How to Attend an Indie Rock Concert

Often called indie rock’s Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, Nick Martens provides an in-depth guide on finding, experiencing, and surviving live underground music.

Have you, at some point in the recent past, proclaimed dissatisfaction with modern music? Perhaps you cite the demise of the “complete album,” as replaced by a disc with two decent singles and ten filler tracks, as proof that music was better in the good old days. Maybe you think that the proliferation of electronic instrumentation has taken rock music away from its roots, debasing the form until it’s so simple that a 3rd grader could pass for a decent rocker. Or you might even think that old-fashioned, sweaty concerts, staged by blossoming, starving artists in dank, loud clubs have gone the way of the dodo, replaced by high-gloss wannabe rock stars jamming out in basketball arenas.

If this describes you, you are quite simply out of touch. But don’t worry, I’m here to return to you a piece of your past: the underground concert. In spite of your prejudices, great musicians still exist, and they still create real, raw, innovative rock n’ roll. And, indeed, they still play in the same kind of nauseous, grimy clubs you once knew. There is still joy to be found in their impetuous struggle against personal finance and common sense. If you want to find this path again, you need only allow me to show you the way.

Or maybe you just want some tips about going to rock shows. Either way, we begin at the same place.

Step 1: Find a list of shows in your area

Before you see a concert, you’ll need to know who’s playing in your town. Small venues are not exactly marketing powerhouses, so you’ll have to put in some amount of effort to find a worthwhile show. If your city has a weekly alternative culture publication, such as those produced by Village Voice Media, that’s the best place to start. These little newspapers are almost always free, and almost always feature a comprehensive list of upcoming concerts.

If you can’t find one of those, then the web is your next best option. will give you a ridiculously thorough list of every event in a given location, and it has nice search features. You can also visit the websites of your city’s various rock venues, which, though time consuming, will provide specific, detailed information.

Step 2: Pick a show

Now that you know who’s playing, you have to decide which band to see. This flow chart provides a simple process for making an informed choice.


Step 3: Get your ticket

This seems like a simple process, but there are actually a couple of angles to consider. Most crucially, you want to avoid buying through Ticketmaster if at all possible. Yes, it’s convenient to be able to grab your tickets over the web, but buying through Ticketmaster can cost you upwards of fifteen extra dollars per ticket. Try instead to buy your tickets through the venue’s box office. These box offices often have irregular hours of operation, so call ahead or check the venue’s website before heading out. By putting in this extra effort, you can save yourself a nice stack of cash.

If the venue sells tickets online through another, less expensive vendor, than the choice is up to you. The convenience of buying online alone may be worth five bucks to you, not to mention the financial and environmental cost of driving.

Don’t worry if the venue gives you the option of printing out your tickets at home. Their scanners work fine with black and white printers, and the printout doesn’t even need to be of particularly high quality. If you feel uncomfortable with this procedure, the venue will always offer you other options, such as mailing the tickets to you or, my favorite, holding them at will call.

If your favorite band’s concert is sold out, don’t panic. You can always go to eBay to find a ticket, and the markup can be surprisingly palatable. is a devoted ticket marketplace whose prices range from reasonable to insane. Some venues even offer online ticket auctions for sold-out shows. If all else fails, you can always hang around outside the concert with a cardboard sign and a willingness to annoy strangers.

Step 4: Arrange transportation

If you live in a hip, concert-laden city, you can probably skip this step. However, not all alternative music fans live within bus-riding distance of a concert, which can put a real damper on your show-seeing ability. If you don’t have a car, your first step is to try to find someone who does. Hopefully you’ll have a friend who enjoys concerts as much as you and is willing to give you a lift. If not, you can always post a message on Craigslist or Facebook soliciting a ride with an offer to pay for gas. If you do have a car, be sympathetic towards the underprivileged, buoyed by the knowledge that you are helping the environment as well as committing an act of kindness.

If catching a ride is just not feasible, look into long-range public transportation in your area. It might not be pleasant to spend an hour and a half jumping buses to complete a trip that would take twenty minutes by car, but it might just be worth it to see a great performance. Plus, you know that you’ll savor the show all the more for having exerted the effort to get to the venue.

Step 5: Decide when to arrive

This may seem like an unusual step, but it will actually have a huge impact on how you experience a concert. First, let me break down the different kinds of venues at which you’re most likely to end up.


Before you depart, you need to consider two variables: your enthusiasm for the band and how much time you’re willing to spend waiting for them. This is important because how close you are to the stage when the main act plays is largely decided by when you choose to show up.

