It's been a while since I've been to a concert without assigned seating.
April 18, 2014 11:05 AM   Subscribe

My spouse and I are taking my 16-year-old daughter to a concert tomorrow night: Ellie Goulding, with Conway, at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. I have some random questions, and would appreciate any tips on having a great experience.

We haven't been to the venue before. The show is sold out, though there are tickets available on various resellers. How crowded is it likely to feel? Are there particularly good spots for short-ish people to get a good view without being crushed? Are the security people likely to be draconian about photos? (Not going to record anything, just a few photos would be nice. Only the adults will have phone/cameras.) How are the acoustics?

Normally I'd take BART, but if the parking situation isn't too bad, I would consider driving. Is it worth the hassle? If the doors open at 8pm, should we plan to arrive early? How early?

And on the off chance that anyone else here is going, we'll be the middle-aged queer couple in sensible shoes trying to keep up with the teenager.
posted by expialidocious to Media & Arts (11 answers total)
I have never attended a show at BGCA, but as a stagehand I've set up lots and lots of them.

As to the view, it depends on if they sold the balcony or not. If not, shows are usually just general admission, with everyone standing. It's likely to feel pretty crowded, but you can always duck out into the hallways if you start getting overwhelmed.

Take BART. If the doors are at 8p, and this is the sort of thing teen girls get excited about, there's likely to be a line fairly early. But the music probably won't start until at least 8:30.

I'm not familiar with this particular artist, but it's likely to be loud. Really loud. You probably won't regret bringing a pair of earplugs. Intelligibility, etc. is very dependent on the specific sound rig that the tour brought with them--there's no preinstalled house audio gear.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:19 AM on April 18, 2014

There's parking under the Civic Center plaza (closes at midnight) and so it shouldn't be a big drama to drive and park.

It will feel crowded in the front, but if you get there early, it's worth it to stake your spot in the front and stay there if a good view is important to you. Be ready to be aggressive about keeping your spot and expect that a lot of people will try to make their way to the front as soon as lights go down and the music starts up. They'll slip into the smallest spaces and shift you back unless you stand your ground and force them to take another path. If that's not for you, I think that the sides are probably your best bet to get closer (or try the balcony if it was also sold as general admission and not reserved seating). Also pick a meeting place in case you get separated. If your daughter wants to be aggressive and make her way closer to the stage, you'll want to be able to find one another later. There's little danger in letting her slip away to try her luck at being closer.

Most shows will allow photos and you'll see a sea of smartphones taking photos and footage of the show.

Everyone should wear earplugs. These shows are quite loud and risking hearing damage is not the way to go. I wish I had been more vigilant about protecting my hearing when I started to go to concerts as a teen.
posted by quince at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you drive, are you fine with waiting in a line of cars after the concert because everyone else will be leaving at the same time? I would totally take BART if you don't live too many stops away.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:54 AM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you do a google image search, you can see what it looks like inside and what the crowds might be like.
posted by FreezBoy at 11:57 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have not been to this venue, but my general rule when I don't want to be too crowded at a concert is to stand in the back, next to or directly in front of the soundboard. There's usually a pretty good sight line (the sound engineers need to be able to see the band), and it's typically one of the best-sounding areas in the venue.

If the venue doesn't have a built-in sound system, it seems likely that the soundboard would be near the back of the concert space - it'll be a fenced-off area with a big desk in it that looks like a spaceship control center (lots of knobs and lights and sliders), and that's where I'd stand.

Stay out of the sound engineers' way while they're coming and going and don't even think about setting your drink down on their desk; those folks work hard and make bands sound great.
posted by elmer benson at 12:13 PM on April 18, 2014

So, I saw Flaming Lips there on Halloween. It was sold out and General Admission. I got there well into the opening act and had to wait in line for about 20min to get in. The floor was packed, and if you're short, you cannot see the stage very well from the middle to back sections. You can get there early and stand in front (as described above) or push your way up. Or you can try the balconies, which, honestly, I'd prefer to sit in and watch from above.

Definitely wear ear plugs. I bought these specifically for that show and I was amazed at how much better they were for music than your standard drug store ear plugs. Only downside is they're easy to drop and lose in a crowded concert that is standing room only. So be careful.

I took an Uber from dinner, but BART or Muni is probably your best bet if driving is your only other option. I wouldn't really want to try to park down there. If you do drive, just drive to an easy / safe part of town to park in, then grab a cab or Uber to the venue.

People were taking iPhone pics and nobody cared. I don't think security mixes in much unless the acts specifically get crappy about it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 12:31 PM on April 18, 2014

If you are able to get into the balcony, your sightlines will be so much better from there, even though you'll be at an angle to the stage. I saw 3 or 4 shows there in the 90s before giving up entirely -- it's an enormous room, completely flat without any rake, so your choices are often between being squished in the mosh pit (or whatever they call it these days) or being unable to see the band at all.
posted by janey47 at 12:48 PM on April 18, 2014

The acoustics are slightly better than a high-school gymnasium.
posted by rhizome at 1:22 PM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been to the Bill Graham several times, and my daughter and I just got back from the sold out Lana Del Rey show there tonight.

The start time on the ticket was 8pm, and we got there at around 7:40. The line was snaked around Civic Center plaza a couple of times, and was already moving into the venue, but it still took around 40 minutes from the time we joined the line until we reached the doors.

By the time we got into the venue, the floor was 3/4 filled, but there were still decent, non-obstructed seats in the balcony. You can freely move between the balcony and the floor if the show is sold as being entirely general admission (which it looks like the Ellie Goulding show is).

I have seen shows both from the floor and from the balcony at the Bill Graham, and I'd be wary about choosing the floor for you and your husband.

First, the floor is standing only - and you'll be standing for a while. Everyone will be holding their phones up on the floor during the show, making it very hard for you to see, especially if you're short. If you're not way off to the sides or back, you will feel crushed and it will be claustrophobic. People had apparently been camping since noon to get up in front, so while I'd recommend showing up early, getting way up front is likely to be a lost cause without a massive time commitment.

The balcony seats, on the other hand, are at a steep grade, so if you're short and you get there at a reasonable time, you'll have a reasonable view of the stage, albeit from a ways back. Since the balcony is further away, however, shows tend to be less exciting from those seats.

If your daughter is excited about the floor but it looks like too much for you, you may wish to sit up in the balcony with your husband, let her stay on the floor, and then meet up after the show outside.

Security is looking for weapons, hard drugs and other dangerous items - not cameras or phones. Acoustics are really not that great - this is a civic arena where the Golden State Warriors used to play, not an intimate concert venue. You will want to take earplugs, because it trends to being loud, boomy and distorted.

As for transportation, we took BART in. While there are plenty of garages in the area, traffic can be brutal getting near the venue, and the BART station's only a block away.

Have fun!
posted by eschatfische at 11:21 PM on April 18, 2014

Sorry about the accidentally gendered use of husband there - please replace husband with spouse. It is late, and I am tired.
posted by eschatfische at 11:42 PM on April 18, 2014

Thanks all! We ended up driving due to some timing issues, and lucked into an insanely convenient space (street parking on Larkin just around the corner from the entrance).

The acoustics are indeed mediocre, sort of mushy yet piercing at the same time. We had good-quality earplugs, which worked great. Not the ones jeffamaphone linked, but these: Hearos High Fidelity.

We sat in the balcony and were able to see everything. Though if I do it again I might bring binoculars. Everyone had a great time.
posted by expialidocious at 4:21 PM on April 25, 2014

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