Warmer weather means the outdoor concert season is just about here, and so is the sticker shock that often accompanies inquiries about tickets. Festival passes easily can approach $100 per day or more, and good seats at arena and other indoor shows can demand an equally large chunk of a paycheck.
However, there is a way to defray these costs or even bypass them completely.
Volunteering to work at concerts can earn you a free pass to see your favorite musicians, and in some cases nab you a meal and collectible T-shirt as well. It’s a formula that’s worked for Stacey Rose, a Sacramento teacher who has volunteered at concerts for Dave Matthews Band at Berkeley’s Greek Theater and Maroon 5 at Golden 1 Center.
Rose scored her volunteering opportunities through Reverb, a nonprofit organization that works to provide a more eco-friendly concert experience and educates attendees about environmental issues. Rose has sold reusable water bottles, set up and broken down Reverb’s information booths, and performed other duties. She said the feeling is more like being a member of the road crew than a typical ticket holder.
“It’s not only a way to get into a show for free, but it’s a lot of fun,” Rose said. “When I volunteered in Berkeley, you got in before everyone else and it’s cool to be able to walk around and experience the venue empty. I met the saxophone player of Dave Matthews Band just because I was in there. It’s a win-win-win.”
Ready to trade some time and sweat for a free show? Here are some tips for making it happen:
Check festival websites for opportunities
Not all festivals use volunteers. Sacramento’s Monster Energy Aftershock and BottleRock Napa Valley both use paid staff. But others, such as Outside Lands, held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and Southern California’s Coachella, assemble massive volunteer crews to help run the festival. In the case of Outside Lands, volunteers can earn a daily pass in exchange for 12 hours of volunteer work.
In Sacramento, the third annual First Festival will be held May 6-7 at West Sacramento’s Riverwalk Park, and its organizers said they plan to work with 25 volunteers daily. First Festival organizers sweeten the deal by not just comping a free weekend pass to volunteers; they also provide lunch and two drink tickets to use when shifts are done. The festival is still seeking volunteers, who will receive training about a week before First Festival kicks off with its array of local music, including Oleander and Hobo Johnson.
“They’ll be spread all over the place, pouring beer, working the front ticket gate, working the VIP lounge, pretty much everything,” said Danielle Vincent, the co-founder of First Festival. “A festival is a bunch of numbers and charts on a piece of paper until the volunteers make it happen.”
Look for nonprofits that partner with concerts and festivals
While some festivals might directly round up volunteers, others rely on outside organizations to find those who will help keep the event clean and perform other duties for a free ticket. High Sierra Music Festival, which runs June 29 through July 2, partners with Clean Vibes to mitigate trash and run recycling programs at events through volunteer help.
Reverb, a nonprofit based in Portland, Maine, has partnered with more than 200 artists since its founding in 2004. The company utilizes a database of more than 3,000 volunteers to work concerts and help with eco-friendly efforts at the venues. Artists who have teamed in the past with Reverb include Willie Nelson, Wiz Khalifa, Dead & Company and others. Reverb also will have a presence at the John Mayer show at Golden 1 Center on July 27.
Reverb volunteers are assigned duties such as selling reusable water bottles, interacting with fans at information booths and setting up information tables. In exchange for their efforts, volunteers get a free ticket to the show and a special T-shirt. Reverb hires between 10 to 20 volunteers per show, and spots generally fill up fast. Expect to spend some time on a waiting list before you finally get selected as a volunteer.
“If someone emails that they’re interested in a specific tour and applications aren’t open, we put them on an early interest list,” said Paige Roth, Reverb’s manager of volunteer and community programs. “(Once selected) they’ll generally arrive about an hour before the doors open and get some training and a T-shirt to wear while volunteering. People really get into collecting those shirts.”
Build a good track record (i.e., don’t be a flake)
Volunteers who successfully complete their duties often are given a priority when other opportunities arise. So, if you want to keep a good rep on the volunteer circuit, doing things like bolting from your job once you’re in the venue is a surefire way to get blackballed. Some festivals, such as Outside Lands, use safeguards such as requiring volunteers to leave a deposit – usually equivalent to the price of a daily ticket – which is refunded upon a successful volunteer shift.
It’s also best to save the beer drinking until after a volunteer shift is done and everyone’s free to party along with their favorite band.
“We don’t want volunteers to be intoxicated and are just there to get a beer,” First Festival’s Vincent said. “But that’s just been a small percentage (of volunteers) and that’s where training comes in. We’re laying down a set of rules and giving clear directions to avoid any of that. Having people to make the festival run smoothly is the most important element.”
Have fun and enjoy the experience
A happy crew of volunteers can help lift the vibe of any concert or festival. Volunteers who keep it cheery, whether they’re interacting with the public or performing whatever grunt work that may be asked of them, are usually the ones who get asked back. Sure, some volunteer duties might seem mundane, but why not keep a positive attitude? Otherwise, you might as well stay home and watch concert clips on YouTube.
“Expect a good time,” Rose said. “You get to meet people and see your favorite bands for free. You can’t beat that.”