1. Figure out whether you want to bring a pal or go alone.
It doesn't make sense that more people don't jump at the chance to attend concerts on their own. Being a lone wolf at shows is one of the great pleasures in life, ranking just below burritos and Google Image–searching the phrase "Henry Rollins' face." When you're alone, you don't have to hold anyone's coat while they pee or pretend you have a mysterious particle in your eye during the climax of your favorite weepy ballad. And if you're genuinely stoked about seeing an act you love, you won't come off as a friendless weirdo. Just don't spend the night nervously pretending to be texting your friends. Enjoy the band, and if you still start to feel self-conscious, just remember that people are looking at them, not you.
If you do want to go with a bud, make sure it's someone who's going to take in the music in a way that's similar to how you plan to get down. Wanna tailgate in the parking lot pre-show? Maybe don't bring a person who'll bug out if they get beer on their shoes. More inclined to quietly take in some classical music? Do it with someone who's not going to get bored and ask when the singing part starts. And it's always fun to go with somebody special to you — some of my most favorite memories are of the concerts I've shared with my family members or significant others. Plus, they'll totally hold your coat while you pee.
2. Be open to the opening band.
Yes, there's a solid chance that they'll be terrible, but hear me out on this one. In most cases, the openers were chosen because they complement the act you're there to see, by people who know about these things. It's like a real-life version of those Amazon recommendations that are always popping up in your email, except not totally irritating. So try treating the opening set like a bonus instead of a chore you have to slog through in order to see the main performers. Being dismissive of something you've never heard closes you off to possibly discovering the new playlist staple of your wildest dreams, and is also just not the best character trait in general.
3. If you can afford it, hit up the merch table, but do it BEFORE the show.
Everybody wins when you buy merch from a band. You're helping support an artist you love, which is especially helpful if they're an indie or otherwise small-scale act, since touring can be expensive as hell for just about anybody who isn't, like, Lady Gaga. When you buy a T-shirt, you get to both feel good, since you're more or less a patron of the arts, and also look good, because check out your rad new shirt that no one else you know has! And concert shirts get better with time — in just 10 years, even an already-great shirt's coolness quotient will be through the roof. Your best bet is to do this BEFORE the show begins, since the merch table is exponentially more crowded at the end of the night.
4. Same rule applies to the bathroom: Go before the show, except in emergencies.
Bathrooms at most venues are amazing for interesting graffiti, but are absolutely nightmarish in every single other regard. Hit 'em early even if you don't have to pee, and you won't have to deal with 80-proof puke on the floor and incredibly long lines later. You'll also reduce the chance of missing your favorite song because your bladder is being a total chump.
5. Figure out your drinks strategy.
As with everything else, go before the show starts. Alternately, you can go to the bar in shifts with a spot-saving concert companion if you don't mind missing a song or two. But it can be hard to guarantee you'll get your place back even with someone holding it, depending on the crowd, so judge wisely. If you're at a seated venue, wait until a song you don't care that much about starts, and run out and snag as many beers as you want (as long as someone else is driving). This is the only good thing about non-GA shows unless you're above 60 or a millionaire who can afford to be below the third mezzanine or whatever.
6. Find a good spot in the crowd.
This doesn't just mean "front and center." Instead, this is about how to make you feel most comfortable, and for some of us, that means staying at the furthest edges of the crowd, or as close to the bar as possible (hey, no judgment here).
You shouldn't have to think about your spot again after you first pick it. Like, if you're well into the show and find yourself getting annoyed about being next to a speaker or too close to the bathroom or crowded by people from all different directions, well, you've done it wrong, my misguided friend.
7. Make friends!
How do you break the ice with your fellow showgoers before the music gets underway? Given that the two easiest rules of talking to strangers are a) discussing interests or tastes you have in common, and b) commenting on shared experiences, it's total cake. Any of the following lines are nearly guaranteed to lead naturally into a conversation with your average non-psychotic or debilitatingly shy person:
• Have you seen (musician) live before?
• What did you think of (musician's) last album?
• I've heard the set list is really good on this tour! Do you think (musician) will play (favorite song)?
• I've never heard the opening band. Do you know if they're good?
Voilà, you're popular now. In your face, middle school lunchroom!
8. DON'T FIGHT ANYBODY, FOR PETE'S SAKE.
If you're drinking, be conscious of where your drink is at all times. In your cup? Amazing job, champ! Sloshing onto the jacket of the surly boulder-shaped person next to you? Apologize and get the hell out of there.
Is someone is encroaching on your personal area? Firmly but politely say, "Excuse me," like a person raised in civilized society, then reassert your space. Why is this so hard for some people to grasp? When has being aggressive toward a wasted person ever worked out well for anyone involved? An exception: If someone is trying to make sexual contact without consent, defend yourself however you see fit.
Finally, if someone is consistently bothering you, grab a security person or venue employee and let them know. The bothersome person will either stop or be removed. Either way, you win and are also pleasantly free of facial bruising!
9. DANCE IT OUT.
You know what makes bands sad? Lifeless crowds that don't seem to notice that music is being played right in front of their vacant faces. Accordingly, it makes most musicians feel great when people are visibly shredding in the audience. You know who else is made happy by dancing? YOU, if you're not a total boring sourpuss. While not all concerts are suited for dancing, you should bust a move to show your gratitude and enthusiasm for the artists at the ones that are. There is literally no downside to being a complete maniac on the dance floor, and it feels really, really good, so you might as well go buck.
10. If you're going to dance/mosh/crowd surf, proper clothing is a must.
Once upon a time, I got on stage with my favorite musician after being lifted through the crowd. It was totally amazing, except that once I was up there, I mooned an enormous venue because my tiny miniskirt had ridden up over my be-thonged ass. Maybe don't do this! Ladies, if you intend to stage dive, pants are your best butt bet.
Your clothes should also have pockets that zip or button if you're gonna go all out. Emerging from a raucous crowd missing your wallet or keys is a really easy way to ruin a great night.
11. Don't waste the night trying to get pictures or recordings with your phone.
Unless you're reallysupercloseup, trying to Instagram your experience is pretty pointless, and you're likely blocking someone else's view. Amateur concert audio/video is even worse — it invariably sounds like it was recorded with a trash compactor. Instead of trying to immortalize your night by documenting it, it's more worthwhile to stop getting distracted by your phone and focus your attention on the performance itself. A clear memory of the show is worth 61395460 pictures of a shadowy figure against blurry stage lighting.
Illustrations by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed.