However, my excitement was tempered by a few logistical details. For one, the concert was held at Candlestick. I know it's a crime to have lived in the Bay Area for years without ever visiting "The Stick," but I haven't heard good things about the park. The 49-ers are even abandoning it, after all. And Candlestick is way out in Bayview Heights. That means a long drive through snarly city traffic or a long jaunt on public transportation (I, for example, would have to take the BART, three buses, and walk a couple miles to get there, and I live just across the water from the city). Goody. Plus, I found out the week of the concert that every event in the Bay Area that could possibly be happening on a Friday was happening the Friday of the concert: an A's game at the Oakland Coliseum, a Giants game at AT&T Park, a John Mayer concert...you get the idea. Major Gridlock. Yah, that's a capital G.
After weighing the options, my sister and I decided it would be best to drive since we couldn't be sure how late the concert would run and didn't want to risk missing the last BART train and being trapped in San Francisco for the night...as exciting as that may sound. So we knew we would have to leave hours early and face hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way home. But such is the price of glory.
So we left the Alameda/Oakland area at 3:30pm to arrive at a concert scheduled to start at 7:30pm. If you are going into or out of the city on a Friday, you have to avoid rush hour at any cost, or say goodbye to your entire evening. Trust me on this. Unfortunately, everyone had the same idea we did, so we sat in traffic for two hours anyway before reaching the stadium. However, things went smoothly from there. I didn't take the wrong exit, get lost in the maze outside the stadium, or maim my navigator.
The good thing about arriving early is that I got front row parking. There was a shop set up right outside the gates with official tour merchandise where fans could kill some time before the show. Then we went through security at our leisure and, just inside the gates at one of the vendors, we grabbed the most delicious burrito I've ever had. The wait in line for this blessed burrito knocked off another 30 to 45 minutes, and then we went into the stadium and found our seat. We were able to eat dinner, grab another drink, and go to the bathroom all before the show started. It's worth noting that once we were inside the stadium, there were no lines for the bathroom (this NEVER happens in San Francisco) or the concessions.
Now, a few things surprised me about Candlestick and this event. First of all, Candlestick isn't as bad as I've been told. Sure, it's a little aged. The paint is faded, and there are stains on the concrete walls and floors. But if you've ever been to a Raiders game at the Oakland Coliseum, you'll know the difference between aged and just plain nasty. Plus, the seats were very roomy. This alone got a big plus from me. Second of all, the staff was friendly. I mean, genuinely friendly. I'm used to cranky, impatient event staff that could care less if you enjoy yourself or if you take a flying leap off the top tier. Even security was friendly...and patient. They didn't rush me, even when I had a problem getting out my tickets while juggling my keys, sweater, purse, and phone. After being shown to our seats, I was told by at least two workers I passed to enjoy the show. What? At other events, staff look at passerby with disdain and you scuttle past them quickly.
Most surprising of all, there were no screaming teenagers or rowdy drunks. Granted, I first saw Justin Timberlake perform as part of 'NSYNC, so my expectations may be a little dated. However, I still expected to see hordes of prepubescent anxiety tearing through the stadium. Instead, everyone at the concert appeared to be mid-twenties or older, were respectable (even after a lot of beer), and though they knew how to get down (especially to their favorite JAY Z song), they were never rude or disruptive. I was actually able to see, hear, and enjoy the performance.
And the performance was nothing less than amazing. The stage was phenomenal. It was split into three squares, with the middle square fracturing inward toward the back of the stage. While JT and JAY Z performed, the boxes presented themed displays of pictures and patterns. For one song, a snake slithered along the edges of each box. Another song was accompanied by images of water that splashed and burst to the music. And the boxes on the edges of the stage held close-up cuts of JT and JAY Z as they performed. Justin Timberlake and JAY Z performed well together (their voices and styles complemented one another), stepped into each other's songs smoothly, and gave great solo performances. For the final song, we were asked to take out our cell phones and wave them at the stage. The effect was amazing. The stadium can hold up to 70,000 people, and it was nearly full. All those cell phones made it look like the sky had dropped into our laps. And the final song? JAY Z's "Young Forever." Too appropriate?.
You might be wondering if there was anything negative about the experience, since I seem to gush with praise above. But yes...oh yes. There are negatives. First of all, parking cost $40. And a bottle of soda cost $5.25! I bought cheaper soda on the Vegas Strip, for God's sake. And the merchandise was ridiculously overpriced. A pair of cheap flip flops was $25 and t-shirts cost $40. Plus, if you bought soda or beer at the concessions stand, you weren't given a lid. Good luck walking down very steep stairs without spilling all over people and yourself. I certainly failed.
And the biggest negative of all? Traffic leaving the stadium. Granted, I knew it would be bad, and there were a ton of people to move out of San Francisco. But after waiting for the lots to clear out, my sister and I still waited in traffic for two hours without getting more than ten miles from the stadium. The concert ended around 11pm, and we didn't get home until 2am. What was frustrating was that no one was directing traffic, at least that I could see. The lot attendants and cops in the lot and on the roads around the stadium just watched people do whatever the hell they wanted to get out. Talk about near misses. When I finally did get out of the gates, I needed to turn left. Something you can usually do. But they had coned off that option and sent me back up along the stadium to a line of cars that never moved. People then u-turned, as cops watched, on a road too small for such maneuvers to head back the way they needed to go in the first place. At one point, a cop did step in and motion for the traffic to move forward, but that was the only active directing I witnessed. Perhaps traffic around the stadium wouldn't be so bad if the city actually planned how to handle it and actively directed it to keep it manageable.
However, the positives far outweighed the negatives. This was the best entertainment event I've been to in the Bay Area so far. I would definitely recommend seeing concerts and games at Candlestick to anyone interested. Just be aware that traffic is going to be bad, and prices are going to be outrageous. Here are a few tips to make your experience more enjoyable: take cash for parking, take blankets and sweaters for evening events because you'll freeze without them (even if it's sunny all day), and take snacks in case you want to save a little money or have a long wait before you get inside the stadium. If you hate driving the freeway into San Francisco, don't plan on exploring the area around the stadium before your event. It's a maze. Better to get there and park so you don't have to worry. Above all, remain calm and enjoy the adventure. The traffic, the crowd, the waiting...this is the Bay Area.
Below, I've attached photos from the concert. Enjoy!
Bay view from Candlestick
The stage before the show
People holding up their phones for the final song