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Why does camping for concerts suck right now?

Camping to secure a front-row seat is nothing new, but post-pandemic crowds are going to new extremes

Concertgoers can be split into a few categories. There are the people that run into the venue minutes before the headliner appears. Then there are the people that waltz up to the queue shortly before doors open. Then there are the dedicated fans who sleep overnight outside the venue in their assembled tents, in order to obtain the best view possible.

Just a few years ago, a general admission ticket holder could arrive a few hours before a concert started and would still get a great view. Recently though, camping has gotten more intense. Fans are more dehydrated and exhausted than ever before and are lining up several hours, sometimes even days, before a concert to get a front-row view. Given these conditions, someone who doesn’t attend concerts often may have a hard time comprehending why people camp in the first place.

In an increasingly digital world and in a post-pandemic era, collective physical experiences like concerts are something that fans are yearning for more visibly, and the camping experience is a massive part of it. Dr Lucy Bennett is a lecturer at Cardiff University with expertise in popular music and fandom cultures. “I think this form of camping has also become, for many fans, part of the ritual of attending a show,” she explains to Dazed. “Within this camping activity, friendships are being born, anticipation for the concert is being revelled in, and it becomes a key aspect for many in the build-up to a live event.”


literally a core memory for LIFE!!! i made so many amazing friends and billie legit sang to me so i 1000000% recommend! do it.

♬ original sound - em 🍇

While this may seem like a fun experience to meet like-minded individuals, the problems that result from this specific experience have escalated in recent months. Fans showed up to queue 48 hours ahead of a Harry Styles concert in Manchester last summer despite the venue discouraging people from turning up early. Phoebe Bridgers paused her set five times in one night last year to attend to fans who became ill after spending hours prior to the gig camping and queuing in intense heat. Notably, after warning fans against camping out in freezing temperatures for a Louis Tomlinson gig last December, staff at Banquet Records in London sent anyone who had waited outside the venue overnight to the back of the queue in the morning as punishment.

Concert camping veteran Carly, 22, shares anecdotes that are similar to those found in the media. “More frequently now, artists are stopping their sets multiple times to assist fans fainting, physical fights in pits are occurring more often from exhaustion and frustration, and fans are walking out of crowds before the concert begins because of lightheadedness.” So just why has it gotten so intense?

One of the arguments we see today of why camping culture appears to have gotten so extreme is due to the “TikTokification” of concerts, or TikTok’s post-pandemic impact on concert culture and consequently the increased interest in camping for shows. Fandom breeds separate levels of hierarchy, so camping overnight, securing a front row spot, capturing an interaction with the artist that’s on stage, and then uploading it to TikTok takes you up that said fan hierarchy. “Their footage [from a less obstructed and closer view] would be more distinct, and would demonstrate to others their front row positioning,” Dr Bennett explains. “Fans also share footage from outside the venue, whilst camping, thereby communicating to TikTokers a sense of their experiences and that they were part of this fan activity… All of these efforts and videos can work to make these fans distinct and increase their fan cultural capital.”

This chimes with Carly’s experience. “There was a TikTok trend a few months ago where users would string together various concert videos from their camera roll and caption each of them with how long they waited to get that specific view,” she says. “Within fandoms, the longer you camp out for a gig, the bigger fan you are.” 

It’s worth noting that camping for concerts is not a new phenomenon, and it dates all the way back to the Beatlemania days and even earlier. Camping has cemented itself as being a significant part of concert culture, and vilifying fans for camping for that matter is reductive.

Instead, the root of today’s problem can be traced back to concert ticketing platforms. Fans that camp were once sitting in a virtual ticket buying waiting room, crossing their fingers that they would secure tickets only to then be placed in a digital queue with over 2,000 people ahead of them. If a fan is lucky enough to survive the usual catastrophe that is buying tickets online, they are spending up to hundreds of dollars for a general admission or standing ticket, which doesn’t even necessarily guarantee them a good view at the concert. Similarly, fans that were not successful at purchasing tickets the first time are buying tickets for double or triple the price on resale ticketing websites.

Professor Hilde Van den Bulck is a Drexel University professor with expertise in fandom, media, and celebrity culture. “[Camping] is more an exponent of capitalism than counter culture, resulting from the creation of artificial scarcity,” she explains. “Think waiting lines for the latest limited edition sneaker, or to be the first to have the newest iPhone.”

“They [the ticket and concert industries] create artificial scarcity, inflate prices and, more than ever, turn concerts into big business,” Professor Van den Bulck surmises. As a result, fans are going to want to get the best return on investment by being as close as physically possible at the gig, which often means waiting several hours in the queue. Instead of pointing fingers at the fans and waiting for them to fix their “obsessive,” “extreme,” or “TikTokified” behaviour, we should reconstruct the conversation and ask how all parties involved can work together to deescalate this culture. 

For starters, venues can pass around water and food leading up to showtime. Professor Van den Bulck says anecdotally that it’s something she remembers: “I remember the days where venues would embrace them [the fans], handing out snacks and water, providing facilities… it’s not that hard, not that expensive compared to ticket prices.” Of course, many venues already do this: as Carly says, “a lot of venues will pass out water minutes before the main act comes on stage.” But they could certainly go further. Carly also points out that “at that point, fans are already extremely dehydrated and exhausted. It would be nice if they provided snacks and water earlier in the day for campers, and I think it would keep fans’ health in check.”

With all the discussion of the “TikTokification” of concerts and camping, fans have the ability to flip the narrative and use social media to remind people to stay hydrated, dress appropriately for the weather, dispose their garbage, and to treat others with respect, whether that be holding their spot in the queue, bringing extra water and snacks, or having conversations with one another. At the end of the day, camping culture will exist as long as live music continues, and villainizing fans won’t stop the intensity of camping for concerts. Instead, it would be best to remember that camping is a collective and shared experience that fans look forward to, and all parties should treat it as such and look out for one another.