The Opening Acts at Concerts

What to expect with lesser known musicians who play before the headliner?

When you buy your ticket to your favorite artist’s concert, whether it be Billie Eilish or Metallica, you have to be prepared that they’re not the only ones you're going to see on stage. The couple of hours the event lasts for will also include lesser known musicians who play before the headliner - they are the opening acts.

The names of the opening acts usually aren’t featured prominently in promotional material for a concert. Evidently, you can find out which band opens for the headliner - but people usually don’t buy tickets based on that. They’re here for the star performer. And it’s up to that star and their team to find up-and-coming musicians who can entertain an audience who just paid for a pricy ticket to get in.

However, these opening acts tend to be shorter. So don’t worry if you’re not really into their music, they’re usually on stage for about 30-45 minutes, sometimes less.

That being said, it can happen that the openers completely “bomb” - meaning that the audience just hates their performance. It’s rare, but you can browse some music forums online to find some “horror stories”.

It sometimes even happens to most famous musicians. In November 2019, one of the biggest rappers out there, Drake made a surprise appearance at Tyler the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival in Los Angeles. However, the crowd didn’t seem to be delighted by his unexpected showing - in fact, they booed him off the stage...

However, you can find examples of pleasant surprises as well. LA Magazine compiled a list of 10 opening bands who managed to upstage the headliners. Many of these bands went on to achieve great fame in the music industry afterwards.

In 1978, Van Halen was hired to "warm up the crowd" when the British rock band Black Sabbath came to tour in the US. That time, Van Halen hadn’t even released their debut album. However, that didn’t stop the crowds from going crazy for the group led by vocalist David Lee Roth. Meanwhile, Black Sabbath couldn’t shine in their former light anymore. Even Ozzy Osbourne admitted that Van Halen should be headlining the tour.

The list goes on to mention other legendary acts who opened for stars at the beginning of their careers. For example, Rage Against the Machine played before U2 shows in 1997, Nine Inch Nails opened for David Bowie in 1995, and in 1969, Led Zeppelin was the opener for bands that now pale in comparison to them: Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly and Country Joe & the Fish...

As you can tell, landing an opening act gig for a major band is a big step in any musician’s career. That is why so many of them solicit themselves, vying for a spot on the ticket with a major band.

If you happen to be one of these up-and-coming artists, what should you do? Your best bet would be to contact the agent of the artist you wish to open for, contact a booking agent, or the venue itself. It’s a long shot, but it can happen to you as well - you too can be on stage before your favorite artist’s show someday.

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