This is usually the time of year when writers reflect on what the past year has taught them. But instead of focusing on the last 12 months, I’m going to reflect on the last 10 years.
Because I started covering country music for CMT in 2005, and I’ve learned some very useful things along the way. And I thought I’d share those with you now, before you get ready to navigate the live country music scene in the new year. Even if you only take away one or two tips, I’ll feel like I’ve done my job.
These is the best advice I have for all you country-lovin’ concert goers:
1. Best place to park: Your gut instinct tells you to park as close to the entrance as possible. But guess who gets out of the parking lot dead last? Park close to one of the lot’s exit, and you can avoid the mass (usually drunken) exodus at the end of the night.
2. Best thing for your feet: Cowboys boots, and not just because they’re of the fashion statement. They are actually the most sensible footwear for men and women. They protect your feet from spilled beers, they’re sturdy enough for climbs up and down amphitheater hills and arena steps and, for women, they are stylish without being dangerous. I seriously doubt anyone has ever broken an ankle in cowboy boots.
3. Best time for a potty break: During a song you’ve already heard a million times. That’s when the lines are the shortest. They are longest during the part of the show when the artist is playing the new stuff. (Sorry, country singers, but when we don’t know the words to that tune you wrote on the bus on your way here, that’s when nature calls.)
4. Best foods to eat: Hot dogs are the perfect concert food. Say what you will about their questionable ingredients, but they are packed with preservatives that make them impossible to mess up. Plus, they are portable and only require one hand. Nachos, though? The worst. That is a two-handed operation that even the most sober person will inevitably mess up.
5. Best way to drink without getting drunk: Pace yourself. Drink water between cocktails. And if you really want to guarantee that you can hang all night long, use the yeast trick. Stir a few teaspoons of Fleischmann’s dry yeast into a yogurt and eat it before you go out. There’s an enzyme in yeast that metabolizes the alcohol in your liver.
6. Best way to keep cope with traffic: Assume the very worst case scenario. Imagine that Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift are co-headlining, and there is road construction, and it’s raining like crazy. That way, any pre-concert traffic you endure will be a piece of cake compared to that, and you won’t miss a single song.
7. Best time to come and go: The list of venues that still allow tailgating gets shorter every year. So if you can’t tailgate, and you just want to get there to beat the rush, time it so you arrive about an hour after the doors open but right before the opener takes the stage. That’s your prime — albeit small — window of opportunity. Your best departure time is always right after the first encore song. Always. I’ve left too early and stayed too late over the years, but leaving just as the artist is starting to sing his or her second encore song has always gotten me out of the parking lot in record time.
8. Best strategy for seat hopping: If you get caught, be humble and kind. You’ve taken a chance that those seats a few rows ahead of you (maybe even a few rows ahead of those) will stay empty, but if the legit ticket holders do show up, just smile your best mea-culpa smile and get out of their way.
9. Best advice for out-of-towners: One word. Refundable. If you are going to a show outside of your neck of the woods and it involves airplane and hotel rooms, make sure you can cancel without a penalty if the concert itself is cancelled. You never think it’s going to happen until you’re sitting in a hotel room in Ohio watching Friends reruns.
10. Best way to make the most of a meet-and-greet: The coveted meet and greet opportunities are hard to come by. So once you’ve got one, you have a lot to do in a very limited amount of time. You want a photo with the artist, obviously. Possibly an autograph, too. But you also want to make the artist love you, remember you and understand how much the music means to you. On top of that to-do list, you’re going to be nervous. So my only advice here is to go for a laugh. The artist will have a hundred people say they are his or her biggest fans, so break up that monotony with a joke if you can. Hearing, say, Dierks Bentley laugh is a meet-and-greet memory you will treasure for the rest of your life.