No ticket? An outdoor concert cheat sheet

When you can't get in, where should you stand? Andrew Bird picture by Flickr's Scott Lynch.

You’ve just seen Animal Collective at the Prospect Park Bandshell on a gorgeous summer night, your special lady with you as the warm air settles on you and thousands of other fans. When you get back home ready for amorous adventures, your cat attacks you because his food dish has been empty for a week, since you dropped 70 bucks for those Animal Collective tickets instead of buying cat food. Your cat has a point.

Any idiot could recommend that you hang around outside the fence during outdoor shows, but I’m an idiot with acoustic science, and acoustic science tells us there are plenty of other places to catch your favorite jams when even pocket lint seems like a luxury. I used a simple formula to pinpoint the best beyond-the-fence free listening spots in McCarren, Prospect and East River Parks — and it’s not always the closest spot that offers the best sound.

When trying to catch ticketed shows at outdoor venues, the most important aspect is actually being able to hear the music. Using the formula for decibel reduction over distance, we can determine if you’ll be able to hear the music clearly when standing far away.

The first part of the formula is as follows: 20 x log(far distance in meters/near distance in meters). Don’t worry about figuring out what “log” is; any spacephone calculator should have a log function. After you’ve determined the decibel drop, just subtract it from the decibel level of what you’re listening to. In this case, a loud rock concert has a noise level of 115 decibels, so subtract your total from 115. Your starting decibel level will vary of course. If you’re the kind of person who likes to stand directly in front of the amps, you should start around 120 or 130 decibels. If you’re the kind of person planning to hear the darndest things your grandkids will be saying, keep in mind that prolonged exposure to noise levels above 95 decibels can cause hearing loss.

The three caveats I’ll give you before we get to the specific places to sit are as follows:

1. This is a very rough science because I am not a sound man at any of the venues and don’t know how they set their levels.
2. Other factors like walls and buildings and the wind dampen noise, but distance is still the primary factor.
3. I did my homework here, but I also failed the New York State Physics Regents. If I understood gravity any less I’d probably float away.

PROSPECT PARK paid shows

Click for interactive map and photos. Graphic by Meghan Doherty.

The Decemberists w/Best Coast: June 14, 7pm

Animal Collective: July 12, 6:30pm

Sufjan Stevens: Aug. 2, 7pm

Cut Copy w/Foster the People: Aug. 11, 6:30pm

Prospect Park is your best bet for free music all summer, seeing as how there’s so much space to take advantage of. Still, some places to sit are better than others, so here are four:

1. Directly to the left of the stage, there’s a barbecue spot. Bring your meat or weird vegan stuff early though, because a spot this nice is sure to get snapped up quickly, possibly even by people who don’t give a damn about indie rock. And at only 57 meters away, you can hear the show come in at a clear 80 decibels.

2. Situate yourself at center stage and walk back a bit. Nestled in between the bike path and the baseball fields is this stump. It doesn’t look like much, but stumps are nature’s chairs. Mark Twain said that. As long as you don’t mind the fact that ants enjoy listening to Colin Meloy as much as you do, you’ll be just fine. You’ll also be able to hear clearly as long as you don’t talk too loud, since the music will be reaching you at 74 decibels.

3. Breaking up the monotony of the pine trees all around the Bandshell, this pink tree, stage left (your right, from center stage) will allow you to ensconce yourself in romance as well as music. The pink petals falling all around you will distract you from the fact that you’re sitting in wet grass while all the people with disposable income 40 meters from you are sitting in chairs. Probably massage chairs. Still, you can’t do much better than 75 decibels for free.

4. Trek just a bit farther from the pink tree if it’s a bit too precious for you, to yet another barbecue spot. It’s set back to the right of center stage and near the bike path, so bring some venison or bear meat and pretend you’re in the Alaskan wilderness as you surround yourself with pine trees while Cut Copy drifts in at 72 decibels.

EAST RIVER PARK paid shows

Click for interactive map and photos. Graphic by Meghan Doherty.

Kid Cudi: July 7, 5:00pm

Death Cab for Cutie: Aug. 2, 5:30pm

Sonic Youth: Aug. 12, 5:30pm

It’s slim pickings at East River State Park, but you don’t have to stand in the street to listen. Two spots in particular could be better for listening than the venue itself.

1. It’s far from the stage, yeah, but oh that view! And oh that weird bench! The N. 5 Street pier is probably the best thing we’ll get out of those eyesore condos popping up like genital warts on the Williamsburg waterfront, so you may as well use it to your advantage. And you can fish off it! Keep it down though, because the music will be floating in at the barest conversation level of 64 decibels.

2. It’s easy to miss behind the hideous construction surrounding it, but N. 10 Street boasts the soccer-friendly Bushwick Inlet Park. It’s open late enough to hang out in during the shows and on the off chance no one is playing soccer during a show, you should have the Astroturf all to yourself. If there is a game, take it in while sitting along the fence and listening to Sonic Youth’s loud guitars dissipate to 70 decibels by the time they hit your ears.


Click for interactive map and photos. Graphic by Meghan Doherty.

Beirut/Sharon Van Etten: June 17, 5pm

Guided By Voices/Wavves/Surfer Blood/The Babies: June 18, 3:00pm

We enter the realm of speculation for the new McCarren Park shows during this weekend’s Northside Festival. All the world knows about them at this point is that the amphitheater is supposed to go up on the asphalt softball fields on N. 13th Street between Berry Street and Bedford Avenue. Outside of that, the sound quality and experience are shrouded in mystery. What isn’t a mystery is what you should do with the money you save by not paying to see the shows: buy an enormous margarita from the Turkey’s Nest and bring it to one of these two spots:

1. You don’t need me to tell you that there’s an enormous park for you to hang out in and try to hear the show. Or at least I hope you don’t. Still, I like this tree, which is conveniently located near N. 13 Street and Bedford Avenue. The music should hit at a pleasant 75 decibels, so just relax and take it all in.

2. Right next to the softball fields are a few tables. If by some lucky break no one else is sitting at them, have at it, although you won’t get a huge difference in sound quality as compared to that tree that I like. Still, you’ll be able to hear “No Hope Kids” at 79 decibels, which should be good enough.

You don’t need to follow my advice to the letter though. Hell, I hope you don’t so that I can have my newfound spots to myself. Now that you’re armed with a decibel dissipation equation, you can find your own spots and finally use the power of science for your own twisted ends!


  1. Tim Donnelly

    after ridiculous andrew bird charlie foxtrot of a line to get into the bandshell on Friday, I am thinking camping out well outside the official grounds is the way to go.

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