Here are 6 things to do if you want to be at the front for a music festival headliner
Music festivalsare known for booking A-list headliners that fans are desperate to see up-close.
- I have been to many festivals over the years, most recently Governors Ball in New York on Friday.
- Here are my tips for getting close to the stage for a show-stopping headline performance.
While plenty of fans prefer to bounce between different stages, lounge with friends in the picnic areas, and otherwise take advantage of all a festival has to offer, others are determined to get a good spot for the final performance of the night - and it takes more dedication than it seems.
True, these fans could simply attend the headliner's own tour, instead of paying for a day-long event with a slew of other artists. But a music festival offers a rare chance to see arena-sized performers in a general admission setting, rather than a seated venue. And if you play your cards right, you could end up far closer to the stage for the same price as a "nosebleed" ticket in a stadium.
For example, Billie Eilish gave a show-stopping performance as the Friday headliner for this year's Governors Ball in Queens, New York.
She will return to New York City in February for two sold-out dates on her "Happier Than Ever" tour. General-admission pit tickets for either show at Madison Square Garden are listed for resale online for more than $300. The cheapest tickets at the top of the venue are currently hovering around $170.
In contrast, a one-day ticket for Gov Ball costs just $130, plus service fees.
Gov Ball continues this weekend with headliners J Balvin and A$AP Rocky on Saturday and Post Malone on Sunday.
Other forthcoming festivals include Rolling Loud at the same venue with headliners 50 Cent, Travis Scott, and J Cole; Austin City Limits in Texas with headliners Eilish, Miley Cyrus, Tyler, the Creator, and more; and California's famous two-weekend event Coachella, which returns in 2022.
If you're determined to be at the front for a headliner, here are some tips from a festival veteran.
Front-load food and leisure at the beginning of the day
I try to arrive between 12 and 2 PM - even if there aren't many early performers I care about - to beat the late afternoon crowd and make sure I'm making the most of my ticket. I use this time to fuel, relax, and scope out the merchandise tent.
Some hardcore fans will come to the festival early and go straight to the main stage to camp out for the day. I do not recommend this. Yes, this means you probably won't ever make it to the very front of the crowd, but you also limit the risk of dehydration and exhaustion.
Take some time to eat a big meal and drink water. On Friday, I splurged on these chicken nuggets with truffle fries from a food stand called "Dank Nugz" - topped with scallions, bacon, and parmesan cheese - because I knew I wouldn't eat another substantial meal until after Eilish's performance.
Please note that it's highly important to eat a well-rounded breakfast before leaving for the festival if this is the route you choose. Energy and nourishment are key!
Go to the main stage just before the penultimate performer's set
Festivals employ a rotating schedule on a variety of stages, in order to minimize sound bleed and allow each crew enough time to set up.
This means the second-to-last artist who performs on the main stage will finish an hour or two before the headlining set begins, sometimes more. That may sound like a pain, but it's your best opportunity to get close to the stage.
If you leave in between the performances, you'll be stuck behind the ever-increasing waves of people vying for the same view you crave.
On Friday, I made my way to the main stage just before Kehlani was scheduled to perform at 5:30 PM. (Luckily, I love Kehlani, so I was planning to watch her set anyway. "All Me" is a bop.)
I would estimate I was 25-30 rows back when Kehlani took the stage. However, people often shift and leave in the middle of a set - to use the bathroom, eat, catch another show, or simply because their legs are tired - which gave me a few chances to move forward.
I bobbed and weaved throughout Kehlani's hour-long performance. By the time she played her final song, I'd advanced five or so rows.
Now, this is where it gets competitive.
After the penultimate performer leaves the stage, there is always a massive shift in the crowd. A huge number of people will leave, but an equal number of people will push forward to fill those empty spaces. Hold onto your bag and get prepared to be pushed.
After a few minutes, the crowd will settle - but this won't be permanent, either.
Kehlani's set ended at 6:30 PM and Eilish was scheduled to take the stage at 8:45 PM. That means the people who were determined to stay close to the stage needed to stand and wait for more than two hours.
Generally, people will get tired during this timeframe and leave the crowd, which will give you more opportunities to shift and move forward.
Make sure you brought water, and take little sips throughout the waiting period
Nothing ruins a headlining set like leaving in the middle to pee - except feeling sick from dehydration. Your goal is to walk the line between these two, so you won't have to lose your spot to go to the bathroom, but you also stay hydrated and healthy.
Make sure you have water on hand when you make your way to the crowd. Security will sporadically distribute water to the rows near the stage, but it's not guaranteed you'll get one.
There are free water refill stations scattered throughout most festivals, but you typically need to buy a bottle first, or bring your own reusable bottle (as long as it's empty when you arrive).
At Gov Ball, they sold these cans of water for $5 a pop, presumably because aluminum is more recyclable.
Take little sips while you wait, saving the bulk of the water for the 30 minutes before the headliner arrives. I've found that keeps me hydrated, but also refrains from overwhelming my bladder. (Note: I am not a doctor and I do not know if that's how it works. Please leave the crowd and get water if you need to.)
Keep your knees bent, and do small stretches every 20 minutes
This seems like a silly tip, but it's important.
Most of us lock our knees if we're standing for long periods of time. This will almost certainly make you sore. Every 20 minutes or so, remind yourself to bend your knees and stretch. The crowd will likely be tight, but you can do small things, like rolling your neck and ankles.
If you're going to last in the crowd and have a good time while the headliner is performing, you'll need to keep your body as loose as possible.
Just before the headliner takes the stage, there will be another sudden push
When the lights go down and the music starts to play, there will be a sudden push towards the stage.
I do not know how this happens or where the extra space comes from, but in my experience, it happens every single time. Be ready for it, so people don't rush ahead of you.
After this push, you'll likely end up three or four rows closer to the stage. After everything I just described, I'd estimate I was 10 rows back when Eilish arrived to perform "Bury a Friend," her explosive show opener.
Many headliners will also have a runway, located midway through the crowd.
If you can get close to the center of the stage, you'll have a better view of the artist when they use it.
The most important tip is to listen to your body. If you need to leave the crowd, do so.
No performance is worth making yourself sick. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy - or maybe your feet are just a little too sore - leave the crowd to hydrate and rest. Festival performances are designed to please a huge crowd of people, so it'll be fun from any distance.
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