Two days ago, James Hetfield ripped apart his guitar inches away from my face as I screamed like a teenage girl (or boy—can’t offend my feminist daughters). My first Metallica concert will probably never be topped. I’ve peaked. How do you ever do better than getting high fives and fist bumps from rock legends all night long? You don’t.
I don’t think it’s possible to purchase passes to the Snake Pit—the area inside the walkway Metallica uses to walk twenty yards into the crowd. I was insanely lucky. When I found out I had been given two, I didn’t know what they were. Even after searching online, information as to what expect was limited. Sandi was a little scared we’d get ripped to shreds. Was the Snake Pit one step beyond a mosh pit? If so, I figured that was an excellent way to go.
I bought the best seats available the exact second presale tickets were live. I had three browser windows open, refreshing constantly. Good tickets went fast. Second tier at Century Link Field at about the 40-yard line was the best I could get. Not bad, but I’d hoped for better. Five months later, in July, I was notified by email I would receive two Snake Pit Passes at the box office before the concert. I was stoked, but told myself to chill. Could be a scam, fake email, mistake… something is too good to be true usually is.
I took a half day off work to show up three hours before the gates opened because the email said if the pit gets too full, we could be denied. No way I’d let that happen. Plus, if the Rock Gods were on our side and we somehow ended up with these mythical serpent tokens, I wanted to secure a spot as close to the runway as possible: back far enough to see the full stage, but close enough to be in the middle of everything.
“Hi, I won tickets to the Snake Pit,” I told the Box Office clerk.
Damn. She didn’t seem to know what I’m talking about. I handed her my ID. “Yeah, I got an email…”
She took my license and vanished long enough that I figured, yup, too good to be true. Which sucked, because originally I was totally amped for the concert. Then when I thought we’d be in the Snake Pit, I was orgasmic. Now the whole evening would have a disappointing…
“Here you go,” she said, interrupting my negative thoughts.
Two green wrist bands slid under the window and I took them in my hands to make sure they were real. They were real.
We put them on before anything could happen to them. Then I worried maybe I’d put them on the wrong hand and we’d be denied. Yeah, that’s how much I stress about stupid shit.
After an hour, the gates opened and our line moved forward. When we reached the field, there were already waves of people packed up against the front gates—along the stage and against the walkway into the crowd. We were directed to the front and walked past a line of security officers between the stage and the railing holding back the crowd. I felt like a rock star. Like I was cheating the system—jumping ahead of people that had been in line since 8:00 am and packed onto the field like rock and roll sardines.
We passed under the ramps and into the Snake Pit—which was almost empty. A handful of people stood around, leaving us with incredible options. I hadn’t imagined I’d get the exact spot I’d dreamed off: next to the lowest section of ramp where we could see the full stage.
Across the walkway, we saw the crowd on the field. The front row was smashed into a small fence. Beyond the fence, security guarded the walkway—the same walkway I casually leaned against. I rested my elbows on it and tried to see our empty seats in the distance. How was this real?
“Sir, keep your hands off the ramp.”
I removed my arms.
Sandi saved our spot, and I went to buy a limited edition lithograph—something I really wanted. I waited in two different lines only to find those locations sold out. I checked at a third, they had them, and I waited a half hour. As I stepped to the counter, a guy slipped in front of me… and, I’m not kidding, bought the last one. I couldn’t believe it. I left with a concert shirt instead and, to ease the disappointment, reminded myself that I was in the Snake Pit. Sandi had texted me and said the pit was filling and I better get back to make sure we didn’t lose our spot, so I bailed on operation lithograph.
When I got back, Mix Master Mike (former Beastie Boy) was playing and the crowds on both sides of the runway had thickened. Inside the Snake Pit, there was room to sit and, in some places, even stretch out for a nap. But outside, the general area was packed. Mike ran down the runway and gave high five’s to many of us in the Snake Pit (he wouldn’t have been able to reach the fans smashed against the railing). Sandi and I looked at each other like… “How the @#!% did we get this lucky?”
Mike wrapped up at about 6:00 and Gojira, a band I wasn’t familiar with, took the stage. We danced, rocked, they also gave us high five’s, and Sandi and I were a little shocked at how close they were. We’d been told not to touch the band, but I hadn’t realized how easy it would have been. They were right there.
