How Early Should You Get to a Concert? Do They Start on Time?

Author: Alexis Ronstadt | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

On a scale from 1 to “over-the-moon”, the excitement of scoring tickets to a concert by your favorite artist ranks closer to “interplanetary”.

As fans, there’s nothing that even comes close to experiencing a live performance. One scarcely has the words to describe the palpable exchange of energy between you, the artist and masses of other humans who share your devotion.

Naturally, you don’t want to miss a second! So how early should you arrive to squeeze every last magical drop out of your upcoming concert?

Generally speaking, if a concert starts at 7, you should be there between 2 hours and 30 minutes early, depending on the circumstances. If you’ve got general admission tickets for an arena-sized show, plan on arriving up to 2 hours early. If it’s a smaller show and you’ve got assigned seating, you can safely arrive just half an hour early and not miss anything.

But what if you absolutely need to be at the front of the stage? Or do you have to drive from the next town over to attend? Formulating your ideal arrival strategy depends on a few different factors such as the size of the venue, seating, and when the show actually starts.

Let’s break it down further …

Venue Size

Large Venues

When the world’s most popular artists go on tour, they sell out arenas. Bearing in mind that it can take you several minutes just to walk from your car to the entrance of a major sports arena, you can see why it’s important to plan accordingly.

Arriving at least 1, ideally 2, hours prior to an arena show should give you plenty of time to navigate the scene. There will be more parking available and you’ll be in line right behind the most die hard fans who have been queuing all day.

Once you’ve passed security, you will have plenty of time to grab a drink, hit the restroom, and peruse the merch. If you’ve got a general admission ticket, you should still have time to comfortably mosey into the venue to secure a spot with a view.

Now, if it’s barricade or bust for you, plan on adding at least another hour (and ample patience) to your arrival strategy. Indeed, you will need to be among the first few dozen people in the doors to secure a coveted spot near the stage.

There, you will be rewarded with the kinds of views where you can see details in outfits and instruments. And let’s be clear: eye contact and hand contact (if the artist reaches out) is also potentially in play with these most primo of posts!

Pro Tip: it’s not a bad idea to do some research to determine how much time to allow for storming the barricade. Spend a little time in the weeks before the show looking at the artist’s social media as well as major fan groups to find clues about how early people start queuing.

In the most extreme cases for the absolute most popular artists in the world, it is not uncommon to see fans arrive the morning of the show or even camp out the night before. (Swifties, we’re looking at you.) This is not a strategy for the faint of heart; but then, nothing worthwhile is easy.

Medium Venues

Arrival time for medium-sized venues can be a bit more forgiving. Generally, you should try to arrive around an hour prior to the show to secure decent parking and a reasonable place in line. If you have a ticket with assigned seating, you can get away with even less.

Small Venues

Finally, small, indie venues have easier access and a built-in intimacy that stadiums lack. There’s rarely a bad spot in the house for sound and visuals, and you can eliminate the need for parking by using public transportation or ride shares to get there.

Show up 30 minutes prior to the show to have enough time to grab a drink and scour the merch table, less if you have assigned seating.

When Does the Show Actually Start?

Ok. You’ve done your due diligence, showed up 2 hours early, made it through the line quickly, bought a tour shirt, and found a great spot just to the center-right of the stage. So when does the music start?

By now you’ve figured out that the time listed on your ticket is NOT when the show starts. Almost always, the start time on your ticket refers to when the doors open. You may even see something like “Doors at 7, Show at 8”. Even then, the artist you came to see isn’t likely to take the stage at 8.

What’s the deal?

Decoding the actual start time of a show requires some understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes.

For starters, consider the logistics of a major stadium-sized production. Opening the doors “early” allows organizers to process ticket holders with enough time for them to get comfortable for the performance, e.g. purchase refreshments, use the restroom, and secure a good spot.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that the goal of any show is to profit. Every venue, from small indie joints to arenas that take up several city blocks benefit from giving fans the time to mingle and spend.

If you’re a particularly social person, this benefits you as well. Showing up early to a show allows you the freedom to get amped before the show with your friends or meet and mingle with fellow fans. More time equals less stress and a more enjoyable experience all around.

Once you’ve settled into place and met some new friends, you’re still likely to wait a while before the main attraction begins. If the concert starts at 8, the artist you came to see might not go on until 9:30 or later. But that doesn’t mean there’s no entertainment …

Enter the openers! Most touring artists feature one or more opening acts who will spend about a half an hour performing their own material. These bonus musicians are tasked with setting the tone for the evening and getting you primed and ready for the headliner.

These intrepid performers may be hand-picked by the artist you came to see, or they are artists that the organizers think fit well with the genre. Either way, they are more than worthy of your attention and energy. Because, hey, if the headliner loves this band, you just might, too!

Finally, whether or not the show starts on time will also be a variable in your evening. Even artists who are sticklers for punctuality may encounter technical difficulties or illness on the big day. Other artists are keen to let the clock tick before they’re ready to take the stage. Stay flexible for the best experience.

How Long Will the Show Last?

One of the most appealing aspects of a live performance is that it’s never the same twice. And how late of a night you’ll have is dependent on several factors.

First and foremost is the stamina of the artist. Some performers thrive on giving fans 3 hours of spectacle and magic. Others may call it after one encore before having to get back on the road. Again, spend some time researching other fans’ experiences to get an idea of what you can expect.

Other factors such as weather and equipment figure prominently. Outdoor venues are especially  vulnerable to truncated or canceled shows. And a well-paid guitarist can only have so many backup guitars!

Generally speaking, if a show starts at 8 (showtime, not doors), you can expect things to wrap up sometime before or after midnight.

That’s a Wrap!

Ultimately, putting on a show of any size requires a lot of effort on behalf of numerous parties, not just the artist. The ensuing experience is, for the artist and fans alike, a feat of art and humanity, the likes of which can be transcendent and life-changing. Having an informed idea of the evening’s timeline can minimize your stress level to ensure that you get to enjoy every special moment!

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About Alexis Ronstadt

Originally from Phoenix (AZ), Alexis has been performing since childhood. She picked up the violin at age 8 and has been attempting to make interesting sounds with it, sometimes even successfully, since then. Projects include instrumental rock band Larkspurs and an improvisational collaboration called The Bone Stitchers. Aside from adding effects to her pedalboard and discovering exciting new artists, few things delight her more than writing about all things music in support of the music community at large.

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