Remember, Camping Out for Concert Tickets?
This generation will never experience what it took to get concert tickets back in the day!
My friend Matt was an 80s teen who defined the Generation X reputation for growing up unsupervised. His parents were avid RVers. Matt was allowed to stay home while they went on weekend road trips when he was in high school.
On Friday, I was called out of class because of an emergency in my family, and my dad was coming to pick me up in front of the school. I waited, very concerned, wondering if a grandparent had passed. A huge RV rolled up in front of me in the bus lane. The door swung open. It was Matt!
“What the heck, man?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. “What are you doing?”
“Picking you up!”
“Dude (we used to say ‘dude’ a lot), my dad is …”
“I know; hop in, sonny,” he interrupted.
Here, he skipped school (and HE was the honor student) because his parents went on a trip without the RV. He grew bored, so he pretended to be my dad and called the school, staging the whole family emergency hoax. I laughed, somewhat shocked at the magnitude of this. Then I jumped in and didn’t look back.
That day, we learned Springsteen had announced a summer concert tour, and Cleveland was one of the stops. We circled the date that tickets would go on sale and made a pact that no matter what, we’d do whatever it took to go.
It was late at night when we opened our house after a long family vacation.
I had plans to meet Matt in the morning to go downtown and buy tickets for the concert. It would be the first day for tickets to go on sale. This was back when The Boss was selling out stadiums in just hours.
A local television news station reported a line forming around Cleveland Municipal Stadium hours before the box office opened; some were already camped out for one or two days.
It was the middle of the night, and I was wide awake. I couldn’t wait. So I grabbed my car keys, and before I knew it, I was on my way to get Matt – but he didn’t know.
I didn’t want to wake up his parents, so I climbed on top of their motor home to get on the roof of their house. Matt slept on the second floor. His window overlooked the garage roof, so I navigated my way there.
He didn’t share his room with anyone but slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed. His head was right by the open window. The only thing between us was a screen. His dog Bandit started to growl – low and then louder. I tried calming the dog, letting him know he knew this cat burglar. I feared he’d wake the whole house if his growling became full-fledged barking.
It was dark inside, so I didn’t see Matt rolling to see what his dog was snarling at. When his eyes met mine only inches away… Well, talk about a wake-up call. Imagine opening your eyes from a dead sleep to see a face peering in your window inches from yours. Matt sprang from the mattress, slammed his head on the ceiling, and fell off the upper bunk onto the floor.
I almost rolled off the roof in terror myself. Then, I just tried to contain my laughter, which came in snorts as I tried to hold it in. Matt gathered his senses, climbed back to the window, and gave me an obscenity-laced greeting, albeit in a whisper-yell.
It was a small miracle that nobody else in the house woke up.
Down at the stadium, we circled the parking lot and found the end of the line where others were camping out. We parked nearby and joined the growing throng of people. Some were better prepared than we were. Leaning up against the concrete wall, sitting on the asphalt, we soon realized it would be a long night.
“Ya know, the backseat ‘ell pop right out in your kind of car,” Matt surmised.
Within minutes we were sitting in hillbilly comfort. Then a guy returned to his group behind us with so many doughnuts they shared with us. They were the best doughnuts I ever had in my life.
Hours later – most people around us sleeping – I opened my eyes and noticed it was dawn. I got up and stretched. When I did, I drifted away from the side of the building and peered around the corner – nobody was in front of us. I casually walked up to Matt, kicked his foot several times, and motioned for him to quietly check it out.
Without words being spoken, we both walked. Our pace quickened. We thought we were sly, but our movement didn’t go unnoticed. There was a chain reaction. We peeked over our shoulders. A mob was thickening and gaining. We flat-out sprinted from there. It probably looked like we were rock stars trying to outrun hundreds of rabid fans when in reality, they just wanted tickets as badly as we did. We turned another corner of the stadium and plunged into a sea of people. Police were holding everyone back.
“If you’re on this side of the barricade, I’m sorry, you’re not getting tickets,” said one cop after another into megaphones. “Please turn around and go home.”
People were disgruntled but reluctantly complying, for the most part. Some tested the officers and were met with more forceful directives. We quickly assessed the scene and bolted over a concrete barricade into some sort of cement trench. We were able to run, hunched over, avoiding being seen. I don’t know how we found this and why nobody else did, but once we were past the police barrier, we sprang from our trench and joined the mob on the other side.
There was only one gate, one turnstile, one ticket window, and thousands of people fighting to get to it.
The head of the production company pleaded over loudspeakers, “We don’t want another Cincinnati.”
He referred to The Who concert several years earlier, where people stampeded eleven fans to death as they stormed the entry doors.
“If this doesn’t get orderly RIGHT NOW, we’ll close her down, and NOBODY will get tickets,” the man shrieked at the top of his lungs.
The unruly crowd somehow demonstrated just enough civility for the mayhem to continue.
More than an hour later, Matt and I were in the final stretch. We were jammed in like sardines between two metal railings leading up to the ticket window.
“Give me your money so we can make sure we get tickets together,” Matt said.
I didn’t want to abandon him, but I had an idea. Believe it or not, the other side of the railing was relatively calm. I slipped through and then turned to help Matt. The space between the railings was wide enough for one and a half bodies. However, there were three and a half in that space, at times with nothing but Matt’s arse on the inside. He was getting crushed. Whenever that happened, he fought with flailing elbows and fists, cursing, to regain space so he could breathe. I helped by pushing and shoving people so they’d give him room. It didn’t matter that most were just as innocent as he was – just victims of circumstance. But this was survival of the fittest. Matt’s reprieve would last about 90 seconds before the shoving from others forced a repeat scenario. It was grueling for Matt on the inside. I had the easy task – shove without getting hit, mostly. Others saw the brilliance of our teamwork, and before I knew it, I had company on my side of the rail.
Eventually, Matt scored tickets. Battle-scarred, Matt more than I, we walked away from the mayhem to the other side of the stadium, which was mostly vacant now. We popped my backseat into the car and drove home, elated.
The concert rocked for over three hours, while a typical concert lasted 90 minutes. Later, a Springsteen gig made the record book for one of the longest concerts ever by a musician.
By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun