How I spent 2 hours of the GnR concert queuing for beer (and I’m not even pissed off)
by Eugene Tay
IT WAS 5.30pm when I arrived at the Changi Exhibition Centre and made my way to the back of the queue for Pen A (for $300 ticket holders) at the Guns N’ Roses concert on Saturday (Feb 26). GnR would take the stage at 8pm. It took about 30 minutes to get to the first checkpoint and a couple of minutes more to get our tickets scanned and RFID wristbands synced.
The three pairs of gatekeepers were doing a good job keeping the momentum going but they were impeded by the speed at which their devices could process. By the time I cleared through, the line snaked back twice as long as when I first joined. Bag check was next, and went smoothly.
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It was less than two hours to show time. I’ve worked organising concerts and festivals before, and I was beginning to sense things were about to get massively ugly.
The venue was big enough to accommodate the record 50,000 turnout but wasn’t set up for it. Whoever was in charge of the front of house had probably expected a gradual flow of traffic from 1pm to 8pm and did not account for a sudden influx an hour before show time.
It was an obvious miscalculation. Middle-aged concertgoers aren’t as free as when they were younger, when it was normal for fans to camp overnight for concerts.
About those RFID bands. They’re supposed to ease the hassle of payment: you top up a non-refundable amount at one station and then go spend it at the stalls. There were three counters for cash top-ups and just one for credit cards. I queued for an hour to load my RFID tag.
Now that I was e-cash loaded, I started my first queue for drinks. It was 7.30pm by the time I got my first two pints of beer and the queue situation had reached worrying levels. I felt sorry for those in queue behind me but was more relieved that I wasn’t one of them, so I sipped on my beer and made my way to the outdoor area of Pen A.
Wolfmother, the pre-show band, ended their set just as I finished my two pints, clearing the stage for the main act slated to start in about 15 minutes, at exactly 8pm. I “excuse-me”-d my way towards one of the only two drink stations in Pen A and – by golly-mother-of-god – the drink queue was all the way to the back of Pen A and threatening to spill over into Pen B.
“Screw this,” I thought to myself, remembering that there were F&B stalls back in the Exhibition Hall. “I’m going to try my luck with the queue in the Hall”. So I made a quick dash for it.
The Hall was a scene out of a zombie apocalypse movie.
There were more people in the hall than there were in the Pen. The queues for food, drinks and merchandise had exploded out of control, forming a human bulwark against the kancheong latecomers who needed to get from bag check station to the outdoor Pen in the shortest possible time. All around, people were losing their tempers. One guy was yelling at his friend, apparently still in a shuttle bus, over the phone.
I had two options. Screw the drinks and forget my remaining $160 in credits, or run back into my Pen and join the other queue. I decided I needed a head-start away from this chaos in the Hall before it reached the Pen.
That’s when GNR started playing, people started running, and pandemonium ensued. There was no way the gatekeeper could hold the frenzied human horde back to check the validity of our tags. More hell broke lose than you’d see at a death metal concert. By the time I got back to the Pen, there was only a semblance of a queue. It was just a mob of people standing at the back that differentiated themselves from non-queuers by the pissed off looks on their faces.
I waited in the drink line for two hours while the band played. Now I guess I could have gotten pissed off at this point, seeing that I had spent about 80 per cent of the concert in the drink queue. I’m sure some people were. But that’s not my style. What good does it do? Spoil my own fun and waste the $300 I spent because I chose to let the situation dictate how I feel? Being pissed off doesn’t change anything. I ended up singing along with others in the queue and making new friends.
The performance was excellent in the way that only an old-school fan can appreciate. The few seconds of sound glitch during one of Slash’s solos was not an issue as most of us already had the riffs in our head and were happy to fill in the gaps. The boys were pudgy and more subdued than their younger selves, but so were we – the concertgoers.
If you were there purely for the music, you would have enjoyed the show and probably walked away not knowing that there were thousands of angry fans behind you who spent the entire show queuing up for food and drinks that they probably never got.
When it finally came to my turn, the crowd was chanting ‘encore’. I couldn’t really see what was going on and hadn’t been able to for the past half hour, because my view was blocked by the drink tent.
The poor sod in front of me almost broke down because he had just realised that his RFID tag did not come pre-loaded with credits, which he felt a $300 ticket would have entitled him to.
I’m glad they had a 30 minutes encore set. I made it a point to down one pint for every song, to catch up on lost time. By the time the band got to Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, I was singing my lungs out and in a largely forgiving mood.
To me, organiser LAMC Productions made a business decision to slash (no pun intended) costs so that the concert could happen at the given ticket price. As a business, they guarded their bottom line and delivered what they could. They cut manpower, access points, facilities, amenities and probably hired less experienced temps on the ground.
Being a concert promoter has got to be the most thankless job in the world. They get into tough negotiations to bring in the acts, cough up the money, take the risks (GnR’s performance fees are rumoured to be US$3 million, excluding travel and entourage expenses) bend over backwards to accede to everyone’s requests, but when things don’t go right, it will be their fault. It doesn’t matter if you ran ten great shows prior; people only remember the screw-ups.
I don’t doubt for one second that the people who worked there that night had put in their very best. It’s tough work with long hours and shitty pay. Whoever you guys are, thank you.
The show ended, my beer was almost done, and I needed to pee, but discovered that the toilet queue would probably be another two hour wait. I looked at the empty plastic cups lying by my feet… whence it came, thence it shall return…
Eugene Tay is a Singaporean author, entrepreneur and a mindset coach. He runs the Get Naked with Eugene Tay talk show where he interviews interesting people and puts himself through life changing challenges. He eventually decided not to pee into a cup.
Featured image by Eugene Tay.
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