,000+ people in line in front of you” to “you’re next!”, when it came time to buy, I was confronted with a dizzying number of upgrade opportunities- VIP Yellow, VIP Blue, VIP Black, VIP Platinum. I didn’t have time to read all the details, so I focused on getting the closest possible section to the stage. I’m hoping aging Stones fans are less “crushie” than circa ’88 Metallica fans.

Speaking of age, the average age of the current lineup is 75.5 years old. That’s roughly my dad’s age. My mom passed away at 70. Ex-Stones Bill Wyman is 83. Brian Jones continues to be 27. Half the band is still dying their hair in a hopelessly optimistic charade. My favorite Stones music was created before I was born. They wrote some amazing music between ~’66 (Aftermath)-’72 (Exile on Main St.), but that is a highly subjective opinion. Far be it for me to yuck someone’s yum. I’m honestly curious how this show is going to go. It will be quite the experience. Glad I’m going with someone who is hopelessly devoted to them. That will add a few points to the night. Tahni’s warning to me: “prepare for hysterics”
Rolling Stones May 08 @ SDCCU

October, 2021. OK, so a few things happened before this one could be checked off. First, a global pandemic. Not a month after acquiring the tickets, we were all quarantining. Except for the essential workers of course. Like the Arby’s cooks. The San Diego show was cancelled. Even Ticketmaster agreed to refund money, which is an act of god, indeed. July of 2021, I received an email saying that I was entitled to a pre-sale code to buy tickets before the general public as a repayment for having bought tickets and then having the show cancelled. This time, there was no San Diego show, but now there was one in LA! Much easier. The event would be at the brand new Sofi Stadium (70,240 capacity). I spent that morning on the web site waiting room for HOURS only to have an error appear once my pit tickets. Panicked, I two other computers and three other browsers. I was finally able to get tickets, but they were seats off to the side instead. Side note: once the urgency was over, I looked into the error- it is what happens if you don’t allow cookies. Something that Ticketmaster could easily warn about, but since they are a terrible company, they just threw up an undefined error. Anyway, ticket purchased, it was the waiting game to see the full lineup!

August 24, 2021. Charlie Watts died. Dreams do NOT come true.

October 17, 2021. Showtime. We arrived hours early and getting into the parking didn’t take very long at all. The event hired a ton of people to keep everything organized. Simple. Security was easy. Everyone we spoke to who worked the event (people working out front, security, bartenders, direction givers, etc.) were all super nice. Tahni likened it to being at Disneyland. We wandered around and checked out the stadium, which is very nice, clean, and massive.

Massive, I says.

Had a couple drinks in at different locations around the stadium and looked around for merch tents. We could see one on the floor, but didn’t have floor tickets to get down there. Asked around and it turns out there was only the ones on the outside, before entering the stadium. What the hell? What kind of concert doesn’t have merch booths inside the event where people can get to them?!?

The Smiths

The opening band played. That’s about all I can tell you about them. I know their name (The Glorious Sons) and they played with gusto, but I still have no details to pass on. We were sitting in a bar area while they played.

Eventually the time arrived to get to our seats and prepare for the Rolling Fucking Stones to play.

Shown here with 70,000+ of my closest friends.

Look, I have a long life of being cynical. I’m still of the mind that I’d rather go to shows featuring new bands and smaller audiences than nostalgia displays. With so many bands out there well beyond their relevancy, it’s difficult for me to see older bands playing now as capitalizing, like wedding playlists in real life. That said, we were on our feet for the entire show. And GODDAMN, does Mick Jagger still put on a show. That guy has got moves, not just for a 78 year old, but for someone half that age.

I should mention that Tahni loves all of the Stones, but none more that Keith Richards. So, while much of the stadium, especially Mick, took a rest during the “Keef” portion, she was on cloud nine. This was her 18th Stones show and she was just as excitable as her first. It was infectious. The show, for me, was made much better by going with someone so passionate about it.

Keef!

The Stones killed, playing many of their great songs. Even got an Eagles dig in, which always delights. Two hours of back to back hits. Two encores that raised the roof. Once it was done, we made our way out with the throngs. At one point, a security guard suddenly and inexplicably stopped anyone from going up an escalator a large number of us had been moving to (indeed, were directed to), but another employee started saying, “follow me!” and lead us back toward the entrance we’d come in to. We finally made it out only to find HUNDREDS of people lined up in front of the one merch booth. So much for that plan. We got to the parking lot and discovered all those employees who got us into the park so smoothly were now gone. So, we sat for nearly an hour before moving, then nearly another hour getting out of the neighborhood. The entire time others drivers being assholes all around. None of that could wipe the grin off my face, however. I’d just seen the Rolling Fucking Stones.

Ronnie Wood’s famous set list for the show.

Difficulty: Expensive. Factoring in tickets and parking (which is actual robbery), it’s decent vacation worth of an evening.

Lessons Learned:

  • Go with someone passionate about the subject!
  • Sofi Stadium parking is a clusterfuck getting out
  • Ticketmaster still sucks