Most indie bands play at either large or small clubs that generally open their doors one hour before the opening band plays. If you want to be in the front row, you will likely need to wait outside the venue even before they open the doors. I would give myself half an hour for a small club and an hour for a large club.

Other than trying to get close to the stage, choosing when to arrive at a club is mostly contingent on what you want to get out of the night. If you only want to see the headliner, you can arrive up to two hours after the doors open. If you’re looking to spend a social night on the town, show up half an hour after the doors open so you can mingle and talk pretentiously about music without the fear of being judged.

For a seated show, these matters are even less pressing. You have an assigned place to sit, so you don’t have to worry about struggling for placement. Of course, indie rock shows almost never take place in venues with assigned seating.

For a stadium, a park, or a large theater with general admission, you will probably want to show up fairly early if you want even a decent view of the band. I’d get there just as the doors open. The kind of bands that play these big venues almost always have rabidly loyal fans who will wait hours for a chance to see their heroes up close. Don’t expect to stroll in after the opener has played and be able see anything on stage besides an occasional peek at the bassist’s hair.

Step 6: Enjoy the Show

If you’ve made it this far, you’re suitably prepared to go off and see your concert. Once you’re there, however, you might have a few questions about how to get the most out of your hard-earned ticket.

What should I wear?
There are two answers to this question. The first is: the tighter, the better. Your heart should have to work doubly hard to squeeze blood through your constricted veins during a good indie rock show. It doesn’t even matter if you have the figure for tight clothing; every article on your body should be at least two sizes too small. Also, never wear a shirt with a band name on it. You’ll just look like a dork. Ideally, your shirt will have some terrible, mass market logo from the ‘80s stamped all over it.

The second, better answer to this question is: dress comfortably. You’ll be standing in a cramped space for a couple of hours, so your feet will get tired and your body will get hot. Wear sneakers and, even if it’s cold outside, leave your jacket in the car. It’ll just inconvenience you once you’re inside the club.

What should I bring inside?
Bring as little as possible into a show, as you’ll have no real way of setting it down once you get situated. Some good things to bring include:

  • Sealed bottled water
  • Compact digital camera
  • Gum/mints
  • Cash (merchandise tables only accept cash)
  • Ear plugs
  • Phone

What not to bring:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs
  • Food
  • Sweater
  • Large bag
  • Pocket knife
  • Sunglasses
  • Jewelry
  • Large camera/video camera
  • Saran-wrapped brick of flour

What Should I do in case of…

Mosh pits do, from time to time, form at a modern concert. If you are at a show that features aggressive music, and you don’t want to be part of a mosh, your best bet is to stand well back from the stage. Generally, only very enthusiastic fans engage in moshing, and it’s an accepted norm that moshers should stay at the front of the crowd.

If, however, you find an unexpected mosh pit developing around you, your worst move is to stay put and hope it goes away. If you’re standing at the edge of a mosh pit, bodies will almost certainly be flung against you. Those people will not notice your disdainful scowls. I know that it’s not the perfect solution, but you really are better off just moving away.

If you want to join a mosh: keep your elbows down, keep your legs spread and, for god’s sake, if someone falls, help them up.

Related to moshers, only isolated. The best solution is to find a security guard to intervene in the case of unruly behavior, but this is not always possible. Tragically, if you can’t reach security, your best bet is once again to simply distance yourself from the problem. Sure, moving away from the stage is a drag, but if you’re constantly annoyed by a drunk instead of enjoying the show, then you’re in worse shape than you would be with a slightly worse view.

Excessive volume
Some shows can be terrifyingly loud, loud enough that you’ll feel your ears ringing for days afterwards. It never hurts to have a nice pair of earplugs in your pocket in case you start feeling genuine aural pain. I recommend Hearos brand (get it?), which are specifically designed for musicians. Seasoned concert-goers and musicians often wear ear plugs to every show they see to preserve their hearing. If you want to know why this is a good idea, try watching TV with my dad.

Tall people
Some people are tall, and some people like to attend concerts. Occasionally, these traits combine and you’ll end up with a giant standing in front of you. They can’t help it, so don’t pester them. They probably feel bad about it already.

As with all annoying concert-goers, you simply need to find a new place to stand. Take this mantra to heart and I guarantee your live-music-enjoyment factor will rise meteorically. It is not other people’s job (except mine) to help you have a good time. You need to take matters into your own hands if you want to insure that your concert experience is a good one.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.