Heather's post got me thinking about the first concert I attended. It was a Sarah McLachlan show in Bellingham, WA, back in 1994. It was a genuine Experience with a capital-E, and really overshadowed any other concert since. Funnily enough, not so much for the concert itself, which was great, but for all of the events that happened around it.
It started with getting the tickets themselves. I saw a tiny ad for the concert in the Georgia Straight, saying that Sarah McLachlan was going to be playing at Western Washington University. I was a big fan of her music at the time (it was a Very Dark Period of my life, or at least so I thought at the time, and McLachlan's music Spoke To Me. I've since grown up a bit, though I do have a lasting fondness for her albums). I knew I Had to Go to That concert.
As a bonus, the tickets were not being sold out of Ticketmaster or any other agency. No, in order to get tickets for the Bellingham show, you had to drive to Nettwerk's office in Vancouver and pick them up there. It was A Pilgrimage! My friend Tim and I (I think it was Tim at least - it's hard to remember the details 15 years later) jumped in the car and drove to their offices on W 2nd. It was like heading to Mecca, as Nettwerk was the label behind a couple of bands I really liked.
It was a bit disappointing when we finally got to Nettwerk. I don't know what I was expecting - dancing bears, circus acts, or a lush interior dripping with musicians and awesome. Turns out Nettwerk was just an office with cubicles - albeit an office with cubicles right next to one of the best known recording studios in Canada. We paid some cheery intern for our tickets and started looking forward to the show, which was a couple of weekends later.
On the day of the show, Tim and I bundled ourselves into my car, and headed down to Bellingham. We wanted to get there a bit on the early side, because the tickets were general admission, rather than assigned seating. And my god, there was sure to be thousands of people waiting in line for the concert - how could there not be?
The drive to WWU was pretty uneventful (unlike the drive to Seattle I'd make a few months later where my car would catch fire), and we found parking near the concert venue pretty easily - which made perfect sense given that we were 8 hours early for the concert. There was, obviously, no massive line of concert-goers, and no teeming throng of rabid fans crowding the university. We were, quite literally, the first people to arrive at the venue. Including the performers.
So what does one do for 8 hours at a university campus, especially when you're wary of losing your place as first in line? We explored the immediate surroundings and buildings. We walked around buildings, went up staircases, got locked in backstage. Oh yes, we fumbled ourselves into the backstage, where Dave Kershaw was hanging out. Of course, we didn't know he was the traveling organist for the show, and just asked him how the hell to get out. Eventually, having exhausted places to explore within shouting distance of the venue, we just sat down in a hallway.
Funnily enough, it was when we sat down in that hallway that we actually saw Sarah McLachlan. Tim missed her completely, and I only caught her out of the corner of my eye as she walked right in front of us. She was way shorter than I thought she was - I'm sure she was no taller than 5'. By the time I realized it was her that had walked 2' in front of us, she had already turned the corner.
Eventually, we started the line for the concert, as it was apparent that people were starting to show up. Due to our arriving stupidly early, we were at the front of the line. One of the concert organizers was going around with a video camera, and somewhere in the McLachlan archives exists a video of Tim and myself acting like complete idiots excited about our position at the front of the line (I'm particularly proud on that video of the stupid t-shirt I was wearing at the time).
The concert was amazing. Because I was at the front of the line, it meant I had my choice of places to sit (there were no chairs, just a flat floor in an empty room). I chose center stage, right at the very front. It turns out that was the absolute best place in the house to sit, as it was 5' away from the band. I was so close I could read the set list taped to the floor. The energy in that room was amazing, in part because we were all packed so closely together, and in part because Sarah McLachlan put on a very powerful show. At one point I very uncharacteristically had a girl sitting on my lap swaying along to the music with me (being the social misfit I was at the time, of course, I had absolutely no ability to even get her name).
I attended a few other concerts after that, but I was never had another experience like it. I think, in part, it was because I've never been to a venue quite like it, but I think also it's that the first experience was so memorable that I never could replicate it.