I have a confession to make: I am a Seat Snob.
I guess it would sound better to call myself a “seat connoisseur.” But I don’t think the semantics change the fact that I have made the choice to limit my seating choices for any live entertainment event to the first ten rows. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Go big or go home.” My mantra has become, “Go close or go home.”
Now before you click away from the post thinking, “How incredibly snobby,” please give me a few paragraphs to explain.
My wife, Susan, and I attend quite a few entertainment events each year. Concerts—both old artists and new artists. Plays—both musicals and non-musicals. Lectures. And the occasional cool event that doesn’t fit into any category. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are events that we were able to get seats in the first ten rows.
When we were young marrieds and living in Miami, we would occasionally attend plays or concerts, with really little regard for where our seats were. We were just happy to be there! When we moved to Tampa in 1995, we looked forward to continuing that tradition. The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center—the venue that houses the large Broadway musicals that travel from city to city—had a great schedule that first year. There was a new musical called “Jekyll & Hyde” that was traveling the country before making its Broadway debut. We had never seen a show before it arrived on Broadway, so we thought that would be a fun show to see.
In looking at the schedule, we were surprised to see that they were doing their last show of the week-long run on Sunday night, December 24. Did they really expect to get much of an audience on Christmas Eve? As Susan and I are Jewish, the fact that it was Christmas Eve wasn’t really an obstacle for us, so we decided to go. I bought tickets—and they were in the 6th Row Center Orchestra. Translation: Really, really, really good seats.
The theater that night was a little less than half full. (Interesting side note: the theater never scheduled another show for Christmas Eve ever again!) But the orchestra section—the seats on the main floor—was mostly filled up and it was still a decent size audience.
“Jekyll & Hyde” was a very good show—but viewing it from the 6th row took the experience to a whole new level. The intimacy, the energy, the sound, the feel, the immersion in the production was heightened to a level that was exponential to anything we had ever experienced before. We couldn’t believe it! We felt as though we were watching an entirely different show than the people who were sitting in the seats we normally would have been sitting in.
We celebrated our good fortune in having great seats for this one show—and then went back to buying tickets for plays and concerts the way we always had…..being happy just to be there. But a strange thing happened. After every show, we would say, “That was really good. But it was no ‘Jekyll & Hyde’.” And this happened over and over again.
And for the next nine years we continued to attend events, always happy to get any seats we could get. But the “It was no ‘Jekyll & Hyde” line was beginning to gnaw at me. Was there really that much of a difference between where we were sitting and the first ten rows of an entertainment event?
The short answer: Yes.
In 2004, we wanted to buy tickets to see Carole King. She was performing at another local venue, Ruth Eckerd Hall, which has about 2,000 seats. Again, we would have been happy with any seats, but the show sold out quickly before we could get tickets. However, an old friend from high school, Patty, had recently started working at the Ruth Eckerd Hall box office. So I called Patty and asked her if any tickets might become available at the last minute. She told me that sometimes they release seats at the very last minute—and told me she would call me if that happened.
About 90 minutes before the show, she called and said, “David, I’ve got two tickets in the front row. Quick—do you want them?”
“Yes! Grab them!” I quickly gave her our credit card info and we were on our way to theater.
It was an incredible show. We definitely did “feel the earth move, under our feet.”* (*Note to Millennials—this is the lyric to a famous Carole King song,) And it was the first time in nine years that we’d had a “Jekyll & Hyde” experience. And the difference was palpable. It reminded us again of how vastly different the experience of live entertainment could be, when viewed from the first few rows.
And from that point forward, I became a Seat Snob. I was now utterly convinced that there were actually two shows that occur at every live entertainment event. The first show was the one experienced by the people in the front few rows. And the second show was the one experienced by everyone else. So I made the decision that I wouldn’t buy tickets for events unless we could sit in the first ten rows.
Now a decision like this comes with its consequences. Getting seats in the first ten rows can be very expensive. Whether you get them the venue’s box office or directly through Ticketmaster or through StubHub (a website for fans reselling, albeit usually scalping, tickets), the best seats are always going to be pricey. And purchasing tickets for any entertainment offering is done solely with discretionary income….which is limited, at best.
So we decided that we would cut way back on the quantity of events we attended each year, in order to exponentially increase the quality of events we attended.
This was especially true for events that were held in arena-size venues. We would spend most of our time watching the performers on the large screens—because you really couldn’t see them that well from most seats. I told Susan, “If we’re watching most of the show on the screens, then let’s just get a DVD of the artist in concert and watch it at home. We’ve got a nice television and a good sound system—and we’ll save money that could go towards better seats at other shows.”
So that’s what we did. We cut our ticket-buying way, way back. We saved money. And we limited our show selection to a select few that we were willing to spend more to sit in the first ten rows.
After twelve years of using this strategy, we’ve learned some tricks and techniques along the way that help us get great seats without having to always pay exorbitant scalper prices. For example, for a small fee you can usually become a “Member” of most local theaters and performing arts centers. As a “Member” you typically get to buy tickets before the general public….and can often get those great front seats.
You can also sign up for a free a Live Nation account (affiliated with Ticketmaster) and often have the ability to buy tickets through a Pre-Sale, before the general public.
Sometimes, you can get tickets directly through the artist’s website. We recently bought tickets to see James Taylor through his website. This particular offer didn’t tell you exactly where your seats were—only the guarantee that they would be in the first ten rows. Well, that worked for us! And we ended up in the third row! These were much better seats than we could have gotten for the same concert through Ticketmaster.
The last twelve years as a Seat Snob have been glorious! We don’t see as many shows as we would like—but the experience of the ones we do see is exponentially greater than it would be if we were in our former seats. The seats where most people are experiencing the “other show.”
And even if your discretionary income might only allow you to attend two or three shows a year, I would ask that you Entertain The Thought of cutting it back to just one show for the year. And if you can only afford one show a year, then cut it back to one show every two years. But for that one show, treat yourself to seats in the first ten rows. Experience the experience! And you, too, may find that Quality definitely beats Quantity and join me as a Seat Snob. I’ll see you up front!