How to watch 16 concerts in eight weeks in the United States and Canada

Go overseas to watch artists who have never performed in Singapore, for cheaper concert tickets and closer interactions on their home ground

Life is short. So short that I cannot wait for my favourite singers to perform in Singapore and would rather go overseas to watch their concerts instead.

So on a two-month solo trip to the United States and Canada in May and June this year, I pushed myself to watch 16 concerts there - about two a week.

I deliberately tried to catch as many music acts as possible, partly because some overseas artists, such as Irish band U2, have never held a concert in Singapore.

And for acts which have performed here, such as American boyband Backstreet Boys and jazz darling Norah Jones, I felt it was worth the extra effort to see them on home ground, among audiences and on stages they are familiar with.

On home territory, the banter is usually more playful, the interaction closer. Sometimes, extra numbers are performed - a delightful reward for going the extra mile.

However, going overseas for concerts is pricey. My trip set me back about $12,000, of which $3,280 was spent on concert tickets alone.

Considering the calibre of the performances, the number of shows I watched and how close I was to the stage, I considered the price a bargain.

In my experience, concert tickets in the US are generally cheaper than those in Singapore.

For example, if you wanted the closest view of pop princess Britney Spears at her Singapore concert last month, your mosh pit ticket would have cost $568.

When I attended her Las Vegas residency show in May, I paid US$259 (S$354) to get into the mosh pit, and after queueing two hours before the show for a good spot, found myself at the front of the pit, metres away from Miss American Dream.

  • GETTING THERE

  • I travelled from Singapore to Los Angeles on an Air China flight, with a stopover in Beijing, China.

    The total flying time was about 18 hours and my return ticket cost $1,050.

    When travelling between cities, I mostly took a Greyhound bus.

    A one-way bus ride from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, for example, typically takes about five hours and costs US$25 (S$34).

    If the cities are too far apart to travel by bus, I would take a flight.

    For example, I took a WestJet flight from Vancouver in Canada to St Louis, Missouri, with stopovers in the Canadian city of Calgary as well as in Chicago.

    The total flying time was about six hours and my one-way ticket cost US$180.

AMERICA'S MUSIC CITIES

For this trip, I based myself mainly in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, two cities known for good live music.

Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the US, is home to renowned performance venues such as the 17,500-seat Hollywood Bowl - set against the beautiful Hollywood Hills and iconic Hollywood Sign - and the famous Dolby Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held every year.

Las Vegas, billed as the entertainment capital of the world, has countless stars performing residency shows a few times a week in its majestic hotels and casinos, on stages designed to dazzle audiences night after night.

In Las Vegas, I caught six shows, including a thumping, energetic set by Scottish DJ Calvin Harris and an inspiring performance by legendary American singer and actress Cher.

My trip also took me to other American cities, where I made it a point to check out performers on tour there.

In San Diego, I boogied and bounced along to the millennial beats of up-and-coming electropop duo The Chainsmokers.

In Kansas City, I basked in nostalgia with boyband New Kids On The Block and discovered I actually know some of their dance moves from watching their music videos on television, growing up in the 1980s and 1990s.

FINDING GIGS

Planning this epic trip was complex and tedious. Months prior, I download the mobile app Songkick Concerts, which notifies me of international gigs by artists I am interested in.

I also Googled the phrase "tour 2017" every night before going to bed, to get the latest announcements.

When I found enough interesting gigs I could realistically attend, I booked my tickets and flights.

As with all trips, there were things I had to give up.

For example, although angelic Canadian songbird Sarah McLachlan performed a June gig in Maryland, I simply could not attend this as it was too far from my intended route and the flights were too expensive.

And although I prayed every day for months that American rapper Eminem would announce a performance in the US while I was there, this did not happen. To this day, I have still not seen the Real Slim Shady.

Still, my concert trip had no shortage of "achievement unlocked" moments. Two months and 16 concerts later, I returned to Singapore with an empty wallet, but a heart full of song.


Trip highlights

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw


Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

Soul2Soul World Tour Moda Center, Portland, May 26

Upcoming performances: Aug 4 and 5 (Nashville, Tennessee), Aug 19 (Albany, New York), Aug 25 and 26 (Saint Paul, Minnesota)

These two American country singers, who have been married to each other for more than 20 years and have three daughters, are the physical embodiment of relationship goals.

After having recorded several duets and performed on concert tours together, their chemistry is as strong as ever.

The show opened with a cover of the Aretha Franklin and George Michael duet I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) and continued with each of their hits, such as Hill's Breathe and This Kiss as well as McGraw's Real Good Man and Shotgun Rider.

But it is when they are performing duets, such as I Need You, that they are at their best. Watching them sing hand in hand - their love story reflected in their music - it is hard not to smile.

Celine Dion


Celine Dion. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

Celine The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, May 16

Upcoming performances: Sept 19, 20, 22, 23 and 26, all in Las Vegas

Dramatic and over the top, this Canadian superstar is among the most famous and successful divas on the planet.

Everything about her - her voice, personality and presence - is larger than life.

Her vocals - from tender whispers to bell-like high notes - can conjure up images of blooming roses and crashing waves.

