Confessions of an ex-concert-venue employee

Working at concerts teaches that looks can sometimes be decieving — even the most heavily-tattooed metal fan might be an environmentalist at heart. IIllustration by Sandra Thomson)

I’m not an overly musical person. I like songs but don’t have any band obsessions. I played clarinet for years yet never learned to read music the right way. My eyes glaze over when someone starts talking about the new insertweirdnamehere album they just downloaded. Nope, I’m certainly not the person to run to for music knowledge. Nevertheless, there’s one part of the music world I do know better than a lot of people — concerts.

I’ve seen over a hundred concerts, having worked at the PNC Bank Arts Center (formerly named the much prettier Garden State Arts Center) for four years. I’m no longer an employee, but I’ve had some truly memorable experiences,  both good and bad.

Every summer, the Arts Center hosts North Jersey/ New York radio station KTU’s “Beatstock,” an all-day festival of people like Pitbull, Kat Deluna, Enrique Iglesias (who, surprisingly, sounded awful in person), Kelly Rowland and more dance-pop gods. “Beatstock” feels like a club, packed with guidos who rub their self-tanner on you while grabbing your arm to ask a question and then yell at you for touching them. “The Jersey Shore” and “Real Housewives of New Jersey” cast members were even in the audience one year, and I spent much of the night ushering Teresa Giudice’s daughter down to the front. Perhaps the most memorable occurrence though was when then “JS” castmember Angelina (remember her?) appeared onstage and was booed off.

The worst series of shows I ever worked, however, was the Jonas Brothers. As performers, the brothers themselves aren’t at all bad — even if they did spend one sound check practicing more cartwheels than vocals—but the audience, excuse my language, SUCKED. Thousands of screaming fans packed into an oversold amphitheater was literally deafening after an hour (particularly those sobbing about their tickets not letting them backstage). Furthermore, numerous mothers purchased cheap seat tickets for themselves and up-front passes for their small children, only to be shocked that their kiddies would have to sit alone. One of them even hit one of my coworkers in anger.

By contrast, the best concerts I’ve ever worked were those of Judas Priest. The band really knows how to cater to their fans, and the theatrics of the show (fire, motorcycles and all) are just as energized as the music. Furthermore, the concertgoers at their shows are awesome. I’ll never forget the time a particularly large bald man, covered from head to toe in piercings and skull tattoos, came up to me with his arms full of plastic bottles and asked “Excuse me, where is the recycling? I’d hate to leave these lying around.”

I have equal respect for Green Day, who in 2010 played for three-and-a-half hours straight and never once let up on the energy. Those guys even brought particularly enthusiastic audience members on stage and gave away one of their guitars (not a mere pre-signed guitar from backstage — the one Billie Joe Armstrong was playing) to a woman who signed the entire show for her deaf friend.

As great as a lot of shows are, however, they all must end at some point. Ever been to a concert that was awesome, yet suddenly an old crooner song interrupts through the air like an elderly man coming out to yell at kids to get off his lawn? Well, the venue employees are the old man, and happy as they are for your experience, they’re tired and would really like you to get off their lawn now (I now must point out that at PNC, there literally is a lawn section).

One evening, during seat checks — where employees check for seats broken during the show — I came across a man slumped down in his seat with his eyes shut. “Show’s over, sir,” I said. There was no reply, and after a few further attempts I realized he was dead. Just kidding, but it was soon determined that he was passed out cold. The man regained consciousness with the help of some EMTs, but only long enough to be informed that his friends had left and he was headed to the hospital. The lesson? Don’t ever leave a friend behind and don’t drink more than you can handle.

If there’s anything I’ve taken away from my job, though, it’s a better appreciation for all the work that goes into a concert. So many people work tirelessly to make everything run smoothly, even if that includes forcing a band out of their trailer to perform (I once worked a Stone Temple Pilots show where if it wasn’t for some persistent employees, the band would have never come out).

So the next time you go to a concert, be kind to the workers. It isn’t their fault your ticket doesn’t scan quickly, that you can’t sit in a certain area or that the headliner isn’t as good as he was years ago. Just relax and enjoy the show! Oh, and make sure your group’s all there when you leave.