Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Confessions of a Springsteen roll call addict

At 10pm Tuesday it had reached 100, at 8.30am Wednesday 112 people had committed themselves to the line.
And by 3pm today there will be dozens more fighting sun burn and trying to orchestrate the balance of staying hydrated without forcing any unwanted trips to the bathroom.
The procedures in the hours and days before a Springsteen show have become nothing short of a necessity or even an addiction for those that have previously turned up to a venue and had a number printed on their left hand.
During the 2013 Wrecking Ball tour the roll call system of getting a number as early as possible - then returning to the line at designated times to keep that place in line - quickly became a friendly contest between fans for the lowest number, a haven for weary travellers, a roadblock for school-running parents and even a bed for tramps and dreamers.
This time around before the doors have opened for the first of 11 shows in Australia the roll call system is once again alive and well.

Sunday night.
Pros and cons?

The pros of the roll call are obvious, it allows fans to line up without physically standing – or sleeping – in place for hours or days on end.
A win for fans and for venues worried about the surge of people who might want to turn a single night’s concert into a week-long festival complete with camping experience.
The breaks to disappear for a few hours, take a walk, get food, water and use the bathroom make all the difference. Especially when the line is at a place like Perth Arena, or Melbourne, rather than say Brisbane, where a choice of places to eat, drink and just gather some healthy shade are miles away.
Not only are people more energised and positive, but venue operators and road crews also appear to be happy with the set up at smaller Arena shows because it saves the need for a lottery system – something that can result in a person in line for 5 minutes getting to the front, while someone who spent hours waiting near the front doesn’t get the view they were hoping for.
Most of all the roll call system does one thing brilliantly, it builds excitement and enthusiasm for the forthcoming show through its form as a giant countdown until doors open.
Those final hours stood in line waiting to land a spot and debating whether or not to come up with a strategy inside the venue for the best position are agonisingly brilliant.
It also builds relationships between Springsteen fans in a way that social groups or fan clubs could never do. By the end of the day you’re not just sharing stories of why you like Springsteen, but even stepping aside to let the shorter person behind you move closer to the stage or reach out for the guitar during Born To Run.

Despite being a massive fan of the roll call system not others agree, and frequent discussions do raise what some would argue are a few disadvantages.
First of all is the question of when to start the system.
Start it too late and you could find disagreement between people already in line who have already committed to staying onsite for days on end regardless of any ordered line.
Start it too early and you’ll find people who travel from outside the area angry that their entire time in a new place is spent attending roll calls instead of seeing the sights.
(My memory of Melbourne is a 15-minute L-shaped path from the Flinders St backpackers to Rod Laver Arena I walked every 3 hours.)
You also have the legitimate criticism from people willing to line up for an entire day - but not much longer - that the line would probably be shorter if people were not given the freedom of leaving for a few hours after checking in, as less people would be inclined to queue for hours on end.

In short, it’s not a perfect system, but I’m a big fan of it and it my experience it has worked really well.
Although those who have been in a roll call for more than one show will recognise the signs of ‘roll call addiction’: 

  • saying you don’t mind what number you get but secretly fighting for your lowest number yet.
  • telling others you probably won’t line up for the next show and then you run to get a number.
  • having a strategy worked out to stand in front of Nils or Stevie then just panicking and making a split-second decision depending on the height of everyone in front of you.
  • knowing that it doesn’t matter if you make the first 200 because the rest of GA still get great spots anyway – and yet still not being satisfied with being anything above (Johnny) 99.

My Hometown

One other observation from this week is the mistake I made thinking it would be easier to attend several roll calls as I only lived a short bike ride from the venue.
In theory, a hometown roll call should be easy as you know where everything is and how to get there quickly.
In reality however, life itself just gets in the fucking way.
Even on holiday work issues can flare up, family hassles can arise and the kids can suddenly need a ride to school right at the time you should be answering the call to who owns the faded number you proudly got two nights ago.
Not to mention ‘roll call fatigue’ which can easily set in when you have to keep leaving the comforts of home to stand out in the sun currently burning the side of the building you’re trying not to stand near.
It’s fair to say roll call for more than 24 hours takes commitment, a clear schedule and a toll on your personal appearance. If you waiver or worry about any of these, you’re in for a stressful countdown for the show.
Alternatively while you’re away, the roll call becomes an adventure. Sure you would like to see the new place you would never have been to before but your desire to be that one place closer to the stage is just a little bit stronger.
And you get to talk about how far you’ve travelled before spotting the brilliant but mental people who have come from all corners of the planet and are typically roll call experts.

This morning I pulled out of number 28 spot due to some last minute commitments which I was already aware of. My decision to join in three days ago was to bag the best spot incase my diary did clear up and I wouldn’t regret not being in line earlier. Not to mention meeting up with all the familiar faces from last time round.

So for Friday’s show I’m just planning on coming down around midday in the day and seeing what numbers are available, and I’m sure I’ll get a good spot whatever it is.
Or maybe I’ll come by at 11am… or Thursday night... or fuck it, maybe I’ll just see what happens after the show on Wednesday.