Her residency has become a mainstay on the Las Vegas strip and features classic hits such as Because You Loved Me and All By Myself.

And who can forget her signature song, My Heart Will Go On, from 1997 blockbuster movie Titanic?

Despite being criticised for being excessively sentimental and melodramatic, Dion is certainly one of the most respected and influential women in pop music today and her concert is an emotional journey to remember.

Jason Zhang


Jason Zhang. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

Sound Of My Heart World Tour Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, May 7

Upcoming performances: Aug 5 (Nanning, China), Aug 26 (Changsha, China), Oct 1 (Milan, Italy), Oct 3 (London), Oct 21 (Xiamen, China)

Many artists outside the United States often hold shows stateside, including this Chinese singer, who has been making waves in his country since winning the singing competition My Show in 2004.

He has performed in China Central Television's Spring Festival Gala, Chinese singing competitions I Am A Singer and Singer, and sang the theme song of Chinese drama series Eternal Love, which was broadcast this year.

His boyish looks, penetrating tenor voice and nifty dance moves make him a star to watch.

Attending his concert in a Western country might be a more comfortable experience than doing so in China, where he is noted for having throngs of screaming, ardent fans.

His American following, while enthusiastic, was comparatively tame, allowing me to enjoy the music.

Ricky Martin


Ricky Martin. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

All In Park Theater at Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, Las Vegas, June 27

Upcoming performances: Sept 12, 15, 16, 19, 22 and 23, all in Las Vegas

Martin's music, to me, has always been about sensuality - full of gyrating hips, smooth moves and an energetic masculinity.

Partly responsible for the explosion of Latin pop in 1999 with his hit song Livin' La Vida Loca, the Puerto Rican opened the show with this number and continued with many fan favourites such as Shake Your Bon-Bon and She Bangs.

He also included several Spanish songs and more recent works such as the infectious 2005 dance track Drop It On Me.

Third Eye Blind


Third Eye Blind. ST PHOTO: BENSON ANG

Summer Gods Tour Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square, New Orleans, June 13

Upcoming performances: Sept 19 (Berlin, Germany), Sept 20 (Hamburg, Germany), Sept 22 (Cologne, Germany), Sept 23 (Leuven, Belgium), Sept 24 (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)

In 1997, when I was in secondary school, this American rock band were all the rage.

They had just released their self-titled debut album and three songs - Semi-Charmed Life, Jumper and How's It Going To Be - were stuck in my head.

On the bus ride home after class, I would play their CD on repeat on my trusty Discman (a portable CD player).

This year marks the album's 20th anniversary, which is why the band - fronted by lead vocalist Stephan Jenkins - are on tour performing the album in its entirety.

Hearing these familiar tracks brought back memories of old school friends I have lost contact with and teenage angst long forgotten.


Planning a concert trip

Be prepared for cancellations or postponements

Artists can cancel their concerts for a whole host of reasons - from illness to injury to scheduling conflicts - and such cancellations can be massively disruptive to travel plans.

Even if the concert organiser refunds your ticket price, you are unlikely to get a refund for your travel and hotel expenses.

So far, I have not been able to find travel insurance that covers such incidents, so they are just unfortunate and you should be mentally prepared for them.

Have a back-up plan

If the concert you intend to catch is cancelled or postponed, make the best of it and come up with another plan.

For example, on my recent trip, I had intended to watch a Lionel Richie concert in San Diego, but the American singer ended up postponing the show because of a knee injury.

So I went for a Jersey Boys musical playing in the same city that evening instead.

Allow extra time to get to and from the concert venue

As tourists unfamiliar with the cities, it is easy to encounter heavy traffic, make a wrong turn or, worse, get lost on your way to see the show.

I usually estimate how long it will take me to reach the concert venue and give myself an extra hour to get there.

I also allow myself plenty of time to exit the venue after a show. I do not want to miss a flight or train just because I cannot get an Uber ride or a bus from the venue to a train station or an airport.

Arrive early

While the headline act usually does not start performing at the stipulated time on the ticket, there is probably an opening act that does.

For example, American folk rock band The Lumineers opened for Irish group U2 in Los Angeles and American pop band Ocean Park Standoff opened for American rock band Third Eye Blind in New Orleans.

Opening acts are always a bonus and often a pleasant surprise, so I try not to miss them.

Get your ticket ready

There are many ways concert organisers issue tickets, from printing them at the door to letting you print them at home or issuing them electronically so you can display them on your phone at the door. Some shows accept only print-at-home tickets, so be sure you have them ready before leaving for the venue.

Know which items not to bring

In general, security at American concert venues is tighter than at Singapore venues, so it is advisable to bring only what you need.

For example, some venues do not allow backpacks.

Some venues also do not have lockers or a guest services desk to store items which concertgoers cannot take in, so check the venue's list of prohibited items before you leave your accommodation or car.

Take a portable battery charger

Professional photography and videography are generally not allowed during the shows.

But from experience, it seems perfectly fine to take photos and videos on phones during concerts in the United States. Not once did security stop me.

This power consumption, however, will drain your phone battery. So take a portable charger to prevent it from being juiced out by the end of the show.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Catching 16 concerts in North America'. Print Edition | Subscribe