Avenged Sevenfold, another unknown band to me, took the stage and had more energy than the first band. They ran laps around the walkway and interacting with the crowd more… great music and a great show. When they left and the stage was cleared for Metallica, the sun was dropping low. Century Link was packed to the rafters and the Snake Pit was full. The lights dropped.
Ecstasy of Gold started to play—a western tune accompanied by scenes from the Good, The Bad, and the Ugly on the big screens. My brother told me that alone was worth going to the concert, to hear that song at the start of every show. Both my brothers have been Metallica fans way longer than me. They deserved something like this so much more than me.
The crowed went insane.
Guitars split the sky with more power than a low flying 747.
Fire shot from the stage and bathed our faces in waves of hot air.
Right up front, they played two of my favorite songs from the new album: Hardwired and Atlas Rise.
Early in the show, Robert worked his way down the runway as his fingers danced across his bass. He paused in a few places, then walked to the edge of the runway where I stood—inches away! He ripped up and down the frets. Making the music I’d loved for the past five years. Right there. So close I couldn’t hold up my phone to record. So close, I leaned back so my nose didn’t hit the strings. Yes, that close.
I existed somewhere else for that minute. Or hour. Time in this world didn’t matter because it was a mini lifetime in whatever other world he took me to. When he stepped back and worked further down the runway, I watched dazed. Born again. Baptized into the Metallica family.
The band used the runway all night—often running down the line giving us high fives and fist bumps. Playing closer than I’ve seen small, local bands perform. Robert came in close again and I had my camera recording—but no idea what it would look like held low against my chest. Throughout the night, they were often a yard or two away, rarely more than ten yards, and sometimes inches. All night I asked myself how I’d gotten so lucky.
James Hetfield shredded his guitar two feet down the runway, and I stared. Listened. Watched in amazement as he made the music I love an arm’s reach away. He took a few steps back, moved towards me, then knelt right in front of Sandi and I…. tearing at the strings. Pushing forward so, again, I had to lean back so I didn’t mess up the song for more than 50,000 screaming fans. I was right there where the music was being made. Face to face with James Hetfield. Insane.
The entire night was an acid trip. Not literally, we didn’t even drink. But the music, the experience… beyond anything I’d imagined. Lasers crisscrossed the stadium. Fire shot a hundred feet or more into the sky. Fireworks exploded, timed with the music.
Across the runway, we watched the front row fight the crowd behind them. Grabbing the bars, pushing back, then falling forward as hundreds of bodies surged forward. Everyone pressed together with no room to dance, move, and I wondered how they even breathed. I would have had a panic attack. It did not look fun. But then, I’m a geezer now at almost fifty. Certainly too old for that.
Several sandwiched fans asked for help, and security helped them over the fence and escorted them away. Others were lifted, lying on the hands of the crowd, screaming and cheering as they surfed their way over the crowd and into the waiting arms of security—who then escorted them away.
Meanwhile, Sandi and I stood next to the runway, plenty of room to turn around, breath, and nobody pressed against us. The band interacted with us all night. Several lucky fans were asked to strum guitars. They gave out guitar picks—Hetfield personally gave me one.
The only negative was towards the end of the show. A full bag of popcorn shot from the crowd across the runway like a bullet between Sandi and I, missing each of us by less than an inch, and hit the face of an elderly woman behind between the eyes. It broke her glasses, and cut her nose. She was shaken up, but stayed with the concert. Later when I ended up with another guitar pick, I gave it to her.
“You got hit in the face with popcorn. You at least deserve a guitar pick.”
After the last song, then after the crowd chanted for more, and finally after the encores, Metallica removed their mics. They had performed for two hours! Guitars were hauled away, and I expected them to leave the stage while everyone drained the stadium. Instead, they came out on the walkway, thanking the crowd. Passing out guitar picks, drum sticks, water bottles.
For maybe fifteen minutes, the crowd cheered at deafening levels while the entire band expressed gratitude to the fans, tossed swag, and waved to tens of thousands of people. As Metal Gods at the top of their genre, Metallica surely didn’t need to concern themselves with thanking fans. They could have performed without risking themselves by standing on the edges of the runway practically in the arms of their fans. And I’m sure the show was exhausting—they could have bailed with the last song. Nobody would have thought less of them. They chose, instead, to reach out during and after the show. As they said goodbye, looking into our eyes and thanking us, it felt genuine. I yelled thank you right back. What an awesome night. Metallica went far beyond the norm to do every little thing possible to make the night incredible.