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I went to a Taylor Swift concert outside the stadium. It was worth it.

Editor-in-Chief Sean Scott spent Friday night like thousands of others in Cincinnati, listening to Taylor Swift's performance with friends. His experience was a bit different, however, as he attended the concert from outside the stadium.
Editor-in-Chief Sean Scott spent Friday night like thousands of others in Cincinnati, listening to Taylor Swift's performance with friends. His experience was a bit different, however, as he attended the concert from outside the stadium.

Like every other college student these days, I’m a fan of Taylor Swift.

Also like many, many college students, I’m not quite rolling in cash.

So when Swift announced her tour last fall, I didn’t even attempt to buy tickets. There was a vague plan for someone to buy a set of four tickets and have me along, but that idea quickly fell through in the Ticketmaster fiasco.

It wasn’t a huge loss for me, though. I’ve only been to two concerts before, St. Vincent and Jacob Collier, so missing concerts isn’t a big deal to me.

As the Cincinnati concert dates got closer and closer though, I started to feel differently. Some of my high school friends went to the Pittsburgh show and had a blast, and another friend went to Detroit. The Cincinnati dates were all that anyone would talk about, and I’ve never felt the level of collective excitement leading up to this past weekend for any event in the past.

When the fear of missing out got too strong, I did what many a broke Swiftie has done this year — assembled a small group of friends to listen from outside the stadium.

Planning and parking for Swift’s Cincinnati stop

In the week leading up to the concert, we had a ticket scare. I was going with a loose group of 2-3 friends, and one of them saw someone selling tickets in the Miami University Luxembourg alumni Facebook group. The tickets ended up being a scam, though (surprise, surprise), and we moved forward with planning our day.

The three of us who ended up going decided to shoot for the Friday night show on June 30. Our plan was to park at Newport on the Levee around 4:30, get dinner, head over to Smale Park just outside the stadium and leave a few songs before the end of the show.

I got more and more anxious about the driving and parking situation the day before the concert. There was a Reds game that same night, and videos of overflowing parking garages from every other stop on the tour had me psyched out.

To my very welcome surprise, parking wasn’t a problem at all. We arrived around 4:45, 15 minutes after the stadium gates had opened, and parked in a half-empty garage for $15. Sure, we were in Kentucky, but it was just a 20-minute walk to Paycor Stadium, not bad at all.

We headed over to the stadium around 6:10, 20 minutes before the opener was set to begin. Thousands of people were gathered on the sidewalks immediately outside the stadium, but there was more than enough room further south in Smale Park near the Ohio River to lay down a blanket and have an area to ourselves.

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The experience outside Paycor stadium

Photo by Sean Scott | The Miami Student
The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge lit the way for concertgoers who were willing to make the 20-minute trek to Northern Kentucky for cheaper parking.

Because being outside the stadium means you won’t get any visuals, the sound quality was very important. When opener Gracie Abrams started at 6:30, my friends and I instantly realized we’d be fine. She was clearly audible, with only a slight muffled quality to the lyrics, and the second opener MUNA was much the same.

I worried that the inside crowd might drown out Swift herself when her set began, but there was nothing to worry about.

The energy both within and outside the stadium peaked as Swift took the stage for “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” before predictably reaching even higher heights during “Cruel Summer.” The lyrics were audible without being deafening, and we could even catch moments of Swift’s speeches from outside.

The experience of sitting outside a concert is entirely different from fully attending one. There’s less of an expectation to remain fully engaged for the entire set, plus more freedom to move around and talk to your friends without having to shout.

I repeatedly found myself looking around at everyone else throughout the show. Swifties lined the Roebling Bridge straight to Kentucky, and dozens of boats had gathered to listen. A number of people had decided to bring dogs. A man sitting nearby wore a shirt that read “Dads are Swifties, too.” A bit farther away, a guy selling hats spent half the night aggressively flirting with a group of girls.

If one of your goals at a concert is to people-watch, outside is the way to go.

One drawback to attending Cincinnati Night One outside was the fireworks. Just as Swift began “Marjorie,” a song dedicated to her grandmother, the Reds celebrated their win with an endless display of fireworks. The show drowned out both “Marjorie” and “Champagne Problems,” two of Swift’s saddest songs, and lasted more than 10 minutes.

Baseball fans clearly deserve to celebrate wins, but I wish there had been a bit more coordination and a shortened version of the display. Maybe I’m just a hater of fireworks overall, but they get old very quickly after the first two minutes, and I don’t think an abbreviated five-minute display would have bothered anyone.

Another highlight of listening to the concert from the park, though: One of our friends who had attended the Reds game himself was free to join us after. He wasn’t a Swiftie at all, but it was fun to watch him connect with the more nostalgic songs from “Red” and “1989” especially which are ingrained in every college student’s mind regardless of interest.

Surprise songs and the end of the night's Eras

We of course stayed through the surprise songs (“I’m Only Me When I’m With You” and “Evermore”), but after that we decided it was time to head out. None of us much cared for “Midnights,” and being outside did detract from the collective experience that may have enticed us to stay until the end.

As it was, we just wanted to make sure we beat the rush.

It took us about 20 minutes to get back to the car, and we had no problems leaving. A number of casual listeners from outside had also left early, but not enough in the same garage as us to cause any issues. When we passed by Paycor on our way through the city, we knew we’d made the right decision. Traffic was already coming to a gridlock on the other streets, but we were able to breeze through with no problem.

The night concluded with one of the worst gas station experiences I’ve ever had, but it was still a phenomenal day overall.

I still feel a bit like I missed out on the full concert experience, but there’s no other artist likely to be playing in stadiums that I would willingly sit outside to listen to. I got a unique experience that I may never replicate again all for the price of dinner and $7.50 after splitting the cost of parking, rather than paying a month of rent to be 100 yards closer.

If you don’t have Taylor Swift tickets and you’re in a city she’s headed to soon, don’t stress about it. The energy outside is phenomenal and positive, and much more free than what I imagine being inside would feel like. And for infinitely less money, you get an experience that truly may be once in a lifetime.