If you’ve never been to a concert before, you should know that the music doesn’t actually start when the doors open. The time between what’s printed on the ticket and when the music typically begins can drastically change from performance to performance.
So what time do concerts actually start? Concerts start when the doors open, which is the time printed on the ticket. The music can be expected to start 30 minutes to 1 hour after doors open.
However, if you’re scouring Google trying to find the time when a headlining or main-event band will take the stage, unfortunately, that depends entirely on the number of opening bands, the venue, and what you mean by “start.”
For the sake of answering this question to the best of my ability, we’ll dive into start times of different aspects of a concert — when the doors open, when the opener starts the show, and when the headlining band can be expected to play.
When The Venue Doors Open
The easiest way to answer the question, “What time do concerts actually start?” Is to say it’s when the doors open. Check your ticket (or the show flyer if it’s a smaller gig).
Typically, the time that is listed on your ticket will be when the venue doors open — not when the music actually starts.
Venues often list the door time instead of the music time because to them, the concert starts when the doors open.
Smaller venues and clubs make most of their money from selling alcohol. Bands make most of their money from merch.
If they can get you to show up several minutes before the music starts, they know you’ll want to buy a couple of beers or a t-shirt while you wait.
Larger venues also make money from selling drinks (and food), but they know a line will form out the door and down the sidewalk. Before they can start selling $10 bottles of water to 15-year-olds, they have to check everyone’s tickets.
The bigger the venue, the longer it takes to get everyone inside, and the earlier that door time on your ticket will be.
Understanding the size of the venue also helps you understand that the door time probably isn’t when you want to show up at the concert.
For local gigs or smaller club shows, you’re probably fine to show up 10-15 minutes late, still grab a drink and find a comfortable spot to watch the show from. At bigger venues and concerts, that’s not going to fly.
Unless you’ve got assigned seats, you’re not worried about finding a comfortable place to stand, or you’re okay with risking missing part of the opening act — you probably want to be in line 30 minutes to an hour before doors even open.
For large venue events, if you’re trying to get barricade (or standing room directly in front of the stage) you’ll need to show up several hours early, or even camp-out the night before.
All things considered, when a concert starts depends entirely on what you expect to get out of the evening.
For most shows, at most venues, for most people, that means the concert starts when the doors open.
When The Opening Band Starts The Show
If you’re like me, and you’re mainly interested in when the music actually starts, the first band can be expected to start playing 30 minutes to 1 hour after the concert doors open.
I hate lines — I get claustrophobic in big crowds of people. I’m also 5’6 and 26 years old. It’s a little ironic that I love live music so much.
When I go to a concert, I’m not looking to spend an hour standing in line, so I can get stuck in a crowd full of sweaty teenagers, directly behind the tallest, ugliest, stinkiest dude in the venue.
I don’t mosh anymore, I don’t drink, and I never really cared about getting so close to the stage that I could see the sweat dripping off the band members.
I just want to hear some live music and take a few pictures (if I can).
This past year, I went to dozens of local shows. I was lucky enough to work as a photographer/journalist at many of them.
But if I wasn’t covering the gig, I had no intention of showing up until the first band started playing.
Out of respect for all the bands on the bill, I try not to be late, but I also try to find that sweet spot between showing up to wait in line and showing up to hear some music.
I’ve found that at local gigs and club shows, 30 minutes after the doors open is a safe time to assume any lines have probably died down, and I can still get settled inside without missing much.
I know for some people, being perfectly on-time isn’t always a choice. Sometimes people have to stay late at work or get stuck in traffic and worry that they’ll miss the opening band.
Fortunately, many local gigs are extremely casual and figuring out the difference between when the doors open and when the music actually starts can be as simple as sending the band a DM on Instagram.
Check out this post I wrote about why bands still need openers.
At larger venues, the first band probably won’t go on for at least an hour after the doors open.
However, I wouldn’t recommend showing up an hour late to a high-caliber concert, even if you’re trying to dodge the lines.
Unless you know for certain you’ll be able to find parking and get inside without any hassle, it’s probably better not to risk being late.
This year I went to two shows at larger venues — even without trying, I ended up being plenty early to both.
I saw The Neighbourhood and Field Medic in Salt Lake City — and I saw The 1975 with No Rome and Pale Waves in Seattle.
For The Neighbourhood, I showed up 15 minutes after the doors opened, had no problem finding parking, and walked right inside.
When I went to see The 1975, my wife and I got there about 30 minutes before the doors opened, but we just grabbed a street hotdog and walked around downtown until the lines died down.
Both shows were fantastic, but we waited inside for about an hour at each show before the first band played.
So if you know you’re going to be late, don’t worry too much.
There’s plenty of time between when the doors open and when the music actually starts. Especially if you’re only interested in when the headlining band plays.
When The Headlining Band Gets On Stage
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people ask, “When does the headlining band play?”
When the headlining band plays depends largely on when the show starts. If doors open at 7 p.m. for a concert, an opener will usually go on around 8 p.m. and the headlining band will play around 9 p.m.
When my wife and I went to see The 1975, doors opened at 6 p.m. No Rome opened the show at 7 p.m. Pale Waves went on around 7:45 p.m. And The 1975 played right at 9 p.m.
For an all-ages show, that’s pretty normal. But you’ll almost never see a band or venue promoting the headliner’s set time.
Even at all-day festivals like Warped Tour (R.I.P) set-times were only announced the day-of, and never online. The only way to know when your favorite bands were playing was to check the blow-up wall of set-times (or buy the bootleg paper ones inside).
Venues know that most people who buy tickets only want to come for the headliner. But if everyone showed up that late, nobody would be making any money.
The bands, the venue, and the promoters all want to get people in the door early to maximize sales opportunities.
If you’re only interested in catching the headlining band and plan on showing up late, unfortunately, you’re always going to be running the risk of getting there too early or missing part of the headliner’s set.
How early should you arrive to a concert? Most people arrive to concerts between 30 minutes to 1 hour early. Arriving early ensures that you’ll have enough time to find parking, get inside, find a spot to watch the show and potentially get a drink or snack. But, how early you arrive to a concert depends on the experience you want to have. If you’re trying to get front-row seats, you need to arrive several hours early or camp-out the night before.
Can you show up late to a concert? Yes — you can show up late to a concert. However, if the show sells-out and you were planning on buying tickets at the door, you might be turned away. If you’ve bought tickets ahead of time, that usually guarantees you entrance, even if you’re late, even if the show sells-out.
What time does a concert usually end? All-ages concerts typically end between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. The time when a concert ends usually is dependent on what time it starts, how many bands are performing, and if the show is held on a weeknight. Weekend concerts and 21+ events sometimes extend to 1 or 2 a.m. the next morning.