Tuesday, 16 April 2013

How to survive the line for a Springsteen show...

With just two weeks until Springsteen and The E Street Band start up the Wrecking Ball tour in Europe again my thoughts are turning to all lessons learnt lining up for their show.


There are obviously many bits of advice that could be shared but here’s some that I found most useful during the ten shows of the Australian tour.

1. Check around the venue

First bit advice is simple – if you arrive to what you think is the main entrance less than five hours before a show and there’s no one there, the chances are you’re not at the right entrance. Most venues allocate a special entrance for the General Admission crowd so if you don’t find it straight away be sure to take a walk and look for it.
(At Brisbane 1 someone came up to me inside the venue to say they had arrived hours early but missed on priority entrance because they hadn’t found the rest of the crowd.)

2. Respect the line-up system

European fans have an imposing reputation about how long they are willing to wait in line to get priority entry.
In Sydney I was staggered to find out a dedicated couple from Italy had slept outside Allphones Arena to be first in line. 

When I got there - 10 hours early and 71 in the queue – I was told that sleeping out for the night was nothing – in Sweden people sleep out for five days.
Thankfully throughout the Australian tour, the arena dates in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – at which I spent a total of five days in lines waiting for the doors to open – they had a roll call system.
Turn up early, get a number, and make sure you’re back a few hours later to keep your place in line.
You can’t really go wrong with this system but there were a few people who felt the need to argue the point that it was unfair, and that people should stay in line without being allowed to disappear. 
Meanwhile in other places, particularly the US, there’s the lottery system. Where you turn up and get a number, then at a certain time a number is called out and the allotted number of priority places will start at that number. (So if 200 people are to go in, 750 are in line and the number 632 is pulled out – then everyone with the number from 632 to 82 will go in.)
This system of course means you take a gamble on matter what time you line up. There’s no way of knowing if rocking up for entry five days or five minutes before the cut-off time will get you in first.
No matter what the system is, it’s important to remember that all venues can be different, and also that Springsteen’s people would have probably set something up with them to best accommodate the size of the crowd.

Late night roll call in Melbourne...

Ultimately however the best advice I can give you is head to the front of the line and look for any Americans - especially if there's some with the New Jersey accents. They will be the experienced tour mates more than happy to pass on info about roll calls, numbers and entry times. Many times during the Australia tour people thought they were paid to organise things the set up was so well organised.

3. Buddy up

There’s no point in being shy when you’re joining a group of other fans all out there for the same reason you are.
The great thing about the line-up system is that everyone was keen to help each other out, hold spots in line or look after belongings for food and bathroom breaks.

Not to mention swapping stories and wishlists of the best Springsteen show ever to take place.
A lot of people, myself included, go to the shows by themselves but leave as part of a group.
Once you take a number you’re in a club. A club that works well when everyone’s working together.

4. Eat, drink - but don’t get too merry

Standing in line, attending a roll call and being front and centre for a show is serious business. And even if you don’t take it seriously, other people will.
With the roll call system it meant there was time to leave the line and get some decent food instead of just fast food or convenient store snacks. Not such an issue for a single line up, but with multiple shows you need to maintain a solid diet to stay healthy and keep energy levels up.
When it comes to drinking, hydration is the key. Water and sugar-free sports drinks are the way to go (Bruce drank blue Powerade on stage and that soon became the beverage of choice for many in the line too).
As for alcohol, some people in groups were able to drink throughout the day, then again during the show, but for myself and many others investing that much time in getting to the front you don’t want to risk either being too pissed for the concert or having to lose your place inside to use the bathroom.
For me, choosing the right time for last fluid intakes was an art form, as once you got into the arena holding you’re well-earned place was a hard task and very much dependent on those around you.

5. Look out for the signs

There are two main reasons to keep an eye on other people’s request signs.
The first is to make sure you choose a song that isn’t being requested by everyone else. You want to choose a track that will not only attract Springsteen’s attention, but will gain the respect of other people in the line. 

It can be a lot of pressure to get this right – and not everyone is going to be happy to see a bit of card for Outlaw Pete.
The other reason is the size of other people’s signs, especially the people ahead of you in the line.
Several occasions in one concert my view was blocked by someone’s sign ahead of me which was held up far too long than it should have been. There’s a time for signs and this idiot needlessly kept it up throughout a performance.
When I saw him at another show, I made sure to watch out which part of the stage he headed for and what size card he had, and made my quick decision for a position to avoid him.
(Meanwhile one guy – you know who you are Victor – even held up a sign ‘The guy behind this sign can’t see’ during one show. And if you see someone scribbling that in a big marker you know who to avoid).

6. Bring your Springsteen T-shirt

OK so album or tour T-shirts are not mandatory, but on the one show I didn’t wear one, I went to the merchandise stand to buy one as within five minutes I felt out of place. Like being the one kid at school who forgot it was non-uniform day.

Bruce was a big fan of the matching T-shirts in Melbourne...

7. Patience is your friend

You may think this is an obvious one, but I’m not necessarily talking about the long periods of waiting.
Instead what will really test your patience is the people nearby who discuss everything Springsteen and then start getting it wrong.
It may only be a slight error, but if you’ve just finished reading the latest biography, or was at a previous concert and the guys next to you are talking about it and getting the setlist horribly wrong, then it can take every ounce of patience not to turn around and correct them. I feel the same urge when people on the train get Bond movies wrong or misquote Arnie films.
Of course if you’re in the conversation that’s great, go for it, but if you’re just butting in then even the nicest Bruce bud will probably start to lose patience with you and your encyclopaedic knowledge of everything E Street.

8. Power up

It can be a long wait, and a long wait in today’s world means plenty of time on your smartphone.
I bought a pocket charger that I charged up every night and took to every show.
Then an hour before gates opened I plugged it into the phone.
After the first two shows I realised that to take pictures, sneaky videos (or even to make a note of the setlist if I could do it without losing the enjoyment of the show) I needed at least 70 per cent battery in my iPhone.
You don't want to be left hanging without enough power... (slide)

But if I was using it throughout the day I’d be lucky to go in with 20 per cent power. A portable charger is definitely a worthy investment.

9. Don’t over think getting to the front

If you’ve made it to the priority and you’re slowly walking into the venue in your numbered order the chances are you’ve already discussed a strategy about where to stand.
For me the trick is to never plan it, just go with what you get.
If you’re number 1 – then hey, front and centre no probs.
You never know where Bruce will go for a lie down or planking photo op...

But if you’re around the 100 mark, you have to take what you can get.
For me, I was first 151 and was advised to go behind the few rows near the central platform in Brisbane 1.
This turned out to be great advice for the first night as my view was incredible and I was still close enough to stick an arm out and hit the guitar for Born To Run.
But other nights, different spots were better for me.
I found that any spot along the barrier saved a lot of energy for the show. Not only was it something to lean on, but also a lot cooler than being between people. Even if you’re along the side you still get an unblocked view of the stage.
Ultimately, the moment you walk in all strategies you had suddenly go out the window anyway as you realise you’re getting closer to the thing you’ve spent a day lining up for and the adrenaline kicks in.


There are so many more bits of advice I was given, but I’m opening up the final spot for other tour followers. What advice would you give to someone lining up for priority entry at a series of shows?

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