How to Get Into Shows for Free 

Johnny Puke reveals a few secrets

As a veteran musician, promoter, and door man, Johnny Puke knows about the ins and outs of gigs.

When it comes to music venue etiquette, Puke fully understands things from the band's perspective, from the staff's perspective, and from the sneaky fan's perspective. He knows (and appreciates) all of the tricks music lovers can use to get into a show for free.

City Paper asked Puke to mention a few of the tried-and-true ways fans can weasel their way into a club or concert hall. Right off the bat, Puke says the "early bird" approach is the best. "Most places that host shows are bar/restaurants that are open well before shows start or a door guy arrives to begin charging patrons," he says. "Show up at the end of happy hour and wait around for your 10 p.m. show. Most places won't bother you. Just don't be a prick, take up a table, and drink water for two hours, and you're aces."

Another method for fooling a door person is to mimic the hand stamp of the night. Done sloppily, it's an easy way to get kicked off the premises (or banned from the club altogether), but done carefully, it sometimes works.

"Even today, many clubs just use a Sharpie mark on the hand to signify you have paid which implies ID-checked, too," says Puke. "Sometimes they vary the figure — a smiley face one night, a number the next. Many use different colored Sharpies or Magic Markers. I'd have to admit in my younger, sneaky days, I may have shown up to gigs in a car with a veritable office supply store's stash of multi-colored markers. We'd determine the chosen mark and color of the night, hang around outside until the greatest number of people are rushing past the door guy, and bingo! You just screwed a band, your club, and your scene in general."

For the more daring concertgoers who don't shy away from adventure and direct deception, the "I'm with the band" gimmick can work, too. Getting acquainted with the headliners around sound check might lead to a last-minute spot on their guest list, but posing as one of their roadies can sometimes do the trick.

"This one takes many forms," Puke says. "The most honest of which is to show up early, look for where the vans are parked, and chat up the fellas in the band and crew. Every band from out of town is looking to meet a cool local to advise them on where to find vegetarian food, guitar strings, crystal meth, or whatever. Most bands are happy to put you on their guest list for such advice and guidance. Should said guest list be full, some bands may let you carry in a guitar case and just disappear in the crowd."

Another imposter ploy involves pretending to be an official member of the media. Puke calls this the "fake fax, big camera" game.

"I learned this one from some devilish roommates in New York City, where one of our housemates had a fax machine for his crappy little record label," Puke says. "This one was only good to use on big venues but we learned it worked every time at places like Roseland Ballroom and Webster Hall. We would mock up a Spin magazine letterhead simply by cutting up the magazine itself, then type a letter as follows:

"Attention Roseland Production: Up until this morning we have been unable to reach any of Nick Cave's touring staff to confirm his request that we assign a correspondent to cover his performance this evening at your venue. We would greatly appreciate your adding our correspondent, Johnny Puke, to this evening's guest list, along with a plus one for his photographer. Thank you so much for your help in this matter. Sincerely, Jason Dadragon, Editorial Staff, Spin.

"As long as your plus one showed up with a big camera and bag, and you had a copy of this fax — even if you weren't on the list — this worked, every time."

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